"I will probably kill you first," said 12-year-old Julianna Pettey to Rylee Miller, also 12. She put her hands on Rylee's shoulders. "I might stab you."
The boys, who had segregated themselves away from the girls on the first day of camp, practiced sniping. "If I have to die, I want to die by an arrow," one boy said. "Don't kill me with a sword. I'd rather be shot."
The counselor had to get everyone's attention by shouting "No violence today!" But the wildly popular "Hunger Games" trilogy is full of killing, and it was all the kids could talk about.
The camp is hosted at Country Day School, and when the idea first came up, camp director Jared D'Alessio was sure they would be able to cut out all the violence. They would have team-building exercises, and the kids would capture flags.
But casual talk of killing was rampant. A group of girls making a team poster for the tournament wrote a slogan from the series, "LOSING MEANS CERTAIN DEATH."
As counselors became concerned, they modified the tournament rules. Instead of "killing" each other, the kids would "collect lives" by capturing flags.
Head counselor Lindsey Gillette also changed the rules so no one would get out early and be stuck on the sidelines. Gillette privately admitted the level of violence the kids were talking about was disturbing.
Counselor Simon Bosés said kids "that age" can die in any video game, and it's merely a reset. When a child tells another "I'm going to kill you," Bosés says "they don't understand what they're saying."
Susan Toler, a clinical psychologist specializing in children's issues and an assistant dean at the University of South Florida, found the camp idea "unthinkable."
When reading books or watching movies, children are removed from the killing. "But when they start thinking and owning and adopting and assuming the roles, it becomes closer to them," Toler said. "The violence becomes less egregious."