“Have you watched Squid Game?” This was the conversation starter during Sep/Oct 2021. It smashed the popularity ratings being the top Netflix series viewed within 28 days of its release. It was yet another wave from the Korean tide that crashed on the shores of the West.
At the time of writing it feels like the Squid Game wave has come and gone.
Despite this, it's worth taking our time to consider what the appeal of Squid Game was and how to approach viewing it as Christians.
Let me be clear: this blog is not about whether you should or shouldn't watch the series but about how you should watch it.
So, let's just set out some baseline facts. Squid Game is entertaining. The simplicity of the rules and games is relatable cross-culturally, it develops interesting characters quickly, the soundtrack is simple and yet sets your pulses racing at times, there are twists and turns and cliffhangers (at one point, literally) that suck you in. These are all elements that make for entertaining TV.
Here's another simple baseline fact - if you are somebody who finds violence, blood, psychological thrills and sexual content unhelpful or triggering in any way then it won't be good to watch something like Squid Game (as is the case with many other shows out there).
A good thing to do before watching Squid Game (or any show in fact) is to pray. Given all the hype, my wife and I prayed before watching it and we asked the Lord for wisdom and guidance which I think He gave.
For me, here's the one big principle to remember when watching anything:
'Every narrative reflects some truth in the human soul'
Don't let the entertainment of the show cloud the narrative that the show is trying to get across. Every story reflects something of humanity and in the case of Squid Game it gets to the major issue of money and debt. It’s framed in Korean society so it may seem culturally specific in its presentation, but deep down it engages with that deep human desire of finding hope and salvation in money.
The irony is that the hope in the idol of money only leads to destruction. Squid Game levels the playing field: people from all ages and stages of life caught in overwhelming debt are sucked into playing simple children’s games. Simplicity is a huge draw of Squid Game. The rules and the concept are simple and the message is simple - the love of money is destructive. It highlights the failure in the system to protect humans caught in the vicious cycle of money and debt that can only lead to evil, violence and destruction. This is a familiar message also found in Scripture - 1 Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil." Squid Game captures this desire in the depths of the human heart in a powerful and simple way.
Here's the warning: Don't let the entertainment of Squid Game cloud that message. Squid Game is powerful because anyone can relate to our understanding of how destructive money can be, but then places it within the entertaining arena of Squid Game. My fear is that the clever yet simple entertainment factor allows us to sit back and disengage from the reality that the god of money can be so destructive. It blinds us to the deep message of the destruction unfolding before our eyes. Hearing that a second season was coming highlights exactly this issue. Entertainment and making money matters more than the original message Squid Game highlighted - the devastating power of the god of money.
How does a Christian respond to this?
'There is only one narrative that reveals the truth needed for the human soul'
Whenever I watch something like Squid Game, I try and see how part of it reflects the depth of the human soul in our sin and depravity and how this points us towards the only narrative that can give us hope found in Jesus. It's clear in Squid Game - the narrative shows our depravity in how human beings will naturally pursue gods that ultimately destroy. It's a powerful narrative that shows if you leave people to their desires under the god of money the arena is where you will end up. The fact that it was so popular shows people do understand that desire.
Ironically, the only solution out of Squid Game is to earn more money and stay out of debt. For us on the sofa watching it, it makes us think we're immune as long as we are not in the debt spiral. This is dangerous because it doesn't get to the heart of the matter. The god of money still entices and draws us in, even on the comforts of our sofa. Don't let entertainment blind you to that.
Instead, we need to find a new narrative in a God who doesn't oppress, who doesn't desire you to spiral into further debt, but instead sends His own Son to pay the greatest debt imaginable: a debt before God that we would never be able to afford. Instead of asking people to step into an arena in a blood-duel, he takes that debt upon himself. His blood is poured out to redeem the debt in our lives once and for all.
We are freed from being enslaved to the god of money, and are given new hearts that worship God our creator, our protector, our saviour.
Jesus must step into such narratives and draw our hearts out of them to the only true narrative that we all need to hear, follow and be a part of.
That said, the reality is that for many, financial matters are a struggle. Money in and of itself is a neutral object; the problem is our love for it, that it becomes all-consuming and controlling in our lives. This is a reality for many who do get caught in debt spirals. Squid Game teaches us to be careful not to judge: nobody sought to be in the arena when they first started out. Instead, let’s act in love and turn to charities like Christians Against Poverty among others, who can help restructure debt and budget better. But don't just stop there. What we need is not behavioural change but heart change and that can only be found in the narrative we find in Scripture - that Jesus has come to pay our greatest debt once and for all. Changed hearts alongside structured support will be of great benefit to anybody caught in the vices of debt. Squid Game teaches us a thing or two about the darkness of human soul, the Bible teaches us about the light that shines into it.