Squid Game: What’s With the Obsession?

Hannah Wang and Alexandra Chu

Just a day after its release, Squid Game rose to 8th on Netflix’s U.S. Top Ranked list, and it quickly was able to take its place as first only a few days later. It has been able to keep within the top two ranks since then. The Korean show follows a group of people who are all in huge financial debt and are unable to pay it off. One day, they are all approached and offered a chance to win nearly 40 million dollars by playing six children’s games. The main character, Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), lives with his sick mother in debt while his daughter lives with her mother and step-father. Hoping to win enough money to support his family, Gi-hun agrees to join the games. In order to play, each of the 456 participants needs to sign a contract for the games with three seemingly simple rules.

  1. Clause 1: A player is not allowed to voluntarily quit the games.
  2. Clause 2: A player who refuses to play will be eliminated.
  3. Clause 3: The games may be terminated upon a majority vote.

However, the games come with a catch: contestants who are eliminated will be killed. In a wholesome yet extremely psychopathic way, the games work to give all of the players a fair chance to win under the same conditions after they have lived their lives dealing with inequality.

The exact reason the show exploded in popularity across the globe is unknown, but there are a few potential causes. One reasoning is the realistic plot, as wealth inequality is a very serious and widespread problem in the real world. The problems that each of the contestants suffers through, while they may be exaggerated in the show, are difficulties that many people actually go through. Because of this, viewers can understand—and even sympathize with—most of these characters, some of whom could be considered villains.

Despite the thriller’s gore, extreme violence, and few sexual scenes, the show was extremely popular among teens and young adults. Not long after Squid Game dropped on Netflix, content such as spoilers, theories, and even people attempting some of the games, took control of social media. With so much international attention, it should be no surprise that many of the show’s actors became global icons overnight. Jung Ho-yeon (who plays Kang Sae-byeok) gained 15 million followers on Instagram, becoming the most followed Korean actress on the platform. 

The show’s success even inspired a large-scale, real-life version of Squid Game (without the killing) in Abu Dhabi, and another two are set to take place in Seoul and New York City later this month.


*Please note that the rating for this show is TV-MA (meant for mature audiences), and does include visuals and sounds that may be disturbing (such as gore, graphic violence, crude language, and sexual activity).*

Overall, the plot is addicting and majorly original, as it incorporates those realistic aspects of life into the dystopian concept to make the show enticing. Although Squid Game is only nine episodes long, it was able to go through the plot at a steady pace without glossing over details. 

— slight spoilers ahead — 

The show has multiple strengths, one of which is character development. Many of the main characters undergo noticeable and understandable shifts in character, making them easier to sympathize with even if they end up doing something wrong. For example, Seong Gi-hun, who tries his best to stay positive and see the best in others, slowly starts to lose his morals as he becomes more desperate to survive. 

The idea of playing children’s games for an enormous sum of money is also intriguing in itself, especially after learning one of the purposes for the games. Near the middle of the show when one of the players tries to gain an unfair advantage, he is told, “[The players] suffered from inequality and discrimination out in the world, and we’re giving them the last chance to fight fair and win.” If it was possible, such a seemingly meaningful message could make one forget the horrific nature of the games. 

— slight spoilers end —

The show’s unique soundtrack is also something worth mentioning. The main theme song “Way Back Then” is a calm and playful tune while many of the other background music tracks, including “Pink Soldiers,” are suspenseful and tense. Each track is easily recognizable as something from Squid Game due to the variety of distinctive sound effects within them. Possibly one of the most thought-provoking aspects of the soundtrack was the reoccurring classical music. The supposedly calming orchestral music played during some of the grimmest scenes, specifically as people were dying. The stark and slightly comical contrast of the music and the visuals during such scenes can leave viewers conflicted and confused. 

To conclude, Squid Game is a must-watch show, even if it is just to understand the memes and be a part of the hype on social media. The show is addicting and well made, but as avid consumers of Korean entertainment, we both agree that there are Korean TV shows that we have enjoyed more. However, we’re happy that more people internationally are able to enjoy and appreciate the show. Hopefully, people who enjoyed Squid Game can look to explore more of what foreign entertainment has to offer.