Squid Game, directed by Hwang Dong-Hyuk and streaming on Netflix, claims a staggeringly large audience. In its first week, the show surpassed 1.9 billion minutes of view time and reached 100 million viewers. Squid Game has been complimented for its racing plot, sharp critiques on wealth and poverty, stunning sets and visuals, and its world-wide reach. Not only has it dominated Netflix’s charts, the show’s presence can also be seen in most main-stream media platforms, including Tik-Tok, Instagram, and Youtube.
Those who have yet to watch Squid Game are in for a treat. The show mainly follows Seong Gi-Hun, a gambler who is in desperate need of money to help out his sick mother, pay off his gambling debts, and maintain custody of his daughter who will move to America soon.
While in despair, he meets a well-dressed man in the subway, who tells him he can play a game of Ddakji with him for money. Gi-Hun loses several times, but eventually wins some money. The man then gives Gi-Hun a card with a number on it. Gi-Hun calls the number and joins a group of 455 other people in similar financial situations playing games to the death for a 45.6 billion won prize.
All these games are from the childhoods of many Korean people. The first game seen in the show, Ddajki, involves one player trying to flip over the other player’s paper envelope by throwing his or her own on top of it. In the venue itself, the players play games that we most likely are familiar with: Mugunghwa Kkoci Pieot Seumnida (Red Light Green Light), Juldarigi (Tug-of-War), and marbles.
Players are also given Dalgona, a candy with a shape imprinted on it, which you are supposed to punch out. And, of course, squid game. Squid game is an extremely popular physical playground game, played with an offense and a defense inside a squid-like figure drawn onto the floor. All the players compete in these games for the prize. But if you lose, you die.
"wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life.”
Squid Game is a critique of the modern economic environment, where the players, deeply in debt and willing to risk their lives for money, are being put through games for the entertainment of wealthy billionaires. Hwang Dong-Hyuk, who wrote Squid Game in a financially difficult period in his life, says that he “wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life.”
The show allows us to see how people of lower classes get trapped into the system, by depicting the players being led into the game, first blindly, but then willingly. After the first game, all the characters wanted to do was to go home. But when they were released, most returned to the game after realizing that their living conditions, plagued by debtors and corruption, isn’t much better than death.
Squid Game’s set designs, led by art director Chae Kyung-sun, add an ominous feeling to the show, even if the sets themselves are anything but. The game’s venues are modeled after playgrounds and fields, often featuring dreamy pastel colors which starkly contrast to the blood and death of the games. The famous staircase in the show is inspired by the artist Escher, weaving in and out of each other in a mind-boggling pattern.
Squid Game is now considered as Netflix’s most popular show, hitting number one on the charts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. Its popularity can be felt everywhere. On September 5, Netflix installed a Squid Game pop up installation in Seoul’s Itaewon train station. It features a large playground and massive doll seen in the Red Light/Green Light and Dalgona scenes, and is decked out in the show’s signature bright colors. The station even has interactive games, including a giant gumball machine and people playing the role of the pink soldiers.
Squid Game’s influence can also be seen in Tik Tok, where the hashtag #SquidGame has been viewed more than 23 billion times. Many people also take part in the Dalgona trend to try and see if they can make the candy and construct the shape themselves. Squid Game “cosplays,” plot analyses, and reaction videos also circulate widely.
Squid Game has introduced many to the wide world of Korean dramas, cinematography, and, to a lesser extent, history. It’s growing fame might open many doors to other aspects of Korean culture as well.