After musing on pages of barely intelligible classical literature on Friday night, I decided to amuse myself to sleep on YouTube. On the homepage was a new clip: $456,000 Squid Game In Real Life! In the video, popular content creator MrBeast reenacted almost every game in the South Korean survival drama “Squid Game,” save the violence and gore. With 456 participants vying for $456,000 real prize money, this may be the closest that we can come to “Squid Game” within the confines of the law.

But my initial excitement was soon replaced by pity, as participants, one after another, were “eliminated” by chance and favoritism with little skill involved, just like in the show. They left the playing field with real tears, realizing their innocent decision and bad luck just forfeited a potentially life-changing amount of money to others. A shiver came along my spine: While I was enjoying “Squid Game,” safely enclosed in the Yale bubble from the dreadful cold, I realized that the ideology behind the games has already become not only permissible, but also pleasurable in real life.

“Squid Game” speaks to us because of its exceptional tragic pleasures. It evokes our pity for those who lost by undeserved misfortune, but it also evokes our fear because we know that our society’s “meritocratic” mechanisms, at the most fundamental level, operate on a similar basis as that of “Squid Game.” Just like it is drastically easier to carve out the shape of a circle than of an umbrella out of the dalgona candy, people who happen to get the more adverse track of life are punished disproportionately, as if it were their own fault.

While we were rooting for our favorite character in “Squid Game,” trying to find out the “winner” and “losers,” few of us paused to question whether there is any “merit” behind the games and whether the very existence of the Squid Game and similar selective mechanisms has any justification. What did we do instead? We had fun watching the gladiatorial spectacle. The real tragedy behind “Squid Game” is that, in order to appreciate the tragic pleasures embedded in the show, one has to already be in the club of better-offs. For citizens oppressed by state instruments, civilians in war-torn regions, and all the people who must fight for their lives every day, the show is a grim reminder of the Darwinian social order too often sugarcoated as simplistic narratives of success and failure. When the social contract not only fails to provide equal opportunities for the vulnerable but also actively works against them, is it really inconceivable that what “Squid Game” offers — the promise of a fresh start, a “level” playing field — can have genuine appeal?

“Squid Game” should remind us that, while we have the luxury of indulging ourselves in binge-watching Netflix series, we are survivors of a ruthlessly competitive system that “eliminates” those who cannot match up to the standard established by those in power. It was a great show — but I don’t want to watch any more of it.

JULIUS LIN is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at