Looking at this week's new comics, one of them is Avengers Arena. I won't be buying it, because I think the whole concept is fundamentally wrong. Basically, it's a deathmatch story involving a bunch of teenage characters: they all get stuck on an island, and are told that they have to kill each other until only one is left. Apparently this is quite similar to the plot of The Hunger Games, but I haven't read/seen that; ditto for Battle Royale.
I think the main difference here is that these are all pre-existing characters, e.g. two of them were in Runaways (a series that I enjoyed). In the case of The Hunger Games, you wouldn't see those characters at all if it wasn't for the story setup. In this case, people already know and like the characters, and this series looks as if it will get in the way of them appearing in future stories.
House to Astonish discussed this in podcast #91 (25m40s-31m17s); they suggested that the book may just have been hideously mis-marketed, which is possible. However, for now I'm assuming that it is what it looks like.
I understand that most stories rely on conflict (particularly in the superhero genre), and I'm ok with that. I've also read some very good stories where characters die. However, this seems different, and I think it's the "audience participation" angle that bothers me the most.
A few months ago, The Onion published a satirical article which claimed to be written by Honey Boo Boo (You Do, Of Course, Realize That This Is Going To End Very, Very Badly). Apparently she's in a reality TV program, although I haven't seen it. The point is, this isn't a wildlife documentary: the act of observation changes the thing being observed.
A few stories have deliberately taken advantage of this. In Sex'n'Death, Martin Clunes' character announces that he will kill himself on live TV unless everyone stops watching, i.e. if the ratings drop to zero. There's a similar idea in Ben Elton's novel Popcorn, where people threaten to shoot their hostages unless everyone stops watching them on TV. Particularly in the former example, I felt slightly uncomfortable about continuing to watch, but I rationalised it by saying that this was just the "show within a show", i.e. the fictional character was talking to a fictional audience rather than to me.
More recently, I read House of Mystery #35. The backup story involved a self-proclaimed sociopath wandering around a shopping mall and talking directly to the reader (i.e. breaking the fourth wall). Here's his theory: "See, you don't want to admit it, but you're essentially just like me. You want these things as badly as I do. You just don't want to get your hands dirty." He has a plan to do some (unspecified) unpleasant things, and asks the reader to help.
"And this is where you come in. You see, I have the singular disadvantage of being a fictional character. I can't set my plan in motion until you turn the page. You could just close the book and walk away. You're practically at the end anyway. But you won't. I know you won't. Because you have to see what happens. So turn it. I know you want to. And you know it too. Let's be honest. Go on. Do it now."
"As I was saying, this's a game. And for every game, there're rules. On the other side of this island is an 'immunity spot'. Once somebody steps in it ... everybody else has ten seconds to get inside. Do that, and you've won your prize: the island stops tryin' to moirderize ya. If you're outside the area? Well, then you've lost. Work together with your fellow castaways -- or every man for himself, up to you."
"Jack, if you go down there, we'll never be safe. We have to live here too. If you get involved, they'll terrorize us. You know that."
"They're not going to know it's me. That's why we wear masks."