Squid Game in the Philippines? What Traditional Games Would Make It

Photo courtesy of Netflix

It is no secret that the South Korean show Squid Game has captured the imagination of the world, especially the Filipino community.

The survival drama series was released worldwide on the well-known streaming service Netflix on September 17 and immediately ranked in the top 10 shows in Netflix Philippines just after a few days online. Lasting for nine episodes, the show explored the dark and desperate measures that people in a high-stakes, life or death competition would take to win—and, goodness, does it get dark. 

In Squid Game, 456 players are put through six rounds of traditional Korean children’s games for the chance to win a cash prize 45.6 billion Korean Won. Sounds simple enough, yes? The twist is that all six of these games come with death penalties for losing, and all 456 players come from various extenuating life circumstances—debt, poverty, you name it—that compels them to stay and play through to the end.

Squid Game is such a relevant and entertaining series. It has caused many to try playing the (regular, non-lethal version of) the games themselves. And some even wonder what the equivalent would be in their own country. The Filipino community, in particular, has taken to wondering what that would be like in the Philippines.

Squid Game: Philippine Edition?

In a post on their official Facebook page, Netflix Philippines shared what the Filipino equivalent of these games would be. Now, while it might seem fun, let’s not try to replicate the deadly aspects of the show, alright?

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Ddakji = Pogs

The introductory game that pulled the players into the main game is ddakji. Similar to pogs, opposing players would use flat paper-like items to hit their opponent’s piece in the hopes of flipping the piece over.

Pogs may not have had a DIY aspect to it, but the spirit is the same, don’t you think?

Do you have any favorite pogs designs?

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Red Light, Green Light: Pepsi 7-Up

In this first round game, where you usually had another playmate be the “It” player or the one responsible for saying the arc words, Squid Game employed the assistance of a giant animatronic doll that shoots lasers out of its’ eyes to deal with the players that moved at the wrong time. 

Despite its laser-focused lethality, or maybe because of it, a replica doll that flashes LED red eyes could be found guarding Robinsons Galleria Mall along Ortigas Avenue in Quezon City. 

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Marbles: Jolen

Rather straightforward, but there’s no need to look elsewhere, really. Who else remembers the pretty colors of the marbles?

In this game, the players pair up and try to get all of or most of their opponent’s marbles. The loser is, well, killed.

Tug-of-War: Tug-of-War

Another straightforward translation. Maybe even a bit too straightforward. This is also the episode that features our kababayan Christian Lagahit (The Negotiation, Space Sweepers), who helped our leads survive the game.

Normally, Tug-of-War just means you try to get most of the rope on your side. Unfortunately, in this version of the game, if you lose, the platform you are standing on gives way, and you drop from a terrible height.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Stepping Stones: Step? Yes. Step? No

Step? Yes. Step? No. Where did that even come from? Everyone and their mother knows that it would be Piko. Although it would be understandable if this was made with international viewers in mind. However, many Filipino childhoods were filled with drawing the familiar game map on the ground and then jumping on each space first with two feet and then on one foot. Luckily for us, we don’t have to guess if each space we jump on will turn out to be weak glass that will drop us to our deaths.

Squid Game: Patintero

And finally, the titular game, Squid Game, is said to be Patintero. The director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, has said that he considered the titular game to be one of the most physically aggressive games that he played in his youth. Truly, Patintero fits the bill in that aspect. Patintero is a game played with two teams rotating between offensive and defensive. The offensive team’s goal is to pass through the defense to the other side without getting tagged out. Arguably, Agawan Base (Stealing the Base, literally) or Sekyu (Secure, literally but said Filipino style) has similar mechanics but without the set map that Patintero and Squid Game has. Though, Agawan Base is also just as, maybe even more so, aggressive than Patintero.

Now, here’s a question: where did the idea for this show even come from?

How did Squid come to be?

Squid Game was written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk. He initially developed the idea as a film way back in 2008 but was unable to get the film picked up. Back then, he was in a financially difficult situation and was greatly influenced by Japanese manga such as Battle Royale!Liar Game, and Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji. He feared that the games would seem too complex and hard to explain, especially if it were only to be in a feature film, so he chose children’s games as the centerpieces of each round. The focus of the story would be on the characters and their motivations. In an article by Variety, Hwang said, “I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life. But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life.”

“As a survival game it is entertainment and human drama. The games portrayed are extremely simple and easy to understand. That allows viewers to focus on the characters, rather than being distracted by trying to interpret the rules,” he said.

Eventually, Netflix would pick up the script of the Korean thriller as a series in September 2019. This proved challenging for the director, who ended up taking 6 months to write and rewrite the first two episodes. If the reception to the show is to be any indication, however, it was well worth the trouble. The care and nuance put into the development of the story are very much apparent, and it’s only all the better for it.

The main cast of the show stars Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon, O Yeong-su, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi, and Kim Joo-ryoung. Interestingly enough, Christian Lagahit, a Filipino actor based in South Korea, appeared as player 276 in the 4th episode of the show.

Food for Thought

Beneath the striking color and cinematic flair of its’ facade, the show has struck a chord with the struggle and hardships of many over the world. There has always been this grim competition filled with desperation and suffering that has gone unseen or largely ignored. Squid Game has managed to reflect this with a fantastical and compelling mirror, putting it at the forefront of many screens. 

Squid Game, much like the South Korean feature film ‘Parasite,’ has become something of a cultural phenomenon that explores this wealth gap and destructive inequality between social classes. That movie was the first foreign movie to win a Best Feature Film Academy award at the 92nd Oscars back in 2020. It’s probably not a coincidence why such topics remain relevant and have resonated with so many people.

Hopefully, we have all taken the time to carefully think over the theme and message that the Squid Game and similar media is trying to impart.

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