A scene from Squid Game

A bloody scene from Squid Game
Image via Netflix

‘Squid Game’: Have we become desensitized to hyper-violence?

Is ‘Squid Game’ offering us an escape from reality or is it highlighting the sad state of the world we’re living in? We share our thoughts…

A scene from Squid Game

A bloody scene from Squid Game
Image via Netflix

If you’ve watched Netflix’s Squid Game, chances are you might not have flinched much. As South Africans, we’re used to hearing, reading and even experiencing a gruesome amount of violence on a regular basis.

According to the Gallup Law and Order Index poll, SA was listed as the fifth most dangerous country in the world in 2020 – and our crime rate has been compared to a literal warzone.

We’re only a few steps behind Afghanistan – who are now living under the terrifying rule of the Taliban, who govern the country with an iron clad fist and dictate the movements of every citizen.


Squid Game – the South Korean “survival drama” about an ordinary, yet gravely desperate group of people who risk their lives in the hopes of getting cold, hard cash under extremely dangerous circumstances – sounds like some not so far-fetched for many South Africans who live in abject poverty.

Also read: ‘Squid Game’ cast: A restaurateur, salesman & Harry Potter fan [pics]

The series main characters also have relatable storylines – Gi-hun has been retrenched and cannot afford life-saving surgery for his sick mother, Sang-Woo is dodging dangerous loan sharks, Ji-Yeong murdered her abusive father who sexually abused her, and Ali is simply trying to make a better life for his family.

All are facing insurmountable debt and the inability to ever pay it back, unless they take drastic steps.

And then there’s the violence.

Despite being in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, murder, gender-based violence/rape and violent crimes continue to top SA’s crimes stats for the first quarter of the financial year (2020/2021), as noted by Police Minister Bheki Cele

He said in his speech in August: “Contact crimes such as murder, attempted murder, sexual offences and all categories of assault registered a 60, 6% increase, compared to the corresponding period of the previous financial year.”

With this being said, many tweeps think that Mzansi has much in common with the hit Netflix series, albeit the somewhat child-like references.

“If you live in South Africa you are already playing Squid Game”, posted one tweep. “South Africa is the real Squid Game for Females…one step and it’s lights out”, said another

“Survive the streets and get your pay,” said a third.


Netflix has given Squid Game an age rating of 16 – with warnings of “sexual violence references, injury detail, crude humour, sex, suicide, sexual images, violence”.

And the success of the series – which has yet to be formally commissioned for season two – is undeniable – from memes to TikTok challenges to pop culture references, Squid Game is everywhere.

It’s easy to see why the series has been so popular, says Sung-ae Lee, a lecturer in Asian Studies at the Macquarie University

She said in a column: “First, it draws on a worldwide cultural obsession with game shows, from quiz shows where winners hope to make a fortune to reality television programs such as Survivor“.

The dark humour – human’s go-to coping mechanism – is also a factor. “The series also contains a lot of black comedy and even schadenfreude. There is a humorous contradiction between events on the screen, and the romantic music of the soundtrack,” she added.

And finally the high-quality level of production is also appealing. She adds: “Its visuals are strong and it builds suspense very effectively. Such elements temper what otherwise might seem heavy-handed social critique.

Also read: ‘Cruel masterpiece’: Here’s why Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’ is a must-watch!

And the pandemic we’re currently experiencing has everything to do with the obsession too.

“Since the start of the pandemic, dystopia, apocalypse, infection films and games [have] just been hugely popular,” says Professor Susan Watkins of Leeds Beckett University.

The Cultural Studies and Humanities lecturer and expert in post-apocalyptic writing believes the series forms both a sense of “escapism” and “coping mechanisms” to the plight people around the world are facing.

“I think it’s because we’re living in apocalyptic and dystopian times, and people want to see what they’re experiencing worked out in imaginative forms.

“You might think, ‘Oh people might want to escape reality’, but in fact, when reality is as dark as it has been during the pandemic, consuming dystopian stories can become something people need.

“It’s almost like processing trauma. Such stories and shows allow us to think through what’s really going on, and put into play important questions we may be grappling with on some level ourselves”.


It may be Netflix’s most popular show ever, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

In fact, it’s just too much for some viewers who’ve had to switch off their screens mid series.

It’s also a scary reminder just how desensitized many people are to gruesome violence and murder.

But whether you’re a fan or have chosen to give it a miss, Squid Game is undeniably the sign of the times we’re living in.