Squid Game, the Korean survival drama series from writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk has held the number one spot on Netflix’s top 10 list for three consecutive weeks since the show premiered in September. It’s currently poised to become the service’s biggest show ever.
The series follows Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a divorced father and gambling addict, who is recruited into a mysterious 456-person tournament in order to win a cash prize of roughly 39 million dollars. Over the course of the first season, Gi-hun and the other players are subjected to a gauntlet of six high-stakes contests patterned after classic children’s schoolyard games, resulting in either the player being killed or allowed the chance to advance to the next round. While the most compelling components of the show are its robust dramatic performances delivered by its charismatic cast and its deceptively cheerful color pallete and set design, the real pull of the series are the grisly challenges each of the participants are forced to undergo, none of which are known to any of players before (with some exceptions).
While watching the excellent first season, I found myself thinking aloud as to how arbitrarily dangerous or challenging each of the games was and whether I myself would survive any of them. Several of the games themselves are terrifying only for the fact that the participants don’t actually know what game they’re about to play until they’re playing it. Barring that, they’re pretty easy — so long as you can keep a cool head. With that in mind, we’ve pulled together a power ranking of each of the games played throughout the first season of Squid Game, ranked from least to most challenging and utterly horrifying.
While this game isn’t part of the Squid Game tournament proper, it is the game which introduces series protagonist Seong Gi-hun to the tournament in the first place. While waiting for his train home Gi-hun — a jobless layabout and habitual gambler — is approached by a mysterious salesman who offers to pay 100,000 won (approx. $84 USD) for every round of Ddakji Gi-hun plays and wins against him.
The rules are simple: both Gi-hun and the salesman take turns using folded pieces of paper to hit one another’s piece of paper, and the first one to make the other one’s flip wins. Not much danger other than a paper cut, right? There’s a catch though: For every round Gi-hun loses to the salesman, he’ll owe the salesman 100,000 won. In lieu of money, the salesman offers to deduct 100,000 won from Gi-hun’s debt for every time he allows himself to be slapped. Again, there’s no danger in this game other than being physically humiliated in public for the sake of petty cash, but the real goal behind the game is to weed out potential candidates for the tournament to see how low a person is willing to debase — and even endanger — themselves if offered enough money to do so.
Marbles? Whoever heard of being afraid of marbles. Marbles aren’t scary! Swallowing a marble? Sure, that could be kind of scary for gastrointestinal reasons. Forgoing that, there’s nothing scary about playing or losing a game of marbles … unless of course, there’s a masked man in a pink military jumpsuit standing next to you threatening to shoot you point blank if you were to lose said game of marbles.
There aren’t even concrete rules to Squid Game marbles; you just have to play any game you make up with your partner using 20 marbles and whoever has all the marbles at the end is the winner. It’s less scary and more heartbreaking, especially if you opted to team up with a partner who you know and trust — like Sang-woo and Ali or Gi-hun and the elderly Oh Il-nam — without knowing what the expectations of the game were going to be.
5. Ppopgi/Honeycomb Candy
Candy is only marginally scarier than marbles, if only for the fact that you could be poisoned while eating it. Not this candy though; this is just everyday confection made out of melted sugar and baking soda pressed with a unique shape by a cookie cutter. At best, the scariest thing about eating Korean Ppogi is the risk of getting a cavity or a tummy ache. But then, this is Squid Game we’re talking about — where even the most seemingly benign and innocuous of activities harbors dire and life-threatening consequences. Remember that one guy with the mask and the pink jumpsuit with the gun I told you about from the marble game? Yeah guess what, he’s back. Well, not exactly: The Honeycomb Candy game actually takes place before the marble game, and honestly you can’t tell any of these dudes apart from one another because of their masks.
The rules of this game are simple: each of the players is given a tin containing a honeycomb stamped with one of four shapes they chose at random before the start of the game; a circle, a triangle, a star, or an umbrella. In order to survive, each player must remove the shape intact from the honeycomb tin within 10 minutes. If a player is unable to fulfill either of these requirements, they are shot on sight. What makes the game dramatically more difficult is figuring out how exactly to remove the shape from the whole. A relatively simple task if you happen to choose a circle or a triangle; not so much if you chose a star or an umbrella. While several players try in desperation to chisel their honeycomb shapes out with a toothpick provided to each player, Seong Gi-hun and a select few remaining players devise a more ingenious solution to the game. All in all, a tasty and terrifying challenge.
