Squid Game’s Scathing Critique of Capitalism

As an anti-capitalist parable, the only ways to fight back or upend the game in some small way are through acts of solidarity or by turning down the allure of the cash. The final clause in the game’s consent form states that the game can end if a majority of players agree to do so. After the brutal Red Light, Green Light massacre in the first, they do exactly that. The election might as well be a union vote. It’s shocking that the contract for the game included an escape clause at all, but it seems the host and his ilk enjoy at least allowing the illusion of free will if nothing else. The players who didn’t return after the first vote to leave the game, though unseen in this narrative, are perhaps the wisest of all. 

During tug of war, Gi-hun’s team surprises everyone by winning. Their teamwork, unity of purpose, and superior strategy help them defeat a stronger adversary, which is a basic principle of labor organizing, albeit usually not at the expense of the lives of other workers. Player 1 (Il-nam) and Player 240 (Ji-yeong) each find their own way to beat the game by essentially backing out of the competition during marbles. In exchange for friendship and choosing the circumstances of their own deaths, Ji-yeong and Il-nam each make their own, ethically sound choice under this miserable system. Il-nam gets an asterisk since he was never going to die, but he still found a choice beyond merely “kill” or “be killed” by teaching his Gganbu one “last” lesson and helping him continue on in the game. 

In the end, Gi-hun confounds the VIPs and the Front Man by coming to the precipice of victory and simply walking away. Under capitalism, this group of incredibly rich men simply could not understand how someone could come so close to claiming their prize, and choose not to. But for Gi-hun, human life always had greater value. Gi-hun followed (Player 67) Sae-byeok’s advice and stayed true to himself, refusing to actively take anyone’s life, especially not the life of his friend. 

Squid Game’s Ruling Class

Since the competition only exists because of the worst aspects of capitalism, it’s not surprising that in the end, it is itself a capitalist endeavor. Ultra-wealthy VIPs, who mostly seem to be white, Western men, spectate for a price and bet on the game. In their luxury accommodations, they lounge on silent human “furniture” and mistreat service staff. In one notable example, a VIP threatens to kill a server (who the audience knows to be undercover cop Hwang Jun-ho) if he doesn’t remove his mask, even though the VIP knows it would cost the server his life. 

Perhaps most enraging of all is what Player 1, who turns out to actually be the Host, has to say to Gi-hun a year after the game ends. It all circles back to the game’s existential connection to economics; on the one hand, there is the unshakeable link to a population in which a significant portion of people suffer from dire financial woes. On the other hand, there is the Host and his cronies, the ultra-rich who are so bored from their megarich lives that they decided to bet on deadly human bloodsport for fun just so they could feel something again, as though they were betting on horses. 

In spite of the enormous gulf between the two, the Host attempts to draw comparisons between the ultra-wealthy and the extreme poor, saying both are miserable. His little joke denies the reality of hunger, early death, trauma, and many other ways that being poor is actively harmful, both physically and mentally. It’s the kind of slow death that makes risking a quick one in the arena seem reasonable. He and his buddies were just kind of bored. Moreover, the Host denies the role of economic coercion in players taking part in the game, insisting that everyone was there of their own free will. But what free will can there be for people who owe millions, with families at home to care for and creditors at their back, when someone comes along and offers a solution, even a dangerous one? Anyone who has taken a dodgy job offer to get away from a worse one, or because they’re unemployed and the rent and college loans are due, knows that there is a limit to how truly free our choices can be when we need money, especially if there’s little to no safety net. 


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