“Invitation to the Game,” by Monica Hughes is the story of a group of teenagers trying to find their way in futuristic society. The story takes place in 2154, in a time when a gradually mechanizing society and overpopulation leaves a group of eight graduates homeless and unemployed, but staged to make an incredible adventure that can only be dreamed.
The main characters of the story go away to school for much of their lives. The government imposes these boarding schools to develop the student’s specialties, to eventually find employment for them. The narrator, Lisse, brings us to her school, the day that employment assignments are handed out. Lisse knows there is little hope since she isn’t the best student, and has skills that robots tend to excel at. Soon, she receives her diploma with a slip of paper telling her that she is consigned to unemployment and must take a bus to a Designated Area or D.A. Designated Areas are where unemployed are restricted live for the rest of their lives. Lisse boards the bus with many other people she knows, most very talented and skilled people. Lisse herself is a great writer and literature expert, her school yard crush Brad is a carpenter and talented handyman. Scylla is an artist, Trent is brilliant, but bored, Alden is a chemist, Paul has an amazing photographic memory. Katie is a brilliant judo expert and geologist. Karen assumes the role of leader at times, but also is a historian. Rich and Benta, who join the group after their jobs are replaced by robots, are a doctor and farmer respectively.
Once in the D.A., the characters must find a way to make do with little government assistance, and the constant fear of being hurt by roving gangs within the D.A. The group finds out that some of them have special talents that can compliment the group; Brad can fix almost anything, Scylla brightens their lives with art that she sells on street corners, and the rest work hard to create a home and a new life. The problem is that they are given no other opportunity to advance, they cannot vote, and they have little or no access to news. In essence, they are forced to find a reason for their existence since battling the current system is nearly impossible because of the way a designated area is segregated from others, and the restrictions on traveling outside a D.A. Lisse describes how the group begins to believe that there really isn’t any reason to exist, that is, until they hear of “The Game.”
“The Game” is by invitation only. After searching for how to become involved with it, the group find themselves invited by an envelope to the door. After their first train ride they are told that they will be given a “prize” for completing the Game, and should work together. After each member lies down on soft benches they all suddenly find themselves transported to another place that is open and unspoiled. “The Game” is never explained, only that they must figure out how to get the prize. The group is brought back the center from whence they started after someone’s life is jeopardized, as Lisse is when she falls climbing down a rock face. As the story continues, the group returns several more times to the game, each time stronger and better prepared than before. But we must ask ourselves, what is “The Game?” Is it a virtual reality world simply for amusing the masses, as Karen says?
At the end of the novel we encounter the truth of these questions, as each character is forced to use his or her talents to help the group to the eventual “Prize.”