The Happee Times 

Invest in your Happiness

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October 2021

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CONTENT

Understanding The Psyche Of The Squid Game Characters

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs 

Ambiguity Aversion

Understanding the Psyche of Squid Game characters

The show Squid Game has taken the world by storm. It has become Netflix’s biggest show ever and has been watched by more than 142 million households within a month since its release. The show offered a thrilling yet dark perspective on what humans would act like in a dystopian game where their life is on the line, and there is a possibility of winning 4.56 billion won. It took the viewers on an emotional rollercoaster ride by featuring emotions like empathy, fear, guilt, helplessness, and anxiety. We decided to analyze Squid Game from a psychological perspective and dive deep into the thought processes of the characters. Please note, that this is our personal and subjective opinion.

Disclaimer: *Spoilers ahead!*

In Squid Game, we see the players regress to their raw animal instincts and treat each other brutally in order to win. In order to understand the psychology behind their actions, we can take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The games threatened the most basic human needs of the players – their safety and physiological needs. The players were in an extremely unpredictable situation and had to be on guard, constantly. It was a matter of life or death for them and hence, we witnessed the players solely depending on their survival instincts and omitting the line between good and evil.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Player 456: Gi-hun

Seong Gi-hun, the protagonist of this show, has been portrayed as a kind-hearted and empathetic individual. We can, in almost every game, think of a scene that conveys his strong beliefs and value system. From him choosing Il-Nam, the supposedly weak link, as his partner for the 4th game to wanting to quit at the last moment and give up the money to save his friend, Sang-woo, we get the idea that the lives of those he loved meant more to him than the cash prize or this game. 

What dilutes our positive view of his character is his gambling addiction. The fact that he continued to impulsively bet even after being in complete debt because of it and even ended up using his mother’s savings. 

Interestingly, he continued to live the way he did, maybe in even worse conditions, after winning the huge cash prize. The reasons behind this could be several. He could’ve been traumatised after witnessing an unimaginable number of deaths, including the people he was close to. Maybe it was the survivor's guilt. Him not using the money for a long time could be attributed to the fact that he might’ve felt that all that cash prize was blood money, that cost 455 deaths. 

There is a lot that we learn from his character. 

The first thing is, unlike him, one should prioritize their needs over their wants in times of crisis. Even in a condition where he was living on the edge, he decided to use his mother’s money to gamble instead of utilizing in a way that could promise him a step towards a better life.

Money does not always equal peace and happiness. Even after having access to 45.6 billion won, on the swipe of a card, he lived a life filled with grim and despair. This can be attributed to the cost he had to pay for this money. 

Another thing that made his character touch all of our hearts is the fact that he was a nice person, at heart, and cared about his loved ones, even though he had known them for a brief while. 

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Player 218: Sang-woo

Having graduated from a prestigious university in Seoul, Sang-woo earned his reputation as an intelligent and successful individual. However, it seemed like his greed for money and the desire to keep up with his reputation left him in dire straits. He even used his mother’s shop as collateral for a loan. Upon entering the games, Sang-woo displayed a ruthless desire to win, even at the cost of other players’ lives. His intellect proved to be his strength as he guessed what the second game could be and also came up with an idea at the last minute to save his team in the game of tug-of-war. 

Sang-woo’s greed for money and his desire to keep up his reputation of being a successful man was the reason why he wanted to win, no matter the means. Even if it meant killing an already injured Sae-byeok, so that she and Gi-hun could not cast a majority vote to leave the games.

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Player 067: Sae-byeok

Sae-byeok, a character that almost everyone would be fond of, can be seen as an unfaltering strong female. Her being a defector from North Korea, losing her dad while crossing the border, seeing her mom get captured by the soldiers, and having to deal with smugglers while arranging money to get her mom to South Korea indicates why she was always on guard and believed she couldn’t trust anyone. 

Even after living an arduous life, she has been seen holding onto her humanity till the very end. This can be sensed in the scene where she tries to stop Gi-hun from stabbing Sang-woo, saying “Don’t do it. This isn’t you. You are a good person at heart”.

