Remember the large Korean doll that shot people if she caught them moving? People across the world would be able to recollect some or the other famous Squid Games element, very easily. The show penetrated audience markets like no other, quite effectively etching itself forever in pop culture history. Korean shows, particularly K-dramas, were already being watched by Western and other Asian audiences. But Squid Games broke global stereotypes surrounding K-Dramas. The last thing the world had expected in one was people being killed left and right, for money.
Despite the rather twisted plot, and excessive loss of life in the series, Squid Games is set for a second season. Currently, a British reality version of the series runs on Netflix, featuring contestants who are ardent fans of the series. Squid Games: The Challenge features 456 contestants vying for a $4.56 million prize. But much to the viewers’ dismay, there is no killing of any kind. Failing contestants are shot at, but only a packet of dye within the costume is harmed in the process. So, unfortunately, there is no gore at all in this version of Squid Games.
The games are kept the same, including the infamous Red Light Green Light. However, the reason why the show is making news is because contestants are now claiming they suffered injuries on set. Some contestants reportedly suffered hypothermia, and nerve problems. The series was shot in London, during a time the cold was a bit too much to bear. Participants say that they laid in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time, during the red light segment. They now threaten to sue the makers of the show, and Netflix, for unsafe conditions.
Though having safe conditions for reality show contestants is a priority, this doesn’t come as a huge shock. This is especially because the show’s roots are still violent, despite it not being the reality version’s main theme. The audience has become so unfazed with the inundation of violence in Squid Games that this news is not bothersome at all. Streaming platforms are known for hosting violent content in immoderate numbers. The sort of free arena that digital platforms gives to creators is taken full use of by them. Graphic violent content in such heavy doses are a definite no-no in mainstream distribution.
Squid Games, however, weaved a good dramatic backdrop for violence, such that it was necessary to get to the end. The games are portrayed as the last chance for all the players to improve their lives. Failing these games left no choice for them to survive back home, even if they were spared in the competition. Without the killing, there wouldn’t be a Squid Games. The bloodshed did not seem like a hard pill to swallow. And hence, viewers of the show went to comfortably binge watch it. Some of them might have cringe-watched it, even. Getting used to it afterwards, they sat through the end of it all to see who wins the wretched games. The audience, instead empathized with the characters, as each had crippling lives that desperately needed the sinister prize money. The audience effectively looked past the intense bloodshed, and made Netflix the most watched TV series on a digital platform.
The show also ingeniously ironizes itself by using childhood as an element. The sets of the show are purposely made to resemble that of a baby TV show. The games included are also those which Korean children play. The innocence of it all is in stark contrast to the conduct in the environment, where almost half of the original 456 people were shot dead instantly in the first round itself. The nostalgia may only be felt by Korean viewers, unlike the rest of the world. The bloodshed was never in people’s minds as they began watching the show, only to be given to shock of their lives as they continued. There is also no time to indulge in nostalgia, when death is a guaranteed end for failure. Who would recollect their childhood while carving out a shape from a toffee, knowing the end if they fail?
It truly is a remarkable fact that a show like Squid Games performed so spectacularly in so many countries. It broke viewership records for Netflix, one that even its most coveted season of Stranger Things couldn’t break. Even today, the viewership numbers remain unbeaten. But what is worth a study is how viewership patterns have changed. Violence always has a knee-jerk reaction. Either it forces viewers to cower away from their screens, or makes adrenaline rush for those who are attracted to such genres. Squid Games had audiences from a record 94 countries, which is no way an easy feat, especially for a non-English series. So, apart from speaking English, there is one very evident factor that is common amongst the participants of the reality show. They all liked it, and a reason behind that is the way violence has been depicted in the show.
Psychology is inherently linked with cinema. They share a symbiotic relationship of sorts, as both influence each other. Cinema exists because it came from the perspective of somebody. Cinema in turn, also has an effect on the minds of those watching it. This is more profound in the case of TV and episodic content, as they are longer than the average movie on a whole. People sit and watch them on a daily basis, eager to see the unfolding of the plot. In this case, when violence is watched on a constant pattern, viewers do get accustomed to it. They know that violence is an extreme human behavior and manifests very rarely. But an inundation of violence normalizes the mind’s reaction to it. Something like Squid Games is passed off as a very normal but fun show to watch. Fans of the show started perpetuating its image by creating memes, reels, and TikToks out of it. And no doubt, the same pattern will follow even with the second season, slated to release sometime in the end of 2024.