*Please note, trailer is graphic and disturbing
Winner Takes All
Squid Game is intended to be a social commentary on “modern capitalist society.” Whether in the game or in the real world, the players are trapped in a brutal game of survival. In the games on the show, the rules are made by bored, ultra-rich businessmen. The same is supposedly true of the real world as well: the rules are made by the rich and heartless. At least in the games, so we are told, everyone is equal, and the players know the exact parameters on winning and losing, as well as what is gained from both. But the real world is much more complex, and it is harder to survive when one doesn’t even know the rules.
Because of the winner-takes-all nature of the game, compassion is a weakness. Every player who dies is one less person in the way of the prize money. Thus, players form temporary alliances that dissolve once such alliances are no longer beneficial. They use each other as a means to an end. Again, this is allegedly a commentary on capitalist society, where only the strong truly survive in the end.
Yet, this is not what happens. The winner of the game, Seong Gi-Hun, is the compassionate, lovable loser who does not pursue alliances with the strong and powerful, but instead teams up with the outcasts: the sick old man, the foreigner, the lonely girl. Even though the players’ lives are at stake in every game, we viewers know that selfishness is wrong, that winning is not everything, and that love and compassion are far more important than money.
Capitalism Kills . . . Or Does It?
Although Squid Game is supposed to be a critique of capitalism, does the show truly reflect the nature of capitalism? We learn in the finale that the games were created by a group of men who were so rich that they were bored with life. The games were their means of entertainment. Anyone should see how disgusting this is. But are money and capitalism really the problem here? Perhaps, instead, the creators have a moral problem. They could have used their money for good: to fund orphanages, hospitals, or other charities. They could have helped the outcasts and oppressed. Instead, the game creators chose to use exactly such vulnerable people for their sick entertainment. They bet on human survival the way people bet on horse races, thus dehumanizing the players.
Furthermore, there is no economic system that has brought people out of poverty like capitalism has. It enables people to earn their way out of poverty, providing incentives to work hard, innovate, create businesses, and employ others. Of course, the desire for wealth could lead to greed and selfishness, but these are not essential components of free-market capitalism; they are sinful human vices. Thus, Squid Game is not really a critique of capitalism, but of sin nature coming out in greed, selfishness, and elitism.
The “Game” of Life
Contrary to what Squid Game implies, life is not a winner-takes-all game. We can cooperate, share, learn, and grow together. We can help others get out of poverty and no one has to “lose.” Plus, humans were not designed to live alone or in harmful competition but in community and fellowship. After God created his wonderful world, he said that it was not good for Adam to be alone, so God gave Adam a helper, Eve (Genesis 2:18). They were commanded to work the land together. They and their children were to have dominion (stewardship) over the world, not to destroy it and others but to care for them. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as well as our enemies. We are to be generous, to help the poor and oppressed. Squid Game certainly does not reflect God’s design for humanity or what real life is truly like. We are all appointed to be a loving family, not to destroy each other for money or power.
In the end, Squid Game Game tells us one thing that is true: money will never satisfy, and people are more important than gain. The winner of the games becomes very rich, but he does so at the expense of 455 other humans. Every player Gi-hun befriends during the games dies. The game’s final victim is his childhood friend. Gi-hun returns home to find his sick mother dead on the floor. He is estranged from his daughter, who is moving to America. We see the ramifications of these losses on Gi-hun, as the vast amount of money he wins does not make him happy. He refuses to spend the money, but rather lives as a vagabond. This teaches us that money alone does not satisfy us; we were created for communion with others and our Creator. Without loving relationships, we are empty, which is something no amount of money can fill.
Squid Game was intended as a critique of capitalism, but instead, it is a critique of elitism and the vices of consumer capitalism. Certainly, anyone living under any economic system can fall prey to greed and selfishness due to their sin nature. Society does not need to be a competition where some of us win and others lose. Life is not a game, and viewing life as such will only cause problems, destroying any ability to form healthy relationships with others. Instead, we can all strive to cooperate in communities to help each other flourish.
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