Even after living an arduous life, she has been seen holding onto her humanity till the very end. This can be sensed in the scene where she tries to stop Gi-hun from stabbing Sang-woo, saying “Don’t do it. This isn’t you. You are a good person at heart”. 

Bringing her mother back and taking care of her brother becomes her only purpose of living. Even though she meets a despairing end, her last wish of her brother being taken care of is thankfully fulfilled by, Gi-hun, the last one standing.

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Player 001: Oh Il-nam

Il-nam, player 001, was the oldest among all players. He had the desire to live his remaining life to the fullest and had nothing to lose since he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He seemed fearless. He turned out to be quite wise and saved his team by coming up with a strategy during the tug-of-war, a game that he played numerous times in his childhood.  In the end, we come to know how deceitful he was, as he was one of the organizers of the game. He was immensely wealthy, and his sole aim to enter the games was “to have fun” during the remaining time that he had.  

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Player 199: Ali 

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Ali was the kindest of them all. He was willing to help others, was respectful, and well-mannered. The reason he ended up in the games was a result of poor circumstances, and him not being paid by his employer for the past six months. Even till the end, he did not want to harm others and was devastated at the possibility of Sang-woo being killed after losing the marbles game. He was too kind for his own good and was taken advantage of by Sang-woo.

Player 101: Deok-su 

Deok-su, one of the main antagonists, evokes feelings of disgust and loathing as soon as we hear his name.

He has been seen as being a complete exploiter to anyone and everyone around him. He is evil, rebellious, loud, and willing to go to any length to win the game. Being a gang member who participated in the squid game to repay his debts to a mafia, he only relied on his brute strength throughout. 

The catch here is that his strong and dictatorial persona, specially seen in his last moments on the glass bridge game, could be the flip side of his weak and frightened insides. He himself was loyal to none in the game, and when alerted by Gi-hun, grew suspicious and distrustful of his own teammates.

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Player 212: Mi-nyeo

Mi-nyeo was a manipulative woman by nature who was ready to do anything to win, even if it meant begging, cheating, and letting go of her self-respect. She had a bad reputation, and in the end, nobody wanted her on their team.  

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Player 240: Ji-yeong 

Ji-yeong was a lonely girl with a traumatic past. She had witnessed her father kill her mother, and in a fit of rage, Ji-yeong stabbed him. She was sent to juvenile prison for this and upon being released, she had nowhere to go. It seemed like she felt empty, had a damaged sense of self, and there were moments that showed a sense of dissociation like when she kept saying to Sae-byeok “when we’ll get out of here”. She had no family or friends, had no meaning in life or a sense of worth, and hence, had no problem sacrificing herself for someone else. 

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Ambiguity Aversion

A shocking, not so shocking, fact mentioned by the frontman in the show is that the 2nd round of the game had about a 93% re-entrance rate. This means that 93% of the players returned to play the game again, voluntarily, knowing the ridiculous level of risk. 

The interesting thing is that this percentage, or more so, is something that the host/ whoever was organising the games, was already expecting. How? The easy explanation is that all of the players had such desperate life conditions that they considered the game to be much easier than ‘life’. 

An in-depth understanding of this could be built by knowing the Psychological concept of ‘ambiguity aversion’. This concept states that people are more likely to pick the option with ‘known risk’, instead of ‘unknown risk’.

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In an experiment, on being given 2 containers with 100 balls each, one containing 50 purple and 50 orange balls, the other one also containing purple and orange balls but the number being unknown, a higher percentage of subjects ended up choosing container 1. For the players, the game can be seen as being container 1 and their life being the completely unknown and uncertain container 2.

 

In times of crisis, human beings tend to get attracted toward certainty, be it in any form. Here, they might’ve found the 50/50 chance of winning or death upon losing more promising than a life full of uncertainties.

 

We can conclude from here that the Squid game, from the very invitation to the players, was active psychological warfare.