Remember Netflix’s 2021 hit “Squid Game”, a fictional tale of 456 people who felt desperate enough to play a dangerous game show for the entertainment of shadowy billionaires in order to try to win enough money to live a decent life?
Well, the world being what it is, Netflix’s 2023 possible hit “Squid Game” is naturally a non-fictional tale of 456 people who felt desperate enough to play a dangerous game show for the enrichment of a shadowy billionaire company in order to try to win enough money to live a decent life.
Now of course this was supposed to be just for fun (well, profit). Less graphic murder, more like an edge-lordy Crystal Maze contained within an ex-RAF base in Bedford, complete with blood packs that explode when you “die”.
But it hasn’t been going so well.
Recreating a game where contestants have to stand perfectly still when a creepy doll looks at them in UK wintery conditions - Red Light, Green Light, for those who saw the show - participants stood outside in below-zero Celsius temperatures for 7 hours after the scheduled 2 hour sessions overran just a little. Instead of metaphorically freezing in place for 2 minutes at a time, it turned into 15 or more minutes of more literal freezing in place. And then, in the words of one contestant, Marlene:
“…this girl was swaying. Then she just buckled, and you could hear her head actually hit the ground. But then someone came on the [microphone] and said to hold our positions because the game is not paused. After that, people were dropping like flies.”
Netflix suggest that some of her claims are a little exaggerated but did acknowledge that 3 people needed medical attention during that game.
Another participant described it as “like a warzone, people left in tears”. The Rolling Stone reports that at least 10 people collapsed during the game. A further contestant thought it was “the cruelest, meanest thing I’ve ever been through”, although they more blamed the incompetency of those running it than the malevolence of the inspirational source material.
All in all, the original fictional show seems to have more provided a somewhat upsetting template for show designers to enact in the real world than a moral message of any kind.
This tendency towards taking a story that is entirely about the terrible results of creating X as inspiration for creating the very X that the story was desperately trying to warn you against creating is something I more associate with big tech and Silicon Valley app designers. See, for example, 90% of Black Mirror episodes. But nonetheless:
John says he experienced dizziness and a “banging headache” while playing the game: “This game was no longer fun or respectable to those of a certain age. It went beyond being a game,” he says. “But I thought, ‘You know what? It’s $4.56 million. I can do this.’”
Is John from the fictional or real show? Hard to tell except by his reference to a prize worth only around £3.7 million though. Perhaps Netflix’s 2022 money woes restricted them to offer a real cheapskate prize in comparison to the original’s £29 million.
Those more concerned with the suffering of their surrounding humans were also placed in a money vs humanity dilemma.
“People were beating themselves up, including myself, around the fact that you’ve got a girl convulsing and we’re all stood there like statues. On what planet is that even humane?” asks one former contestant. “Obviously, you would jump and help — that’s what our human nature is for most of us. But absolutely it’s a social experiment. It played on our morals and it’s sick. It’s absolutely sick.”
In case anyone is confused enough about the distinction between fantasy and reality to be thinking, come on, you saw the original, if they didn’t break any bones then there’s nothing worth worrying about here, well, that happened too. Later on, a woman working on the show inadvertently “plunges in horror fall” to quote the Sun. She broke her leg in the process. They describe it as “its first horror injury”, so presumably they’re expecting more.
The players themselves suffered a wide arrange of health issues including herniated discs, torn knee tenons, pneumonia and infections, with some of them considering taking the production studio to court for safety violations, negligence, and false pretenses.
The contestants' critique of the show isn’t all about the amount of doctors required to ensure everyone made it through only partially scathed. Some of the “false pretenses” mentioned above related to claims that the show doesn’t even have the part of the supposed beauty of the original (too soon for spoilers?) - a kind of fairness that everyone is in theory an equal participant, at least to the extent of the resources nature and nurture have bestowed upon them in the time before the game started. But in the 2023 edition there are claims that the show is rigged.
Players allege that it became obvious that some participants appeared to have been pre-selected to make it through the rounds. These folk were biased towards the social media influencer set, and appeared to have been issued working microphones in comparison to the dummy versions the rest had. They were also allowed a degree of flexibility in rule adherence the others weren’t, and certainly weren’t subject to the “38-second massacre”, an event surely destined to be written into the history books of the future wherein a large group of the less-favoured contestants saw their blood packs explode substantially after they believed they’d won the round.
Presumably in order to save comedy headline writers the effort, during their convalescence some of the contestants already did the pun-work necessary to rename Netflix Squid Game to Net Fix Rigged Game.