Columns, Opinion

Let’s Talk About: How Netflix’s “Squid Game” reveals the darker side of human nature

Warning: Spoilers ahead

If you haven’t watched “Squid Game,” it’s a popular Netflix show that truly demonstrates human vices and tendencies to be selfish and greedy.

The show closely resembles “The Hunger Games”– both stories portraying a group of people doing dangerous and potentially fatal tasks to survive. In “Squid Game,” in addition to staying alive, players gain a large sum of money if they win. In “The Hunger Games,” the winner gains status and prestige. Regardless, all participants participating willingly — or unwillingly in “The Hunger Games” — must do anything they can to survive.

But despite their similar premises, these shows each say something different about the human psyche.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

Essentially, the plot of the show is about a group of people who are drowning in debt and, as a result, end up as “players” in a game where they have the opportunity to win a handsome cash prize they can use to pay off their debts.

First, the players are tricked into participating in the deadly tournament where they are required to participate in six children’s games. But, here’s the catch: if a player loses or refuses to play in the games, they are immediately eliminated — in this case, elimination means death.

In the second episode, a majority of the players vote on ending the games — the only possible way that players can exit the game and walk free. But many of them volunteer to come back, realizing that the games may be their only chance to win the money they need to survive.

For most of the players, returning to their mediocre lives where they are deeply in debt is worse off than participating in the deadly games where they have the opportunity to win money.

Clearly, money drives and motivates the players to tolerate such brutality and depravity. And, unlike “The Hunger Games,” players in “Squid Game” ultimately choose to participate in the games (though in the Hunger Games individuals particularly motivated can volunteer).

Whereas players in “The Hunger Games” are forced to kill other players, killing other participants is optional in “Squid Game.” The prize money in the show, however, increases as more players die, meaning players ultimately choose to kill other players.

Whereas Katniss volunteered to join “The Hunger Games” to save her little sister, the players of “Squid Game” faced the horrors of watching their fellow teammates die in front of them and still chose to return to the game.

The show sheds light on several important themes such as greed, selfishness, fraudulence and capitalism, among many others. It’s a show that captures human vices and shortcomings, transforming them into the most extreme situation.

For example, Sang-woo, one of the players who happens to be the main character’s childhood friend, is cunning and strategic — qualities that enable him to make it to the final round. Sang-woo uses his skills to take advantage of others by deceiving other players and even betraying his own teammate.

In episode six, the players are given a bag of ten marbles and are required to devise their own game with their chosen partners. This episode is particularly heart-wrenching, as Sang-woo’s true colors are revealed.

First, he accuses his partner, Ali, of cheating a game he has never played as the timer was close to approaching zero. In desperation, Sang-woo begs Ali to spare his life, uttering promises and plans that would allow both of them to leave the game alive. Trusting in Sang-woo — a mistake Ali painfully realizes when it was all too late — Ali hands over all of his marbles, to which Sang-woo switches Ali’s earned marbles with a bag of pebbles.

Director Hwang Dong-hyuk creates a storyline that is cynical yet relatable. As humans, I’m sure we understand what it means to be a little selfish, greedy, or doing what it takes to get what we want.

The show is unsettling because it’s a visceral reminder of the extent and lengths one is willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want — in this case, to win money.

Nevertheless, the winner at the end becomes demoralized. He spends a year without using his prize money. Most importantly, in the last scene, the winner makes an irrational decision that makes the audience wonder, “Will we ever be satisfied?” and “At what point will we stop asking for more?”

The old man at the end of the last episode wisely asks, “Do you know what someone who doesn’t have any money has in common with someone with too much money?” to which he says, “Living is no fun … for either of them”

Although each story — “The Hunger Games” and “Squid Game” — have their respective plot lines, I can’t help but notice a common theme: money can’t buy happiness and purpose in life.

In “The Hunger Games,” those who live in the Capitol withhold all the wealth from the rest of the districts. Yet, they resort to watching people murder one another for entertainment. In “Squid Game,” greed is demonstrated through the player’s willingness to hurt others and risk their lives for money. Yet, there is dissatisfaction even after surviving the games and winning all the money.

Participants in “Squid Game” are stripped of their liberties, as they are dehumanized and humiliated by the makers of the game. For these players, morality doesn’t even matter anymore — it has no value when everyone’s lives are at risk.

Luckily, this is not the case for most of us. We have agency in our own lives in this respect, and we should choose to utilize it.

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