How South Korea’s “Squid Game” hypnotizes audiences with its sadistic appeal


Credit: Taylor McGuire

WSPN’s Katya Luzarraga reviews the hit show “Squid Game” and discusses the human’s fascination with murder and violence.

Katya Luzarraga

Viewers click the ‘play’ button on their devices, longing for a distraction from their mundane lives. The familiar childhood game of “Red Light, Green Light” fills the screen, but it’s been disfigured into a grotesque game of survival. Bullets fly through the air, piercing the soft skin of players who are unfortunate enough to misplace their footing after “red light” has been called, splattering blood across the ground. The remaining players scramble to make it to the finish line before the timer runs out, glancing back pale-faced at the corpses that litter the game hall.

“Red Light, Green Light” is only the beginning of the six dangerous and disturbingly sadistic games that are presented on Netflix’s hit mini series “Squid Game.” People have a choice to watch “Squid Game,” and it’s understandable why many have shunned the graphic plot of the show. Yet, the South Korean dystopian thriller has roped in over 142 million of Netflix’s viewers since it dropped on Sept. 17, each viewer enraptured by the violent and shocking murders.

“Squid Game” isn’t the first life and death cinematic creation that audiences have gobbled up with gusto. “The Hunger Games,” “Saw,” “Maze Runner” and “Ready or Not” make survival a series of life-threatening tasks, with each player having to defeat dangerous challenges and, in some cases, each other. The first time that I ever watched “The Hunger Games,” I couldn’t pry my eyes away from the television as I saw a player from District 7 bash an enemy’s head into the ground with a rock. Murder stories that air on the news pull my attention away from whatever I’m doing because they are a scary realization that someone has been killed by someone else. The human mind kicks into survival mode when witnessing death, so when we see a tragedy in front of us, we react, often by crying or becoming obsessed with the tragedy. Filmmakers and directors have capitalized on this response by creating movies and shows that turn survival into a game show, complete with its own brainwashed audience.

“Squid Game” feeds off of the fear and fascination of audiences. As the plethora of “Squid Game” trailers, videos, TikToks and reviews continue to flood the media, viewers are compelled to see for themselves what this Korean bloodfest is all about. But the most urgent question is why have almost 142 million people clicked on a show portraying vicious murders?

“Witnessing violence and destruction, whether it is in a novel, a movie, on TV or a real life scene playing out in front of us in real time, gives us the opportunity to confront our fears of death, pain, despair, degradation and annihilation while still feeling some level of safety,” Psychiatrist Dr. David Henderson said.

We’re drawn to unrealistic scenarios that enthrall the mind and send it whirring like a hamster wheel. Who says that “Squid Game” isn’t any different from our wildest nightmares? In reality, the financial situations that the main characters of “Squid Game” are in aren’t too different from our own. As the world begins to recover from COVID-19, which hit us with shocking force in 2020, we are still struggling to return to our lives. One in four adults has had trouble paying bills since the coronavirus outbreak began, and unemployment rates among lower-income adults are still an issue today.

In the show, characters are offered a bet by a businessman. If the characters are able to flip over an envelope by throwing it on the ground, they are rewarded a cash prize. Each time they aren’t able to flip over the envelope, they get slapped and punched in the face by the businessman. That first hit is their admission ticket into “Squid Game.” People watching this scene will first think “who would be crazy enough to gamble their own body for a little cash?” Then, they might reevaluate and consider what they would do if they were in this position. From this perspective, “Squid Game” has become the mirror that highlights the ugly truth of our society.

“Debt makes everyone feel vulnerable and anxious and desperate.” UCLA scholar Grace Jung said.

The freedom of $45.6 billion South Korean won (about $38 million American dollars) is incentive enough for the debt-ridden players of “Squid Game” to continue risking their lives in the gauntlet of deathly games, erasing the brutality of what awaits them from their minds.

As you watch the show, there’s a unique and slightly deranged sense of childhood nostalgia that accompanies it. Playing “Red Light, Green Light” at recess while the sun beams in your eyes, hopping on one foot through those chalk squares in your driveway and creating truces amongst school friends so you know you have someone on your side during the intense game of tag are all staples in growing up.

Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to feel like kids with no worries, commitments or problems. As a result, when we see people being shot at point-blank while participating in these innocent childhood games, it makes us stop and stare. Viewers are glued to their seats, episode after episode.

“Squid Game” has made a lasting impression in the world, becoming Netflix’s number one most watched show, racking up 111 million views. Inhumane murders in “Squid Game” are the doorway to a glimpse of death, and also the unsettling realization that we’re fascinated by murder.