Red Light, Green Light

By Jane Elliott

The Korean TV drama Squid Game is Netflix’s most popular show ever, having reached the number one spot in ninety countries. It tells the story of a diverse group of characters, all heavily in debt, who agree to compete in a series of traditional children’s games with untraditional stakes: losers are killed and the final survivor takes the entire jackpot.

Fictional survival games – often variations of gladiatorial combat – appear in classic episodes of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone from the 1960s, and the 1980s movie The Running Man (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and very loosely based on a Stephen King novel; a new, more faithful adaptation is currently in production)But the trickle of such titles onto our screens through the 20th century has grown to a flood since Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale was released in Japan in 2000. The high-water mark before Squid Game was probably The Hunger Games franchise.

But to criticise Squid Game for its similarities to other survival game stories is a bit like criticising Notting Hill for being a rom-com…

This is an extract from a piece published last month at the London Review of Books Blog, which can be found at

Jane Elliott teaches English at King’s College London. Her most recent book is The Microeconomic Mode: Political Subjectivity and Contemporary Popular Aesthetics.

Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.

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