Here's what I learnt from real-life 'Squid Game' in Abu Dhabi

The children's games from the hit South Korean show are not as easy as they look

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These days, you can’t go anywhere without coming across some reference to Squid Game.

The Netflix series from South Korea is having quite a moment as the streaming platform announced Tuesday it had the biggest launch for an original series, with more than 111 million people tuning in since its debut on September 17.

For those who are yet to watch, the hit show follows a group of debt-ridden contestants in South Korea who are tricked into playing children’s games in a tournament for a prize worth almost $40 million. Unfortunately, if they lose, they die.

Squid Game has become so popular that Abu Dhabi’s Korean Cultural Centre decided to recreate some of the games played on the show, minus the deadly consequences.

“The games seemed a bit brutal in the series to maximise the dramatic element, however, actually, all the games in the series are popular games played by Korean children from the past to the present. KCC would like the people in the UAE to learn more about Korean culture by participating in the event,” said the Korean Cultural Centre.

With more than 700 people applying to attend Tuesday’s event, only 30 were selected as two groups of 15 would take part. As one of the lucky contestants, here’s how I did while playing the real-life Squid Game.

Let the games begin

The first game was Red Light, Green Light which I'd heard of even before the show, vaguely remembering playing it as a child growing up in the US.

In the live version, the song played in the show was also used, meaning players were only allowed to move when we heard the singing but had to remain still when it stopped. This would probably explain why I was eliminated right away, accidentally shifting my weight forward to move before the music began playing again.

I was lightly hit with a foam gun and given a sticker with a skull on it to put over the number 010 on my shirt, to show I had been axed.

Even though I had been eliminated early, I still got to take part in the other games, including Dalgona, which has become a viral trend on its own. We were given toffee honeycomb candy that had preselected shapes imprinted on them, such as a circle, triangle, star and flower. The goal was to cut it out with a pin without cracking or breaking the preset shape.

The honeycomb toffee game, also known as dalgona, featured four shapes including a circle and flower. Victor Besa / The National

Two of my fellow players had triangles and another had a flower, while I got unlucky with a star. Feeling the pressure of the task at hand, even though we had 10 minutes to complete it, a side of my star broke almost immediately.

As it turns out, even with a second chance, I’m just not cut out for this. Knowing I was 0 for 2 in the two games I had tried since arriving, I quickly realised that were I to compete in a real-life Squid Game tournament, it's unlikely I'd survive.

I still got to practice marbles with Nam Chan-woo, the director of Korean Cultural Centre, though. We stood in front of a layout for the Korean game Squid (which is the game the show takes its name from) that has a circle, triangle and rectangle layout. Our goal was to see who could roll their marble closest to the circle.

I also tried my hand at Ttakji, the first game played on the first episode of the show. It's similar to Pog, with two players trying to flip the other's tile (a folded paper origami) by slamming their own tile as hard as they can into the other person's tile on the floor. Fortunately, there was no slapping involved, but unfortunately, I was not very good at this either.

Since there were no lethal consequences for being unable to succeed, there was no real pressure and I still got to enjoy an evening meeting people from different backgrounds while also discovering more about Korean culture.

Despite the dark premise of Squid Game, there's some truth in how these children's games bring people together. It's nice to be able to put away our phones, and be reminded of a simpler, more innocent time in our lives – even if it's only for an evening.

Updated: October 13, 2021, 1:59 PM