Xs and Os: Squid Game Edition

Picture of By Pritha Ray

By Pritha Ray

Xs and Os – a classic. Clear and straightforward. In a 3X3 grid, if you make three Xs or Os in a row, either vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, you win. Well, congrats! But if you are playing Squid Game, that also means that you get to live also live. This crazy thriller series has taken the world by storm and shows no sign of stopping any time soon. Sure, there’s the crazy graphics, the bizarre concepts, and the stellar performances that make this show an uncontested must-watch, but is that all that stands out? Let’s see. 

The Blurring Line Between Good and Bad  

Squid game‘s levels hardly include physical trials, but have everything to do with personal and social development tests. Boring? Think about it this way. For centuries people have debated about the clear-cut distinction between being inherently good and inherently evil, distinguishing  Xs and Os. But have you ever thought about what actually makes us “bad” or “good”? Is it something inborn or something more outsourced? And is that distinction as black and white as we assume? This 10-year show has its own answers. Behind the solid lines and thrilling screenplay, there lies a complex web of emotional and socio-economical foundations that needs some serious breaking down.

The human mind is puzzling, and our subconscious value system is even more complex. What we label as good or bad is extremely subjective, despite popular beliefs stating the contrary.

The human mind is puzzling, and our subconscious value system is even more complex. What we label as good or bad is extremely subjective, despite popular beliefs stating the contrary. Indeed, it’s become common practice to classify people with values as good, and people with no values as bad. Once again, hard and fast distinctions. And this is simply because we cannot seem to accept our selfish, egoistic, and pretty downright narcissistic nature. So, we created this system of good values that guides us, justifies us, and often exonerates us from the sense of guilt, shame, and regret that results from our questionable decisions. 

Sang-woo, one of the lead characters of the show, exhibits a very volatile but also seemingly consistent value system throughout the series. He helps when he wants to but kills when he must. But don’t make him out to be the bad guy just yet. He is probably the closest we come to an actual representation of today’s society. Desperation to live, at any cost, can make us do things we could have never imagined. Everyone has moments of pure goodness or evil that we consider pursuing self-gain. And why wouldn’t we? Living is a one-person job and one that often forces us to rely on ourselves alone. Of course, this is not to say people cannot be selflessly good, but if you think being good and selfless is all you need in order to survive, sorry but that is as meaningless as Sang-woo’s promise to save Ali in the marble game.

Is Cheating Ever Okay?

Social support can easily turn to betrayal and deceit when it comes down to personal survival and benefit. We would never deliberately throw someone under the bus, but would you ever consider it if your life was on the line? Take Gi-hun for instance – selfless, forgiving, understanding, and a genuine team player. But even such a morally sound character kneels before his survival instinct in the marble game. He lied and took advantage of the old man’s dementia to win the game and live, leaving the latter to die. That was a sign. A way to show how even the best of us break when needing to outlast.

And how can we not? It’s an evolutionary trait passed down from generation to generation. It’s proved that only the strongest survive. Just like when in episode 4, a literal fight or die brawl is orchestrated by The Frontman to weed out the weaker players.

Now don’t get me all wrong, life isn’t all that bleak. There are some moments in the show that make you believe and hope in humans. Think about Cue Ali grabbing Gi-hun right before he fell in the red light, green light game. Or Ji-yeong dropping her marble to let Sae-byeok take the win so she could see her brother (tears actual tears). But just like we talk about the good side, let’s not also forget the devil on our shoulder. How about the borderline gangster/thug Deok-su who made life hell on earth for all the contestants there (as if it wasn’t already). And how can we forget the lovely doctor who engaged in organ trafficking and repeatedly cheated? 

Squid game is too big of an enigma to talk about in just one article. We’d probably need one to talk about classism, another to discuss relationships, and many more to understand all the easter eggs in the show itself. Either way, whether you watched it because of the hype or because you love k-dramas, this show is breaking some major walls between the socioeconomic class divides and talking about fundamental issues in society. So get ready because this was just the beginning, and we have some more breaking down to do.

Bonus: Here’s a creepy clip from the first Red Light, Green Light game. It’s gory, so viewer discretion is advised. Enjoy.



Cover: Vadim Bogulov

Edited by: Cecilia Begal

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