Squid gaming is your next Netflix frenzy, and for good reason

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Squid Game workers moving up its Escher-style stairs.

Screenshot: Netflix / Kotaku

There is a scene near the start of the first episode of the Korean phenomenon Netflix Squid game where the main character, Seong Gi-hun, repeatedly tries and fails to get a prize from a claw machine. He’s just been beaten up, lost gambling winnings he had only had for a few minutes, and he’s trying to win one last birthday present for his daughter. It’s an iconic moment of everything Squid game means.

It’s a joy to see a Korean subtitled horror TV show being the number one show on Netflix in the United States. As anyone who has watched will tell you, Squid game is an extraordinary creation, much more than the “Royal battle-lite “his trailers implied. This is one of the most satirical commentaries on 21st century urban poverty, as you’ll probably see, presented as if Wes Anderson is remaking Hearing. It also loops the loop on a circle that started with the 2000 film Royal battle then somehow reached Fortnite.

For the avoidance of doubt, spoilers for Squid game lengthen in front. While I won’t be discussing anything specific that happens after the first episode, much of the history of the series will be a spoiled surprise to anyone just released from the trailer. It’s an insanely good program, and if you’re good at excessively gory violence, go watch it now.

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The series, while featuring hundreds of characters, mostly focuses on one man: Seong Gi-hun of Ssangmun-dong (as he comes across), who is a superbly complicated character. He’s an absolute tramp, divorced, father of a child, living with and with his elderly mother, stealing her to play. He gives his daughter a birthday present by asking another child to win him something from a claw machine, then takes her to buy the cheapest fast food. He steals his mother’s credit card to empty his account. He flees – and lies, begs and crawls to – his rogue creditors. And yet, as he does everything, he is so likeable. Much of this is thanks to the stunning portrayal of Jung-jae Lee, instantly switching between sympathetic goofy smiles and mad bursts of sputum. But it is also thanks to the truth in writing that people who constantly screw up can also be capable of moments of decency.

Gi-hun is eventually approached by an elegantly dressed and strikingly handsome man on the subway, offering to pay him huge sums of money for winning a Korean children’s game, Ddakji. It is about throwing a piece of folded paper on the piece of the opponent, lying on the ground. If you can return it, you win the round. (Think origami Pogs.) If he wins a round he gets 100,000 won ($ 84), if he loses he gets slapped. Once he is badly injured but with a handful of money, he is given a card and told to call if he wants to make more money by playing more games. It turns out that this is the 456th person to be invited.

Seong Gi-hun in Squid Game, smiling for the camera.

Screenshot: Netflix / Kotaku

Of course he calls. He’s so in debt, has spent all of his sick mother’s money, is hated by his ex-wife and new partner, and has nowhere to turn. He has much less than nothing and neither has the wit nor the skill to find another way out. It is, as the coordinators of the Squid Game want to point out, always his choice. But that’s not the choice either.

After being asleep in the back of the car sent to retrieve him, he wakes up to find himself in a mixed dorm, five story bunk beds, with the other 455 players disoriented and immediately thrown into their first game: Red Light, green light.

It’s quite similar to the playground version, just instead of being “out” if you move around when you are looked at you are dejected.

By the end of the first episode, it becomes very clear that there is a lot more to do Squid game only wacky deaths. It is first and foremost a poverty program, and although it is specifically about South Korean poverty, it is widely applicable everywhere. Or BR concerned so-called “delinquent” children in the hands of a totalitarian government, SG does not require such a leap into the fictitious near future to justify its premise. It’s a show about the desperation born of desperation that comes with insurmountable debt. So yes, despiteSquid gameIts dazzling colors, its extraordinary decorations and its quality worthy of a game show, it is not a comedy. It’s often funny, but if there’s one mood that permeates her creation, it’s anger.

A scene from Squid Game, in which players carve honeycomb shapes.

Screenshot: Netflix / Kotaku

Obviously, game show formats as punishment / justification are not a new idea. Stephen King’s The Running Man was first released in 1982, and the rather loosely adapted Schwarzenegger film was released in ’87. This was long preceded by Das Millionenspiel, a 1970 German TV movie in which contestants must flee from gang murderers to earn a million marks. But even that was based on the 1958 book The price of peril by Robert Sheckley. This is not new territory, that is the point. certainly both Royal battle and Squid game don’t have the studio or the audience, but they are replaced by the much more modern concept of surveillance, with their every move being watched by a faceless (literally, with SG‘s masks) army.

Something that marks Squid gameThe approach to all of the game show elements is unlike anything that has come before is the video game-like appearance in much of what goes on. The number of players playing is always displayed on a large dashboard in the dorm, with the available cash prize below. By episode four, it reached 34 billion won ($ 28 million). These numbers spin with the chime of an arcade hall, while so many details in the series are illustrated and branded with a video game-like aesthetic. And it is no coincidence that the whole project (both in fiction and in its exterior presentation) uses the pattern of a square, triangle and circle, three quarters of the way trademark of Sony, the X presumably omitted to avoid a lawsuit.

The Squid Game logo printed on a box, very similar to the distinctive PlayStation shapes.

Screenshot: Netflix / Kotaku

What follows is a lot more complex and nuanced than the one-concept show that it easily could have been. We dive into the lives of so many of these characters, understanding why they might agree to a series of deadly games, just for the slightest chance of financial support. Granted, as the episodes unfold, it falls back on somewhat less sober explanations of what’s going on, but it definitely nails the landing when it’s done.

The games they play are based on Korean childhood games, some universal, some not at all. Even though they are unfamiliar, they all have instant meaning. We all played games when we were kids, we know the logic, the rules. This is, you may have noticed, the direction that multiplayer gaming has taken since the rise of the battle royale genre. Especially when it is associated with sets in garish and whimsical colors. Especially think about fall guys, of Gang beats, of punch party. Think about the various events that happened in Fortnite (Live at Riskey, Cosmic Summer …), and of course Among us, the distillation of everything from hide and seek to Mafia.. These are recreation games as adult entertainment, but fiercely competitive, sometimes brutally violent.

Squid Game players fight their way through the Escher-style stairs.

Screenshot: Netflix / Kotaku

On the program, this is combined with a strong presence of gacha. The claw machine scene – and its follow-up when his daughter finds the woefully inappropriate gift inside of what he earns – which foreshadows the whole premise of Squid game. Unjust and childish games, intentionally engaged, for prices you might not want, are never worth the cost of playing. It seems fitting to conceive of it as a warning for video games, along with its more deliberately austere prophetic allegory for shattered societies.

Squid game undeniably delivers on the explosive gore on which it is sold. It is fantastic, disgusting, and will make you hide behind your arms. However, what is more extraordinary is that his inflexible and angry commentary on the growing global divide between the rich and the poor is by far the most horrific element.


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