Squid Game: The obsession with ‘battle royale’ and survival genres
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Squid Game: The obsession with ‘battle royale’ and survival genres

The survival drama TV series is the first South Korean production to be ranked no.1 on Netflix globally

Ryan Gomez
Oct 07, 2021
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South Korean films and TV shows have steadily gained popularity over the decade. Korean television shows, or more popularly known as K-dramas, are witnessing a surge in viewership in India in the pandemic era. There could be several factors that could be attributed as to why there is a fervour for these shows, but the simplest answer would be that viewers have started consuming more content through streaming platforms and K-dramas offered something entirely unique - an escape from the mundane lives during the lockdown. This is very similar to how postmodern literature, after the fall of the Third Reich, saw a significant increase in the demand for fantasy and dystopian stories - a genre that is still sought after in 2021.

Squid Game is by no means a unique narrative, its success lies in its execution and the timing of its release - a period when streaming platforms are taking over the space, once dominated by network and cable television programs from the United States. The TV show is in fact inspired by films such as the Japanese feature films Battle Royale and Alice in Borderland, German film Das Experiment, and blockbuster Hollywood films from the Hunger Games franchise based on the novels by Suzanne Collins. In fact, Battle Royale and Hunger Games were influential in the launch of ‘battle royale’ video games such as PUBG and Fortnite.

The success of these games led to some of the bigger franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield to introduce their own versions of the ‘battle royale’ mode where avatars of online gamers from across the globe will be dropped in on a 3D rendered map with a choice of weapons to fight till the death. The gaming industry currently has an estimated annual revenue of nearly $150 million, which is three times as much as the film industry and seven times as much as the music industry according to data monitoring website Statista.

The gaming industry itself could also be a contributing factor to the popularity of Squid Game. That is in no way a suggestion that the creators of the series piggybacked on the success of previous adaptations of the genre and video games. In fact, the creator, Hwang-Dong-hyuk, had to overcome an avalanche of obstacles to finally see his vision come to life. His pitch for Squid Game was rejected for over 10 years, long before the gaming industry caught up with the idea. In retrospect, it could also be argued that the success of the games may have nudged producers to finally greenlight the project.

The show is not without its problems, however. There has been an uproar about the poor quality of English subtitles provided for the Korean, with many bilingual speakers claiming that the essence of several dialogues has been lost in translation. According to a report by the BBC, the closed-captioned subtitles at times alter some of the meanings of certain dialogues that have hampered the overall quality of the show. This has been a topic of debate for years with regards to Japanese anime and subtitles. Anime fans often argue that the best way to watch it is with Japanese audio and English subtitles, instead of dubbed audio - a logic that is skewed because unless the audience can understand the Japanese or Korean, they are reading nothing but dubbed audio in close captions.

The controversy surrounding the audio and subtitles is not essentially a criticism that is thrown at the creators, if anything the fault lies with the distributors. Regardless of these issues there is no denying that Squid Game has become a global phenomenon. It remains to be seen if a season 2 will be made, but fans of the show remain hopeful.

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