4. Red Light, Green Light
Alright, now we’re talking. This shit is scary. If you’ve never played Red Light, Green Light, here are the rules: Players stand at the far end of a field behind a starting line while another person stands at the far opposite side of said field. The goal for the players is to cross to the opposite side of the field, moving only when the person at the opposite side says “Green Light” and stopping when they say “Red Light.” If someone is spotted moving after Red Light is called, they are eliminated from the game. Simple, right? This is where the creepy giant animatronic girl with the Terminator eyes comes in.
Probably the most iconic “character” in Squid Game apart from the aforementioned masked pink jumpsuit henchmen and the mysterious obsidian-clad Front Man orchestrating the games, the giant little girl robot turns to face a tree at the opposite end of the players and shouts “Green Light,” only to randomly corkscrew her head around à la Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist and shout “Red Light.” If she catches any players moving while Red Light is called, that player is shot by a number of turrets positioned high above the play area. Naturally, with this being the first of the six games in the tournament and the players themselves being blissfully unaware of the immense mortal danger they’ve put themselves in, that means there’s a whole lot of people who get killed trying to escape before the remaining players finally wise up and start playing correctly. The players only have five minutes to make it across the field to the finish line without being executed themselves. Red Light, Green Light is the perfect tone-setter for the horrors the competition’s participants will soon find themselves in.
3. Squid Game
Y’know what’s scary? Knife fights. Knife fights are scary. What’s even scarier is a knife fight in the middle of an obtuse foreign children’s game played between former childhood friends-turned-bitter rivals for fortune and survival. The namesake for the show itself, Squid Game is played on a field drawn in the sand, separating players into opposing teams of attackers and defenders. The goal of the attackers is to cross the center of the field on one foot before attempting to reach the “home” square drawn at the opposite side of the field, while the defender’s objective is to stop them … in this case, at all costs.
Naturally, what with this being a life-or-death game played for millions of dollars for the sake of the amusement of a clandestine group of masked Eyes Wide Shut-esque aristocrats eagerly watching on, there’s a whole lot of stabbing, choking, punching, and sand throwing. Needless to say it’s very sad, uncomfortable, and heart-pounding to watch; the perfect nightmarish scenario on which to end the tournament off on a high note.
2. Tug of War
Tug of War isn’t inherently a “scary” game, unless of course you’re terrified of any form of coordinated physical exertion. You probably know the rules already: one team of players holds one of a large braided rope while the other team holds the opposite side of said rope. The goal of the game is to overpower the opposing team by pulling on the rope at the same time, dragging them across the dividing line drawn in the center between the two. The organizers of the competition in Squid Game ramp up the difficulty by having participants chained to said rope and standing several hundred feet above a gaping chasm. If a team is overpowered and loses, they are dragged above said chasm right before a guillotine chops the rope in half, sending them plummeting to their imminent death. It’s grisly stuff; the kind of game that hammers in the chilling “kill or be killed” attitude that each of the individual participants must have if they’re to have any hope of surviving the tournament and claiming the 45.6 billion won (approx. $38,452 USD) prize.
1. Glass Stepping Stone Bridge
Oh my god, absolutely not. I will march in front of a firing squad before you ever catch my ass stepping one foot across that “bridge.” I don’t care how much money is on the line, I’d have been out of this tournament and safely back home by the end of game one, trust — y’all must be out of your damn mind thinking I would ever play this stupid game.
[Takes a deep breath] So anyway, the fifth and penultimate game of Squid Game is the “Glass Bridge” game. It’s not based on any schoolyard game that I’m familiar with — hopscotch, maybe? — but instead is a perverse invention devised by the orchestrators of the tournament for their own sick amusement. The Glass Bridge game is more a matter of blind luck than skill. At the start of the game, each of the sixteen remaining players stands at the opposite end of a gigantic room suspended several hundred feet above the ground. Between the entrance and the exit of the room are two “bridges” of side-by-side glass panels, each with 18 panels across. In order to win, players must cross the bridge to the other side of the room within 16 minutes. The catch: each of the panels between the two bridges is made of one of two types of glass: tempered glass, which can withstand the weight of at least two players, and regular glass, which will shatter on impact and send the player plummeting to their death. To make matters worse, even if you somehow manage to make it across to the opposite side, you’ll be pelted by a shower of splintered glass shards that will explode once the time limit is reached. Without question, the Glass Bridge is the most terrifying, cruel, and difficult game in all of Squid Game and I would absolutely slip and die on the first try.