What are the two meanings of the title "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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The two meanings of “game” in the title are “play” and “hunted animal.”

The word “game” is used to refer to animals that are hunted.  For example, tigers, rhinoceroses, and bears are all game.  Rainsford is a big-game hunter and an author of books on hunting.  As expert as he is, he finds that Zaroff has something else in mind.

The Cape buffalo is not the most dangerous big game." He sipped his wine. "Here in my preserve on this island," he said in the same slow tone, "I hunt more dangerous game."

The game that Zaroff hunts is human beings.  They are the most dangerous of all game because they can reason.  An animal that can think has the potential to outsmart you or at least make the hunt more interesting.  This is why Zaroff has been capturing and hunting sailors and other dregs of society that will not be missed.

Part of the fun of the title is in the word play.  The double meaning of “game” is a wink at the reader.  A game, of course, is played between people.  Usually there are rules in a game that must be followed, and there is always a winner or a loser.  In Zaroff’s game, the loser dies.

"It's a game, you see," … If my quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game. If I find him "--the general smiled--" he loses."

We know that Zaroff is enjoying the game because he toys with Rainsford, turning back to give him another day and make him feel more terror.  To make things even more interesting, Rainsford is a skilled hunter and wants to live more than anything.  He wins the game by outsmarting Zaroff and getting into his room.  Then he changes the rules by killing Zaroff, therefore really winning the game.

The surprise ending catches the reader even more unaware.  We might have wanted Rainsford to win, and Zaroff to lose, but we didn’t expect Rainsford to kill Zaroff.  It brings another moral quandary to the story.  Was he justified?  If he hadn’t killed the general, would the general have kept his word and played by the rules of the game, or would he have cheated and killed Rainsford anyway?  After all, he couldn’t let Rainsford go.  He would tell someone, and that would be the end of the game—in every sense of the word.

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"Game" means animals that are hunted. "Game" also means any contest engaged in for recreation, such as football or chess. In Zaroff's crazy world the most dangerous game (animal) is man because he has a brain and can think of ways to fight back. He can also devise weapons and man-traps. Zaroff regards the contest between himself and his human prey as a game (a playful contest). In Rainsford's case, he accepts it as a game to be played on Zaroff's terms and on Zaroff's island. Rainsford is really dangerous because he is just as experienced in such things as tracking and wilderness survival as the man hunting him.  Rainsford is also dangerous because he knows ways of making lethal traps for Zaroff, and he almost gets him twice before finally finishing him off in the end.

An interesting film adaptation of "The Most Dangerous Game" is available on DVD. The original film was made in 1932, but the photography, sound, and other technical aspects are very good for the period. The actor playing Zaroff has a hard time being convincing because it is such a slanted character--a sophisticated gentleman who enjoys killing humans for sport.

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The title "The Most Dangerous Game" has two significant meanings.  The first meaning comes from Rainsford's perspective; he is involved in the most dangerous game he has ever played as he fights for his own survival while being hunted. The second meaning comes from General Zaroff's perspective.  Game is a general term used for animals that are being hunted.  Zaroff, having hunted all types of animals, decides to hunt humans. He considers humans the most dangerous game because unlike other animals that act on instinct, humans are able to reason, making them a more difficult track and kill.

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The two meanings of the title "The Most Dangerous Game" are obvious to see as the story progresses.  The beginning of the story tells of the conversation between Sanger Rainsford and Whitney, a sailor.  They are talking about hunting animals and Whitney asks Rainsford about what the animal's feelings are when he is being hunted.  Rainsford is quick to point out that you are either a hunter or huntee and luckily, they are both the hunters.  But then the tables turn and Rainsford becomes the huntee so he can now relate to the fear of possible death when being hunted by Zaroff.  He has to think and have the instincts that an animal would when being hunted. 

Therefore "The Most Dangerous Game" refers to the game of hunting itself and game also refers to what is being hunted whether human or animal.  In either situation they are both Dangerous Games.

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Simply and succinctly, the double meaning of the title is that humans are the most dangerous "game animal" to hunt and that being the prey in a hunt is the most dangerous game to play. Rainsford is a renowned hunter, so hunting him will be a challenge for Zaroff, thus making the kill that much more of victory for him. Likewise, Rainsford must use his knowledge of the hunt and his tracking skills to avoid being killed, thus making it a dangerous game for him.

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The story opens with Rainsford's description as a hunter of wild game. He sees hunting as a sport between man and animal, a game between the hunted and the hunter. Rainsford doesn't think the animals feel anything about being hunted. It's a fun sport for people. When Rainsford meets Zaroff, this sport becomes a life-and-death game between two men. Rainsford, the hunter, becomes Rainsford, the hunted. It now becomes a game played for the highest stakes, and Zaroff has it rigged so he will win.

The author is making a statement about the violence and cruelty of hunting animals for sport. He puts a person in the place of the animal so we can imagine how the animal must feel being hunted. The title then reflects the "game" played between Zaroff and Rainsford, and it also reflects the author's theme that hunting isn't a game at all, and it means death for the animal.

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