I played the children’s games made popular again by ‘Squid Game,’ and I would have been eliminated by the first round

I held my hands up in defeat after my game partner won all of my marbles.
I held my hands up in defeat after my game partner won all of my marbles. Lauren Frias
  • Netflix hit “Squid Game” has inspired Halloween costumes, viral TikTok challenges, and late-night binge-watching.
  • The show prompted me to attempt to recreate the games to spend a nice Sunday afternoon outdoors.
  • After playing the series of six games, I found myself nowhere close to winning the hypothetical jackpot.
  • Warning there are “Squid Game” spoilers ahead.

If you have been on the prowl for last-minute Halloween costume ideas, are keen on attempting trending TikTok challenges, or simply looking for a new series to binge on Netflix, chances are you’ve come across “Squid Game.”

The Korean survival drama series, which debuted on the streaming platform on September 17, centers on a group of adults struggling to pay off their debts. They’re invited to play children’s games to win 45 billion won, or about $US40 ($AU54) million – but losing the games has deadly consequences.

The show’s concept was picked up by Netflix two years ago, and following its debut the show skyrocketed to international fame, becoming the platform’s top show in more than 90 countries and its most popular show of all time. It’s been subtitled in 31 languages and dubbed in 13, with about 95% of viewers outside South Korea, Netflix told The Wall Street Journal.

The show’s success also sparked real-world conversations on the mounting debt crisis and toxic work conditions in South Korea over the last several years. Earlier this week, tens of thousands of union workers in the country – some even dressed in “Squid Game”-inspired costumes – went on strike, violating the nation’s strict COVID-19 social distancing measures to demand improved workers’ rights of the government.

Lim Yun Suk, the Korea Bureau Chief for Channel News Asia, tweeted that some union workers said, like the characters in the popular Korean survival drama, “they too are struggling to make a living.”

Insider’s Cheryl Teh also spoke to some Millenials living in South Korea, who opened up about their own struggles being mirrored in the show as they face mounting debt, unaffordable homes, and dead-end jobs.

Aside from the darker, twisted take on childhood games, the show inspired some people to organize their own “Squid Game”-themed events in real life, including YouTuber Mr. Beast and a Korean cultural center in Abu Dhabi.

Operating on a much lower budget, I was also curious to see how close I would get to winning the 45.6 billion won (roughly $US38.4 ($AU51) million USD) if I was compelled to participate in the game – without as drastic of consequences.

So, I rounded up a few kids who were used to playing these games in school – my cousins and brother – and some adults who were keen on participating- my friends, aunt, and myself – to test how long we would survive in the series of six activities in “Squid Game.”

Red Light, Green Light
Players run across the field to the finish line before the music stops.
Players run across the field to the finish line before the music stops. Lauren Frias
The rules of “Red Light, Green Light” are as simple as its name: move towards the finish line when the judging player yells “green light,” freeze in place when they call “red light.”

We decided to take our own spin on the playground game — sans the creepy, giant robot doll. My uncle played the show’s cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To the Moon” by singer Joo Won on a speaker, signaling that the players could make their way towards the finish line while the music was playing. We were prompted to stop dead (figuratively) in our tracks when the song was paused.

Our time restriction to reach the finish line was limited to the two-minute duration of the song.

All nine players lined up across the field, with only about half of us successfully making it across the finish line.

I was convinced that this game would be a cakewalk, but perhaps it was the low stakes and absence of a terrifying eagle-eyed doll that I became the second person to get out after laughing at another player for being eliminated over a poorly hidden foot adjustment.

RESULT: Eliminated

 

Dalgona Candy (Ppogi)
A cut-out star from a Korean dalgona candy
A cut-out star from a Korean dalgona candy with failed attempts at the game in the background. Lauren Frias
The second game played in “Squid Game” was a challenge involving dalgona candy, a Korean sugar candy also known as “ppogi.”

The recipe for the candy simply consisted of a few tablespoons of sugar melted down with a pinch of baking soda, and the concoction would be placed on a non-stick surface, flattened down, and a shape would be gently pressed into the center of the disc with a cookie cutter before it cooled down completely.

The object of the game: cut out the shape in the center of the sugar disc without breaking the shape.

The candies have been sold by South Korean street vendors for decades — namely in the 1970s and 1980s — and most recently surged in popularity on TikTok amid the show’s success. Users attempted to recreate the challenge in their kitchens, leading to trending hashtags like #dalgonachallenge, #dalgonacandychallenge, and #honeycombchallenge, which have more than 100 million views combined, Insider’s Charlotte Colombo reported.

This game was one I endeavored alone in the kitchen since it was hard to transport such delicate candies to a park. After watching endless TikTok videos, reading recipes and cooking tips, and much trial and error, I successfully made a few viable candies to test the difficulty of the game.

I tried a few methods in an attempt to win the game, the first being the traditional way of using a needle to scrape away at the sides of the shape to extract it. Within mere seconds, the points of the star came away with the surrounding scraps.

I then decided to take a page out of the main protagonist Seong Gi-hun’s book (Player 456) and licked the back of the candy, eroding the thinner edges of the shape to break off the excess. I soon found there was a reason he made it past this level, as the shape came out more-or-less perfect.

But, in fairness to the players in the real game who were only given one chance to pluck out the shape without breaking it, it only makes sense to conclude that my failed first stab spells out my elimination.

