How ’Squid Game’ took innocent childhood games and turned them into something sinister
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It’s crazy how childhood games have a macabre ring to them now that we’ve watched new Netflix sensation Squid Game. The South Korean survival drama has become an overnight hit, earning it the accolade of being one of the most watched shows in Netflix history.
The premise is simple. The series focuses a group of desperately indebted people who are tricked into a deadly tournament of children's games. The only way to win 38 million won is to survive until the last man standing.
Here’s a fun fact. Did you know local South Korean studios rejected the fictionalised show's pitch for a decade because of its too grotesque content?
According to The Wall Street Journal, creator Hwang Dong-hyuk came up with the idea for the show more than a decade ago when he was living with his mother and grandmother.
The reason for Netflix signing it on was because they “thought the class struggles shown in the series spoke about the reality”.
But what also hit close to home is that many of the games played in the series encompassed a sort of nostalgia, only this time you play until someone dies.
One game in particular that caused much debate on social media was Red Light, Green Light. The playground game where players stop and go at a tagger's command is one of six games with fatal consequences.
One could compare it to our very own version of Red Rover, only this one is much more sinister and particularly gruesome.
Another game South Africans are familiar with is Tug of War. In the series, two teams of 10 use an elevator to take them to a high platform. Each person is locked to a rope and starts pulling. But this is not just any game of Tug of War - once you start slipping off the edge, it’s tickets for you.
In the Gganbu episode, players pair up to play marble games. Played on the streets outside our homes, growing up, the winner got to walk away with the prized marble of their choice.
“There aren’t even concrete rules to Squid Game marbles; you just have to play any game you make up with your partner using 20 marbles and whoever has all the marbles at the end is the winner,” writes Toussaint Egan for gaming website Polygon.
“What’s scary though is the masked man in a pink military jumpsuit standing next to you threatening to shoot you point blank if you were to lose said game of marbles.”
Arguably more scarier than that is the creepy giant animatronic doll which shoots laser beams at you in Red Light, Green Light.
Kids from the eighties will recognise her as the evil version of the little plasticine girl with polio who stands guard to the entrance of every grocery store and shop, begging you with her sad eyes to donate to some cause or another while her forlorn teddy looks on.
Taking a seemingly childlike pastime and turning it into a piece of dark matter is nothing new.
Even our most treasured nursery rhymes are steeped in truly horrific past events.
Still reciting Baa, Baa, Black Sheep? Maybe you should give it a rest. Compiled in 1731, the nursery rhyme’s use of the colour “black” and the word “master” led some to wonder whether there was a racial message at its centre, reported Mental Floss.
“Its political correctness was called into question yet again in the latter part of the 20th century, with some schools banning it from being repeated in classrooms,” wrote the online publication’s Jennifer Wood.
Of all the alleged nursery rhyme origins, Ring Around the Rosie is probably the most infamous, added Wood.
The most popular belief is that the song references the 1665 Great Plague of London - the “rosie” is the rash that covered the infected while the smell they attempted to cover up with “a pocket full of posies”.