The chances of my grandchildren seeing the Squid Game movie are slim not because they are yet unborn, but by 2033, when, hopefully, they arrive, another version of the game could have emerged. The lessons from this Netflix most-watched series of 2021, though, will forever be timeless.
The more I thought about the Squid Game, the more I realised the lessons ingrained within the entire episode. In fact, I found it rather interesting to see that the series has lessons that draw parallels between surviving Lagos and any other part of Nigeria.
What is the Squid Game?
Squid Game, created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, depicts a competition with 456 participants vying for stupendous cash made available to a lone survivor after overcoming a series of fatal events. To show that, viewers were in for a brutal experience only in episode 1 when more than half of the competitors are gunned down. In a version of “Red Light, Green Light” in which those who move after “Red Light” were called out and dispatched to meet their Maker.
The violence is intimate, yet impersonal, and the entire version of the Squid Game is not shy about showing gory scenes, sex organs, and the likes.
Squid Game cast
I know what you are thinking right now. And it’s a question. You are wondering what can be learned from a series that kept raising the stakes and the level of inhumanity? Well, I saw the first episode and was hooked to the last. It was an emotional experience that toyed with my heart and made me think seriously about life. A life my father didn’t prepare me for.
So here are the biggest lessons I gathered after watching the Squid Game which I will pass on to my grandchildren.
Lesson 1. Money can’t buy happiness
My grandchildren would most likely listen to the evergreen songs of The Beatles. One of which is Money can’t buy me Love. It is a good thing to know, but then, a man needs happiness too and the Squid Game reveals that money cannot buy happiness as well.
In the series, one may be fooled by thinking Il-Nam (played by Young-Soo) is having the time of his life. Rather, he’s bored stiff with life. And perhaps the biggest twist of the show is when we discovered he was actually the founder of the Squid Game, meant to entertain himself and his wealthy clients.
Happiness still eluded him even as he joined the games as a player to experience the thrill for himself in his remaining days. However, he finally found happiness, not in the thrill of the games, but in his friendship with the show’s protagonist, Seong Gi Hun (Lee Jung Jae).
Lesson 2. Actions, not good principles, make you good
A principle is a kind of rule, belief, or idea that guides you. Good principles can take the form of the basic truth that helps you with your life. For example, I will love more: not just people or things, but yourself; I will be vigilant with my thoughts; I will be of service to others, I will practice mindfulness are examples of good principles.
But action thumps all.
The first thing that strikes you at the beginning of the show is how much Gi Hun loves his daughter. He wants to give her the world, but his gambling addiction and the accumulated debt are huge stumbling blocks. Gi Hun is a good man at heart. But do his actions prove it? Definitely not.
The same can be said of the old man, Il-Nam. He had clear principles from the outset, which was that every participant should have a fair chance at winning the star prize. He completely frowned at cheating. But beyond those worthy principles, his chief motive for creating the Squid Game was to kill boredom.
Gi Hun, however, redeemed himself by the end of the series. His arc character was completed, and his actions, like taking care of his friends’ mother and brother, align with the good we saw in him at the start of the series. The noble act he did at the end, by not boarding the plane, sealed his reputation as a good person.
My grandchildren must know this.
Lesson 3. Greed can lead to destruction
Greed was the recurrent theme in the Squid Game as most of the contestants landed their positions in the series because of the five-letter-word.
Other examples of motives aided by greed are:
Jang Deok Su (Heo Sung Tae), the thug in the series, who tried to win by all means necessary. One cannot blame him, though, considering the circumstances in the games. But no one was unhappy when he met his demise at the hands of his “lover” Han Mi Nyeo (Kim Joo Ryoung).
One of the VIPs gets his just dessert from a police officer, Hwang Jun-ho (Wi Ha-Joon) while trying to take advantage of the young man during their on-site visit.
Some gamekeepers (those wearing red), sold organs from the dead participants as a side hustle. With no shame or remorse, they enlisted the help of one player, a doctor, who agreed to harvest the organs for information on the upcoming games. They were eventually caught and their execution didn’t make me feel sad. Promoting an unfair advantage is not what my grandchildren would be known for.
Lesson 4. Bad things happen to good people
Kang Sae Byeok (HoYeon Jung), is a good person. Molded by a brutal life as a North Korean irregular migrant, all she wanted in life was to free her mother and give her younger brother a better life. Like most of her peers who accumulated enormous debt, Sae Byeok grew hers hoping to smuggle her mother out of North Korea.
Was she dealt a good hand by Mother Nature? No. But then, most of us are not.
I will remind my grandchildren that even if they are good people and do everything right, sometimes they still lose.
Lesson 5. Don’t be Mr. Nice Guy to everyone
Being a Mr. Nice Guy could get you killed, like Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi). I cried and wished thunder would ‘fire’ Cho Sang Woo (Park Hae Soo) after he betrayed the Pakistani during the marble games.
Ali showed his loving side in the first game when he saved Gi Hun from certain death. He maintained that persona throughout, going the extra mile to help others while keeping himself safe. Trust became his undoing. While on the verge of beating Sang Woo in the marbles, he mistakenly believed Sang Woo’s plan to keep both of them alive. A wild goose chase ended up with a bullet to the head. And do you know who came out victorious? Sang Woo.
I will tell my grandchildren to be selective in whom they trust and help and to always take care of themselves because no one else can do it as they can.
Lesson 6. Always rely on strategy, not brute force
Having a six-pack may get you close, but an excellent strategy will get you far. In the tug-of-war game, Gi Hun’s team was woefully outmatched by their opponents. But with two girls, a dying old man, and someone with two missing fingers, they did the unthinkable and emerged victorious. They survived mainly because of Il-Nam’s initial plan and Sang Woo’s gut feelings.
As a writer, I can relate. Sometimes I can come up with a story after a long soul search. But most of the time, stepping back to come up with an idea is always more creative, and yields far quality outcomes.
Lesson 7. Opportunity comes more than once
I got a great quote from the series. “Life is like a game. There are many players. If you don’t play with them, they’ll play with you.”
At the start of the series, some players wanted to leave the game via mutual voting. The sheer savagery of the games was too much for them to cope with. But then, the opportunity to continue presented itself. They realised their odds of survival and accepted their fate that only a winner would emerge.
When the banking tsunami consumed me in 2010, I was in deep slumber and felt everything was lost. However, new windows of opportunity opened, and I gradually climbed through them. So, I will tell my grandchildren not to lose hope when they feel stuck in life.
Opportunity doesn’t come but once. It comes again and again. All you need is to be prepared for it.
There are many other lessons to learn from Squid Game season 1 and there is no doubt more to come in seasons 2, 3, and so on. The entire series reflects our society. Society could be better or worse in 2033. Netflix could have even moved on from being purely a streaming service to one that offers users the ability to download classic series like the Squid Game. Whichever way it is, I will tell my grandchildren to keep their eyes, ears, and hearts open, but their mouths shut for the right moments.
That’s meant for each of us as well.