OPINION | Squid Games worth the hype

“Squid Games” is a Korean drama on Netflix that is gaining popularity among audiences across the world for its unique twist on children’s games. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

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Life or death. The Netflix original show, “Squid Games,” is capturing the attention of viewers across the world, and for good reason.

According to Variety, “Squid Games” is the first Korean drama to rank as Netflix’s top show in the United States. The show follows a group of individuals who sign up to compete in a series of deadly children’s games to win a cash prize of $38.6 million. Driven by pressure from unpaid debts, these participants will do anything to ensure they receive the cash prize.

“Squid Games” was released on Netflix on Sept. 17 and rose to No. 8 on Sept. 19. A day later, the show was ranked No. 2 and became No. 1 on Sept. 21. In South Korea, the show’s home market, “Squid Games” was ranked No. 2 on the day it was released and climbed up to No. 1 the following day. The chart-topping show has already generated an estimated $900 million for Netflix.

According to NBC News, “Squid Games” unique premise is what has attracted viewers to the violent show. Plenty of game shows pit people against one another for cash prizes, but none with stakes as high as they are in “Squid Games.” The difference between winning and losing a game in the show is the difference between life or death, and that’s what keeps people invested.

In an article for Bustle about why “Squid Games” resonates with people, Grace Jung, a UCLA scholar with a doctorate in Cinema and media studies, said, “Debt makes everybody feel vulnerable and anxious and desperate.”

Desperation, caused by financial stress, is the motivating factor behind why the participants continue to compete in such violent games. Facing financial instability is a common experience for countless people, making it easy to sympathize with the participants who returned to the game after being given the option to leave in episode two.

The accessibility of the show has also aided in its success. “Squid Games” was filmed in Korean, but Netflix offers viewers dubs in 34 languages and subtitles in 37 languages. The variety of ways to watch the show ensures even people who don’t like reading subtitles can still enjoy it.

I was particularly drawn to “Squid Games” because of its commentary on the severe wealth gap between the top 1% and those in poverty. Towards the end of the show, it is revealed that masked billionaires are responsible for funding the cash prize given to the winning participant.

The billionaires place bets on which participants they think will make it to the next round. They derive amusement from the extreme lengths the participants will go to try to escape the debt they have been saddled with.

Hwang Dong-hyuk, the creator of “Squid Games,” said he wrote the show when he was going through financial troubles. Born from his financial shortcomings, Dong-hyuk, through the eyes of characters burdened with debt, conveys a message about the brutality of the human experience.

The hype surrounding “Squid Games” is warranted, so carve out some time to catch up on the show so you can understand why it’s taking the world by storm.