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What Does “Squid Game” Say About the Subversion of Innocence?

Children’s games should be fun, right?

Photo: Taste of Cinema

“Squid Game,” which premiered on September 17, skyrocketed in popularity, claiming the number one spot on Netflix’s charts. The Korean drama, set in South Korea, follows the main character, Seong Gi-hun and a few of his friends, who all face major financial distress and corruption.

Through the episodes, the viewer learns that citizens are given the chance to win a large cash prize. However, they must endure life or death situations while playing children’s games. Either win the game and move on to the next one, or face a brutal death.

The inspiration for the show came from director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, who 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.” But why does Dong-hyuk do this through children’s games?

Children are expected to follow rules as they grow up — in school, at home, while playing games, etc. In analyzing “Squid Game” one can infer the reason children’s games are used is because it reminds the players of their innocence before growing up and facing poverty. Another reason could be to note the authority that rules hold over individuals, and the (potentially deadly) consequences that come from breaking them.

A game played in the series is Red Light, Green Light. A very easy game — run to the leader on green and freeze on red, and if you move, you’re out. The rules are simple and innocent, but what happens when the rules change?

In “Squid Game,” the innocence of the children’s game, Red Light, Green Light, is stripped, only to be replaced with a reminder of what happens when the rules are not followed; a gruesome death, which is a familiar face for the characters in this series.