RESULT: Eliminated

Tug-of-War
Players lined up on either side of a chalk line ahead of the tug-of-war game.
Players lined up on either side of a chalk line ahead of the tug-of-war game. Lauren Frias
Another classic playground game: tug-of-war. We split our players in half by number — evens versus odds (my aunt sat out this round due to the shortened length of the rope), with four players on each team.

The object of the game was to pull all of the members on the opposing team past the chalk line drawn in front of the first player of each respective team.

In terms of manpower, my team came a little short in comparison to the two teenage athletes on the opposing side. But taking into consideration strategy of Oh Il-Nam (Player 001), one of the show’s main characters alongside Gi-hun, I instructed my team to plant their feet facing forward, stick the rope under the armpits, and lean all the way back until you feel the other team give.

But the strategy wasn’t enough to overpower the opposing team’s strength. Even the rope couldn’t handle the tugging and it partially snapped relatively quickly into the game. But it at least stayed mostly intact as we were all dragged across the line, losing yet another round.

RESULT: Eliminated

 

Marbles
My aunt and brother holding out their hands while playing the marble game.
My aunt and brother holding out their hands while playing the marble game. Lauren Frias
We proceeded onto the fourth round of games: marbles. We each found a partner, with one odd player out — much like Han Mi-Nyeo (Player 212) who sat out the round after being unable to find a partner.

Like in the show, each pair was given the option to come up with a zero-sum game to win all of the marbles in their opponent’s hand.

Most of us opted to play the odds and evens game that was played by most of the characters who made it this far in the show, with one pair attempting the throwing game played by the devious Jang Deok-su (Player 101), the show’s infamous villain who was known for doing anything to survive the series of events.

My game partner and I chose to play odds and evens. One player is tasked with picking some number of marbles and placing it in a closed fist in front of their opponent, and the opposite player has to guess if the number of marbles in their hand is odd or even.

If they’re correct, the player must give those marbles to the opponent, and if they’re wrong, the opponent must give the player as many marbles that are in their fist.

The game continues with each partner taking a turn until one of the two players has all of their opponent’s marbles, then allowing them to claim victory.

It was entirely a game of guessing and chance, and, in the theme of the last three games, luck was simply not on my side. I lost all the marbles in my hand to my opponent, resulting in yet another elimination.

RESULT: Eliminated

 

Glass Stepping Stone Bridge
I carefully chose which panel would allow me to successfully cross the bridge without landing on an 'X.'
I carefully chose which panel would allow me to successfully cross the bridge without landing on an ‘X.’ Lauren Frias
The glass stepping stone bridge from episode seven of “Squid Game” took a little more creativity to recreate in real life — and on a more realistic budget.

In lieu of building a glass suspension bridge multiple stories in the air, I instead took pieces of cardboard, cut it into two dozen small panels, and drew a white X on one side of the panel on half of the boards.

The “X” represented the regular glass panes, which would break under the weight of the players in the show, and the panels without an “X” were the tempered glass panes.

We then placed the boards side-by-side in two columns, allowing players to line up according to the numbers that were randomly given to us at the start of the games.

I was fortunate enough not to be the first nor the last in line, having received “007” as my number. However, that luck was cut short, as I found myself unsuccessful in trying to cross the bridge without landing on an “X,” even with six players ahead of me to test the waters.

But the game of chance wasn’t on the side of the last two players either, who also stepped on an “X” shortly after I was eliminated. Had this been a regular “Squid Game” competition, the VIPs — an elusive titled granted to the mysterious rich men who apparently gambled on the lives of the players involved in the games — would be in for a boring final round as none of our players would have made it past this round.

RESULT: Eliminated

 

Squid Game
The defense team grapples players on the offensive side to keep them from winning the game.
The defense team grapples with players on the offensive side to keep them from winning the game. Lauren Frias
The final game proved to be much more intense than I bargained for. The playground game popular among Korean children is typically played in a large open area, with three shapes — a circle, square, and triangle — making up the gaming arena, which resembles the shape of a squid.

 

“Squid Game” opened its first episode with cinematic black-and-white shots of a group of children playing the titular activity, voiced over by main protagonist Gi-Hun explaining the rules of the game:

“Children are divided into two groups: the offense and the defense,” the protagonist said. “Once the game starts, the defense can run around on two feet within bounds, while the offense outside the line is only allowed to hop on one foot.”

“But if an attacker cuts through the waist of the squid outpacing the defense, he or she is given the freedom to walk freely on two feet,” he continued. “After preparing for the final battle, the attackers gather at the entrance of the squid.”

“In order to win, the attackers must tap the small closed-off space on the squid’s head with their foot. If the defender pushes you out of the squid’s line, you die.”

 

We started off by appointing team captains — whom we deemed the tallest and strongest of the bunch — who chose players one by one to make up their teams. There was a coin toss to decide to give the captains the choice of offense and defense, and the team I was on played defense.

We found a large patch of dirt in the field we played the games to draw out the arena with a stick. And, very much on-trend with how the rest of the games went, my team came up short in spite of our best efforts, allowing the offense to set foot in the winner’s circle at the top of the squid’s head.

RESULT: Eliminated

So, after a series of six games, would I have won the $US45.6 ($AU61) billion prize money? The answer is a resounding “no.”

But did I have the time of my life feeling like a kid again participating in a friendly round of playground games on a Sunday afternoon? Absolutely.