Conner’s Critiques: “Squid Game” is an artistic representation of the downfalls of capitalism


Credit: Netflix

Conner McBride, Staff Writer

People will go far lengths in order to achieve wealth, whether that be by gambling, investing, getting a job, or in this TV series’ case, playing some children’s games. 

On September 17, Netflix released a new show titled “Squid Game,” a now-popular Korean drama series that features Seong Gi-Hun, played by Lee Jung-Jae, and 455 others who go through a series of games in order to win a cash prize of 45.6 billion Korean won, around 38 million US dollars.

 All of the players who compete in the games are in severe debt and this, to them, is the way out of it.

The show features multiple ways to watch it when it comes to audio and subtitles. With the original Korean, French, English, Spanish, and German dubs and with subtitle options including English, Spanish, Simplified or Traditional Chinese, Korean, or no subtitles at all. 

I suggest watching it with the original Korean dubbing and the English subtitles because of specific usages of Korean phrases later on in the show. For example, one of the characters calls someone using the title ‘Hyung’ (형), which is a term used by men to address older men, and another character calls someone  ‘Oppa’  (오빠) which is a title used by women to address older men. Both of these words do not exist in the other languages that are available for the show and are, therefore, lost in translation. 

Watching an episode of the show with an English dub was also horrible. The voice actors sounded either very empty and robotic or like they were forcing the emotion and watching the characters speak in Korean but hearing English threw me for a loop.

The way the show officially starts off, in my opinion, is when Gi-Hun first opens his eyes in a very demoralizing dormitory. Gi-Hun opens his eyes and is on a mattress, one of many that looks like it’s stacked in a metal shelving unit at a department store, in 22 columns. 

The dormitory itself is painted light grey with a turquoise border along the very top. Although there are decorations on the walls, they are not revealed until later on in the series and for now the room just looks like the world’s worst college dormitory.

Even though the dormitory lacks visual appeal, color, and decoration, the stairwell features later on in episode one makes up for it. The stairwell looks like an amalgamation of an M.C. Escher painting and a children’s playground, with stairs, railways, and random walls and doors painted in glaring shades of pink, green, and blue that twist, curve, dip and rise at random intervals with no discernible pattern.

 As for wardrobe, the characters are dressed in a very plain way. Gi-Hun, along with the others are all dressed in similar turquoise gym uniforms with the only variation being their number on the front left side, their back, and on the white t-shirts they wear underneath.  

However, the uniforms for the guards and the front-man within the show, I find to be very cool. The guards all seem to take inspiration from the stairwell and are dressed in hot pink hooded jumpsuits with a full-coverage, black face mask on, each having either a circle, a triangle, or a square painted on in white indicating their place in the hierarchy. 

The front man shares the hooded jumpsuit but that is where the similarities end. Instead of being a blaring pink, it is instead a matte black, and the mask they wear looks like a 3D printed, geometric, face sculpture. 

The show is a very violent one, and one that I would not recommend for anyone below high-school age to watch due to the extreme gore it shows. If you’re in high-school or any age above that, it should be fine to watch however. Even though it is violent, there is school-taught literature that has worse, YA novels that feature similar themes like “The Hunger Games,” and a lot of horror, thriller, and action movies that showcase violence and gore on this level, especially with the new technology and SPFX makeup available on market that can make special effects like a bullet wound seem extremely realistic. 

The entirety of the show is also an ethical nightmare, with characters having to deal with, conduct, and face betrayal, backstabbing, and the backlash of consequences even if they aren’t caused by the characters themselves. 

For example in an episode, in order to win that challenge you have to take all of your opponents’ marbles from them. One of the characters chooses to trick their opponent into thinking that they have their marbles when in reality they do not and lose that round. Now the character who has just won the round has to deal with the knowledge that not only did they backstab their opponent but they also have to deal with the knowledge that because of the backstabbing, their opponent will lose

When I first started watching the show, the first episode made me tense with anxiety the whole time, after which I promptly switched to a more calming series on Netflix. But, even if I had to stop watching the show for a few days after the first episode, I returned. It’s like watching a car-crash and anticipating if everyone is going to come out of the wreckage alive. 

The challenges being based around childhood games is also very ironic for many reasons. One of the reasons is because all of the characters competing against each other are in debt, so the setting for the challenges could be an attempt at creating nostalgia for the characters, when they were children and were having fun and actually playing these games instead of being an adult and now worrying about taxes. 

The other reason why I find it ironic is because it feels like it’s mocking all of the players who are at least in their early 20’s and can no longer experience the carefree days of childhood, and are instead shouldered with the stress that comes with being an adult.

The challenges characters face include childhood games that are relatable to a majority of people which I find very cool. While some of them are unfamiliar in American culture like the ppopgi game, where players carve shapes out of brittle honeycomb, and some of the games are games that might have been played in your elementary school gym class like ‘red light, green light.’

My favorite episode out of the series was probably episode two where they play the aforementioned ppopgi game because it is something new and unique that I hadn’t ever seen before. 

If you can, I would definitely say that this show is worth the investment both time wise and emotionally. The way the show is made is truly an on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of series and I am both hoping and highly anticipating a season two.