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Squid Game: The Real Games and Social Problems that Inspired the Most-Viewed Netflix Show Ever

Squid Game, a show that has been breaking records since its release, has reminded us all Korean television is every bit as engaging and addictive as Korean movies. This violent, thought-provoking, highly entertaining show is here to prove that there is a lot of fun to be had while learning a language.

If you watched the show but are not that familiar with Korean culture and the problems that South Korean society is facing right now, you may have missed out on a few key aspects that will make you appreciate the show in a different light.

Let’s see the most important ones and a few tips to help you learn Korean with Squid Game!

Games… for Children?

By now, you surely know what the show is about. 456 desperate people accept to participate in a survival competition made up of different children’s games to win 45.600 million won and escape poverty. What you probably didn’t know is that these are less sinister versions of real games!

Want to know where the original squid game comes from? Keep on reading to find out.

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1. Ddakji

Similar to Pog, the popular ‘90s game for children, ddakji is a famous schoolyard game where the objective is to flip one tile, laying on the ground, by slamming it with the other. The main difference with Pog is that instead of using caps with pictures, ddakji is played with two origami-paper tiles.

In the show, the famous actor Gong Yoo makes an unexpected cameo as the Salesman, a recruiter who challenges desperate, in-debt people to a game of Ddajki.

Want to learn to make your own Ddakji? Check the video below!



2. Red Light, Green Light

The Korean version of “Red Light, Green Light” is not very different from the game you know. Players can run towards the finish line during “green light” time, but they must freeze before the tagger turns around at random times and says “red light”.

The creators of Squid Game, however, have come up with a dark twist for this innocent game. In the show, the tagger is a creepy doll with LED red eyes who can sense movement, target losers and shoot them to death with a flash of her eyes!

3. Tug of War

Of all of the games featured in the show, Tug of War is the most similar across different cultures: An equal number of people pick up each end of the rope, and they start pulling backward as soon as the referee gives the signal. Of course, they aren’t usually chained to the rope or playing over an open platform like they do in the show!

4. Squid Game

The game that gave its name to the show was very popular in South Korea in the ’70s and ’80s. Its name comes from the shape of the playing field.

In order to win, a member of the offense team has to tap the squid’s head (a circle on top of a square shape) with their foot, while the defence team tries to stop them.

Of course, the rules are much more complicated, but instead of just reading how the game is played, why not listen to an actual Korean explaining it?

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, not for our favourite characters as in the show, losing is a death sentence.

Squid Game: A Black Mirror for Korean Society?

While watching people take part in a lethal series of games can be exciting, attentive viewers will notice that there is a very dark subtext to Squid Game’s central premise. This dystopian Netflix hit is a brilliant social allegory of South Korea’s precarious economy, in which costly housing and scarce opportunities commonly lead to serious debt and financial despair.

The main character, Seong Gi-hun, is a 40-year-old gambling addict who cannot give his daughter a decent birthday gift or pay for his elderly mother’s medical bills. We also meet a North Korean deserter who has to take care of her siblings and aid her mother to escape from the North. Then, there is a smart young woman who cannot afford university studies or an immigrant worker whose boss refuses to pay him his wages with stupid excuses. The list goes on.

The creators are so committed to reflecting real problems that they decided to rework the original scripts to include a character who loses his job due to the pandemic and has to make a living out of freelance gigs and state help.


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Una publicación compartida de Netflix US (@netflix)

Though all these plotlines focus on the stories of individual characters, they also show the harsh reality that Korean society —in particular South Korean youth— has to face every day as they try to progress in their lives.

Immigration in Korea

As we mentioned above, Squid Game has a few characters who come from North Korea and Pakistan. Though rarely depicted on Korean television, immigrants are a growing demographic of South Korea’s population. According to the website Statista, the number of foreigners living in the country peaked in 2017 with over 600,000 people from China, 110,000 from Vietnam, and 50,000 from the Philippines coming to the country.

The show is unflinching when it comes to dealing with racism towards migrant workers, a widespread and worrying issue in South Korea.

Ali, a Pakistani young man, is called an “illegal alien” by some of his competitors. As an immigrant, he is seen as an outsider who doesn’t deserve to win the prize. However, as the game progresses and becomes more dangerous, Ali emerges as one of the most formidable players.

As you can see, Squid Game is more than a hit Netflix show. It’s also a clever, thought-provoking allegory of South Korean society that is both timely and exciting.

Beyond Culture: Learn Korean Watching Squid Game

If you want to get the inside scoop on the latest issues that affect Korea at the same time as you improve your language skills, we have some advice for you! Use these tips to boost your knowledge of the Korean language and culture with Squid Game:

  1. Plan your viewing sessions. Choose a time when you will be fully awake and energetic, and read the overview of every episode before you start. In that way, you will be able to predict key vocabulary and know what to focus on!
  2. Take notes. Every time you hear a recurrent phrase, a curious expression, or a useful adjective, go back a few seconds, activate the Korean subtitles, and write it down! Once you finish the show, you’ll have a nice vocabulary bank that you can go back to every time you want.
  3. Take part in fan forums. Join the Squid fever by discussing characters, themes, and theories. Even if your language level is not high enough to do it in Korean, participating in group discussions will help you stay engaged and develop a regular viewing habit. You may even learn more Korean from people with a more advanced level!

If you want to learn more about the origins of all the games in the show, know more about Korean culture, and take your language skills to the next level, why not take classes with a professional native Korean teacher?

→Sign Up Now: Free Trial Korean Lesson With a Native Speaker Teacher!←

Contact us now and we’ll pair you up with a Korean instructor who’ll tell you everything you need to know about the cultural background for some of the show’s most iconic scenes! Once you learn more about Korean culture, you’ll be able to watch Korean shows with a completely new set of eyes.