No Child’s Play

With Squid Game being termed as Netflix’s biggest show ever, this Korean series seems to have sent the world into a frenzy


We all have, while we were in school, participated in games like tug of war. It was all about winning, as no one wanted the ‘loser’ tag in school. Many of us have also played “marbles’ ‘ with our neighborhood friends, and there – losing meant you could lose your prized possessions, that is the marbles you own! Thus, even when these childhood games of ours were all about fun, losing came with a price to pay.

Adults crave to go back to those simpler times, and bring back the nostalgia with these children’s games. But what if I tell you, that one can experience that – but this time, the price the losers will pay will be with their own life. In Netflix’s Squid Game, that’s how gory these innocent games get.

More than a month since its release, the show has received path-breaking success. There’s a frenzy all over the world surrounding this Korean series, directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk. This brutal survival game-based show has been consistently on the top 10 list on Netflix in 94 countries around the world. Also, it’s the platform’s first-ever Korean series to reach No. 1 in the United States. This nine-episode show has amassed more than 111 billion views since its release – making Netflix’s biggest series ever!

All said and done, what makes this show so popular?

Well, for starters, it could be because of its unique concept. There have been, previously, shows and movies based on survival games too – for instance, The Hunger Games. But what sets it apart from all is how a burning issue of their country has been taken as the backdrop. How Korea’s debt-ridden society and unemployment has been highlighted and made the prime focus is what makes the show humane, and not just a dystopian one.

Squid Game revolves around a debt-ridden man, who gets drawn to a blood-thirsty survival game – along with 455 other plays facing the same financial crisis. Out of desperation, they are lured into this man-kill-man environment – where one needs to win all six games to win a whooping 45.6 Korean won. But here, losing is not an option – as those who lose, are killed.

The viewers experience a mix of nostalgia and adrenaline rush while watching the show – as children’s games in the backdrop of innocent setups, are juxtaposed with blood and gore – and the helplessness of the characters or players makes it an emotional roller-coaster for the audience.

“People are attracted by the irony that hopeless grownups risk their lives to win a kids’ game,” Squid Game director Hwang Dong-hyuk said in an interview with a news organisation. “The games are simple and easy, so viewers can give more focus on each character rather than complex game rules.”

Another factor that has been highlighted in this show is inequality that prevails in a society, which is a global issue. Here, (spoiler alert) we see how the creator of the game in the end justifies these sadistic, animalistic and gory games as part of a “fair chance” to those who need it. A gaming official in the show also says in one of the episodes, “All participants in the game are equal. We are giving people who have suffered unequal treatment and discrimination in the outside world the last chance to win a fair competition.”

Thus, the global appeal probably comes with the depiction of issues and emotions that are beyond borders.

Moreover, the nostalgia factor that’s attached with the show could be another contributor to the show’s massive success. The games that have been shown in Squid Game have the much-needed adrenaline rush, thrill and excitement – and makes it overall an immensely engaging watch.

But the show’s popularity goes beyond these. It has become nothing short of a pop culture phenomenon. From costumes, memes to goodies – this show seems to rule the world of merchandise as well, not in India yet though. But given the rate with which the obsession spreads, India too might have its own ‘red light, green light’ games being played at events or tracksuits with number 456 being sold at markets sooner than one can imagine.

(Cover: A still from Squid Game)


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