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Why Is Everyone So Crazy About Squid Game? (Spoiler Alert!)

Why do the dark and violent entertain us? Why are we, humans, so crazy about films and games that depict the suffering and demise of others? Is it the voyeuristic pleasure or a sense of deep fear and relatability?

What does it tell about us people when the entire world gets hooked onto visceral, violent content in the form of a dark social satire? A show that emphasizes the desperation of poverty-stricken and deprived people, seducing them with the opportunity of liberation through money — if they partake in deadly twists on childish games! Why are we so enthralled with watching individuals driven to so much misery that they are willing to meet their own demise in a wild uncertainty for survival?

I am referring to the South Korean global hit ‘Squid Game,’ which has taken over all No 1 slots, Reels, Tik Tok challenges, and spawned memes, sparking global trends. (Spoiler Alert!) The famous web series borrows its name from a traditional Korean children's game called so because it is shaped like a squid (calamari) — cephalopods that have eight appendages and in spite of having several hearts, they still annihilate each other for sustenance. But the series is about survival games with dangerous twists — and do take the word ‘dangerous’ seriously!

Clearly, the show is a critique of our success-obsessed culture and the inequality between the rich and poor. It is a representation of social injustice and our indifference — 456 humans were picked to play a game of survival and death in the hope of winning 45.6 billion Korean won which is approximately about $38 million or 2 billion Philippine pesos, while others feel entitled to watch the contestants squirm in despair and agony. And that includes us, the audience! We cannot deny our voyeuristic pleasure in watching the show! And even a deep-seated fear because we can relate to that suffering.

All characters dressed similarly, looking like each other and equally hopeless – a feeling that is not unusual to us! Isn't that what we have become? A culture that has learned to look and sound like and hide behind each other, rather than nurture and celebrate our differences!

Perhaps the timing of the show is evenly effective for its success, with the Pandemic having rendered the world helpless, desperate, and rocked by financial instability. The show premise is also a huge reflection of our present society. Clearly people rate their chance of survival or success in our society so low that they would rather take a chance in a game that could kill them! As a young Korean guy says in an interview, “My friends and I have started investing in stocks hoping to make life-changing money. We hear of so many financial frauds. This series is wholly relatable to me!”

The netizens, on the other hand, are divided on the show. While some find it too violent, others love it! Says a young Korean girl, “It shows the selfishness and ugliness that people like to hide.” Says another “When people voluntarily go back to the killer games rather than face reality, many of us can relate to that.”

To be honest, I initially found the series weird and needlessly violent. But thankfully, I tried to look at it from another perspective because the whole story is so weirdly unique. It’s unbelievable but at the same time very believable. All participants could have left anytime but returned because life outside without money is so much worse. I can bet organizers in real life would do this.

Also, try to notice all the weird juxtapositions — the childish games while something extremely dark is unfolding. Or the fact that the game organizers – as cruel as they are – are also fair to some extent (they even do a democratic vote). Plus, the story progresses slowly, but only until it doesn’t. You just don’t know what to anticipate!”

In spite of this show being weirdly unique — it gave me a familiar feeling. Just when the Red Light - Green Light game unfolds, I knew I have seen this before. With that being said, it reminded me of the Japanese film: "As the gods will" where a daruma doll takes control of a class to play a game similar to the red light - green light of Squid Game. Of course, the Japanese are known for their eccentric plots, instead of shooting the eliminated students, their heads explode! If you've seen "Battle Royale," then the violence from Squid Game is incomparable. After all, I really think that "Battle Royale" sparked the film "The Hunger Games."

Japanese survival film: "As The Gods Will" believed to be the inspiration for Squid Game

I think I've watched too many movies that I've somewhat predicted the plot twists — about how the frontman is the missing brother, and how Il Nam is the mastermind. I was also expecting Il Nam to be revealed as Gi Hun's father at some point.

In the Philippines, the show is as famous as it is internationally. Multiple ads can be seen in billboards along EDSA, SLEX, and NLEX. Robinson's Galleria in Ortigas stepped up their game in marketing by placing a life-size version of the Squid Game doll at the mall entrance that even has red eyes and utters the chant: "mugunghwa kkochi pieot seumnida."

Life-size giant Red light - Green light doll from Squid Game spotted in Robinson's Galleria in Ortigas
Credit: Danial Martinus of Mashable SEA

Anyways, my final thoughts: it deserved the attention it has. If you decide to see it, look for the moral lesson that the web series is trying to convey. Appreciate the actors and how they gave life to their characters. I am really hoping for a sequel... and an international franchise! It'd be fun to see different versions of Squid Games from other countries too! This I think, is also a fun way to expose every country's successes and differences.

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