When The Hunger Games first came out, I argued with friends that it is NOT a dystobian story. In my mind, a Dystopian society must start with the government or the people in the story believe that they are creating or living in a Utopian society. Then, something went wrong to make the society an unlivable one. The Giver is definitely a dystopian novel: enforced conformity to eliminate unfairness and yet eventually those whose differences cannot be suppressed suffer great injustice. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, seems to merely feature a really poor political structure and governing principle without first anyone believing that their society was created to give them superior life styles (a Utopia.)
Since then, I heard and read about varied definitions of Dystopia. Some are strict (like mine) but many are quite loose — claiming that a Dys (bad) Topia (place) simply is where the majority of people suffer from the rules set up by the ruling class, whether there is a pretense of social benevolence or not. Most theorists at least agree that this is a sub-genre of Science Fiction — so a historical fiction portraying common people being oppressed is not dystopian.
A dystopia purest at heart, it is still hard for me to accept that The Hunger Games is not just a story of a totalitarian government — unless in the third book, some historical accounts of how the districts came to be inform the readers that the “social experiment” was set up to do something good for the citizens ruled by The Capitol.
I’m reading Incarceron and it fits the dystopian profile much better: Everyone believes that it is Paradise inside of Incarceron and that to live In Era will keep everyone content. Hopefully in a couple of days, I’ll be able to finish the book and note down some of my thoughts regarding this fascinating story.