Have you seen one of Netflix’s biggest hits, Squid Game, lately? You’ll want to read this.
Shut your lights and go to bed.
Picture this, you’re tired of sitting in front of the laptop for hours doing assignments and the moment you’re done, it’s already 1 am. Trying to maintain a ‘so-called healthy’ sleep cycle, you head to bed but your eyelids are wide open. I mean come on — tired and unable to sleep? Definitely, a terrible combination for a stressed out and sleep-deprived student. Sighing heavily, your fingertips click the all too familiar red and black icon.
Promising to just browse along until you sleep, you spot this weird show named, Squid Game (Is my sushi going to play Monopoly?) — and the devil’s advocate whispers in your ears, “Just one episode”. Lo and behold, next thing you know, you’re experiencing parasocial grief at 4 in the morning. Sounds familiar? Well, like you I’m just your average student drowned with assignments who coincidentally binge-watched the Insta-popular show the day it was released. Before I get too excited, allow me to introduce the show and the 5 lessons I’ve learned from it.
Directed by Hwang Dong-Hyuk, Squid Game is a 9-episode drama depicting a group of players who risk their lives in a mysterious survival game for ₩45.6 billion. Behind the gory scenes and meaningful interactions between the characters, each episode had underlying messages that we should all keep in mind.
Before you proceed, do note that this article contains spoilers pertaining to the show. If you’ve not watched it, stop. Watch the show, then come back to read the article. Without further ado, let the games begin!
Lose, get slapped. Win, get cash. When the incredibly charming actor Gong Yoo (who plays Train to Busan’s protagonist) invites you to play ddakji, run. Enticing you with a small risk and large reward, then allowing you to reap exponential winnings initially is the all-too trusted formula in which scammers use.
This is because they’re getting their foot in the door and reinforcing your need to continue to play with them. How? When you start winning, you are d.o.s.e.d by your happiness hormones — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphin. Then, you’re intrinsically motivated to keep feeling that winning high. Next thing you know, the risks keep getting bigger and bigger and your life is down the line. This was how the protagonist Gi Hun or also known as player 456, was drawn to saying ‘yes’ to entering the games.
Pshhhh. I’m not that stupid to risk my life.
That was what I thought before I watched Episode 2: Hell. This, to me, was the most memorable episode because it gave depth to the characters as not just mindless and greedy fools. It answered the burning question: why would anyone risk certain death for money? Simple. There’s nothing to look forward to in the real world.
Many of us are privileged by our social and financial standings to not worry about the next meal, shelter, and medical expenses. But with your worth synonymised to the numbers in your bank account, or having your loved ones, jobs, and home taken away, what is there to live for? Hence, participating in the games was appealing because at least in the game, they were treated as equals. Unlike in the real world, no one had a social headstart.
Alright, you’re in the game. So is your best friend, but there’s only one winner. What do you do when you have insider information? Do you tell your best friend? I mean, technically withholding information is not morally wrong when you’re not sure. Right?
Player 218, Cho Sang-Woo, who’s Gi Hun’s (the protagonist) best friend, was faced with this dilemma. In life, we often encounter predicaments such as this which gives us a very big headache. To reduce this cognitive dissonance (a psychology term), we convince ourselves that we’re morally correct and that it’s better to just keep quiet and see how it goes, even if your friend might die. Also, you don’t really want to go against him/her in the final round. That’d certainly be a tragic comedy. Since young, we were brought up to think that the world is black and white and there’ll always be one path of righteous glory. The thing is the world has shades of grey and so are our morals. Hence, evil isn’t ingrained in us but cultivated through times of desperation.
The moment you think you’re always right is the moment you’re wrong. Based on our natural survival instincts, we humans are programmed to make snap judgements. Be it about the situation or people in general. In group works, we tend to assume that one or two members are the weak links and that we’re more likely to fail because of them unlike the other groups we assume have ‘strong’ members. Not only is this very judgemental, but it demonstrates how you fail to be a team leader and team member. In Squid Game’s tug-of-war round, Gi Hun and Sang Woo’s team, to Sang Woo’s dismay, was composed of Player 001, a frail old man, two skinny young ladies and an ahjumma (a Korean term for middle-aged women).
You then start thinking, yeah they’re going to die. Maybe the show has a different protagonist? I mean how are they going to win in a game that requires brute force? Eventually, Player 001 was the reason they won that round. For instance, he calmly shared that the leader needs to be someone highly observant of the other team’s missteps, players need to be alternate sides of the rope, etc. Thus, strategies are important and it’s best to capitalise on the strength, and not just the physical kind, of your teammates and not focus on their weaknesses.
Remember Lesson #2 on how life is unfair? Well, instead of just blatantly accepting it, we can do our part to help each other out. That was the final and continuous message emphasised throughout Squid Game.
Midway into the show, we get a clear glimpse of the Front Man, aka the gamemaster. His debut was clearly show-stopping by unhesitantly removing cheating staff members and Player 111, a doctor in the game who helped the cheating staff members harvest the organs from other players in exchange for clues on the next games, from the equation, emphasizing that the game should be an equal place unlike the world out there. Finally, it was the bet between Gi Hun and Mastermind Oh Il-Nam, or (super major spoiler alert) player 001, on whether anyone would help a homeless man on the streets who was about to die from the cold, in which a kind soul did save him. All in all, we aren’t helpless to tragedies for we are human and that means we’ve the potential to be kind in an unforgiving world.
Well, those were the five out of the many lessons I learned from Squid Game. If you haven’t watched the show, this is your cue not to miss out on one of the biggest hits on Netflix!
Clarise Tan Pei Sim is currently pursuing Bachelor of Psychology (Hons) at Taylor's University. She’s also the Secretary of Taylor’s Connect and is an active student leader in organisations like Malaysian Students’ Global Alliance and Etc. Magazine. If you can’t reach her, she’s probably binge-watching a k-drama.
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