‘Squid Game’: Netflix’s most watched series depicts capitalism in its most extreme form

NETFLIX

NETFLIX

If you were told all you had to do to escape your financial burdens was to play children’s games, would you take the chance? Would you even question the logistics of this or would your desperation overpower your rationality? 

Logically, most people would find this opportunity suspicious, but the hit Korean Netflix series “Squid Game” proves this to be faulty logic.

 In this dark yet satirical show, characters willingly compete in a series of seemingly innocent children’s games to possibly win billions of Korean won but there’s a catch — these children’s games are not as harmless as they seem.

The series begins with the protagonist Seong Gihun, a gambler and deadbeat father who is shrouded in debt due to his reckless decision making. He lives with his elderly mother, who he not only depends on, but occasionally steals from to get by. Unsurprisingly, when his mother gives him money for his daughter’s birthday, he gambles it away.

 Luckily, he’s able to win money from his gambling but his luck only takes him so far. After he wins money, he manages to run into debt-collectors, get robbed of his gambling money by a teenage girl and discover that his daughter is moving to the United States within the next year. The solution to all of these problems is the one thing he can’t obtain: money. 

Devoid of energy from his chaotic day, Gihun heads home and as he’s waiting for his train, he’s stopped by a charismatic looking and well dressed man carrying a briefcase. The man offers him a proposition: play Ddakji (a Korean game) with him and if he manages to win he gets 100,000 won but everytime he loses, he gets slapped in the face. 

After being slapped in the face a countless number of times, Gihun finally manages to win the 100,000 won. Before the mysterious man in the suit leaves, he hands Gihun a business card informing him that there are more games he can play to win money, and all he has to do is call the number printed on the card.

With his hopeless situation and nothing to lose, Gihun caves and calls the number. He’s then taken by a suspicious-looking van, knocked unconscious and from there he joins the ominous “Squid Game.” 

“Squid Game” consists of 456 players competing for 45.6 billion won (approximately $39 million) promised to the winner of a series of childhood games such as “red light, green light” and “tug-of-war.” All of the games have the consequence of death as a result of losing, whether that be by a giant doll, at the hands of the masked guards, or a fellow player.

 On the remote island where the games take place, Gihun wakes up in a large concrete room filled with towers of steel bunk beds and masked guards surrounding the entrance. There, Gihun reunites with his childhood friend Cho Sangwoo (Park Haesoo) who’s on the run due to fraud charges, befriends Oh Ilnam (Yeongsu Oh), a sick, elderly man and surprisingly runs into the girl who robbed him, Saebyeok (Jung Hoyeon). 

From the ceiling in the center of the room they’re taken to, drops an enlarged piggy bank as a reminder to the players of the rewards for their participation. The masked guards lead the players to a large underground field with an exposed roof. At the end of the field stands a large doll, unbeknownst to the players, more sinister than it appears. From then on, the competition begins. 

“Squid Game,” like many other shows, has a survival of the fittest trope but unlike movies who follow this trope, such as the “Hunger Games,” characters in this show willingly participate in these games. They’re unaware of the stakes prior to the first game, but even after they see hundreds of people gunned down afterwards, they continue to play the games despite being given a chance to forfeit. This is a result of the anguish that consumes them in their daily lives, and even though every game can result in a brutal death, the possibility of becoming a billionaire is irresistible.  

This series depicts capitalism in its most extreme form and the lengths to which a desperate population will go to escape debt. Stripping “Squid Game” down to it’s basic premise reveals that it is a conflict between classes. The VIPS — those who orchestrated the games as a means of entertainment — and the lower class — the players who enter the games and stay — as a last resort to escape their poverty despite knowing the risk of death. “Squid Game” demonstrates the impacts of too much and or too little money and just how cruel people can really be. It demonstrates the extent to which those with nothing will go to gain a second chance at life.    

The premise and rules of the games themselves, within the show, manipulate the players’ every decision and, therefore, reveal true human nature. After the first game takes place, we are shown that the death of a player resulting in violence from another (not during a game) results in an increase of cash in the pot. Every life in this game has a set value. Frankly, like the antagonists of the show, we would take part in knocking off as many players as we could, between the games, to increase both the prize and our chance at winning. 

In a sick and disgusting turn of events, the show reveals themes of embracing one’s inner child. Those who orchestrated the games do so in hopes of evoking nostalgic feelings and reconnecting with their younger selves. These feelings and benefits one should receive from playing contrast the extreme stakes and consequences of these games.     

Aside from its deeper psychological impacts and its alluding to societal issues, this series is truly entertaining. It had us gripping the edge of our seats and nervously anticipating every second, wondering who would be taken out next. We found ourselves attached to the characters and even though we knew only one player would stand as victor, it was still shocking to see characters killed one after the other. The writers were able to make the characters seem real, making us, as an audience, root for them and feel upset when those characters died. 

The contrast between the characters was also extremely impressive. There are lovable characters that we can’t help but support and there are characters that are so malicious, it’s a surprise they lived normal lives for as long as they did. Their acting was able to resonate with us; we felt their desperation and distress as if we were participants in the games as well. 

If you’re looking for a sinister, action-filled series to binge this Halloween that will surely give you an adrenaline rush, look no further than “Squid Game.”