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Should my children be watching Squid Game?: Talking together about the terror of entertainment

Posted on 18 October 2021 by Rebecca

*Spoiler alert: This blog includes plot spoilers so please be aware if this was something you were going to watch. We will also be talking about suicide, violence, gore, cruelty and sexual themes that are shown in Squid Game. If this makes you uncomfortable, distressed or upset please skip to the bottom of the blog for help information.*

What are the elements that make Squid Game such a success? What kind of harms are involved in the thrill of the horror? And how do we talk with our rangatahi who will have heard about the show, are curious, and perhaps really want to watch it? They will already be encountering spinoff memes, TikTok videos or stories in their Instagram feed. Squid Game is everywhere right now.

Netflix’s Squid Game, the ‘No. 1 show in the world right now’ has rapidly become another success story for the universal appeal of survival thrillers. The Korean series, available in original Korean language or English-dub, subverts childhood games for large scale death matches with contestants competing to win money and stay alive. Despite the childhood game references it’s not viewing for children. It is a phenomenon for mature audiences: a fictional horror where the wealthy watch while the poor risk their lives. The tension builds as the game stakes build and the threat of death suffocates every decision the contestants must make.

“The fact that all of the stabbings, shooting, and murdering orgies take place in bright, pastel sets with oversized toys that shrink adults to child-size brings to mind Japanese television game shows that pioneered the genre of humiliation television decades ago, long before it became a staple of western reality television.” – Fiction Horizon

Netflix has self-rated Squid Game 16+ with notes for suicide, violence and sex (as at 18 October 2021). That’s a recommended age limit that children younger than 16 don’t view the show because the content is so disturbing. And those notes for suicide, violence and sex are also sign posts warning anyone of 16 or older that the content gets grim and could be triggering.

And in Squid Game the situation gets grim fast. Every time someone dies more money is added to the prize pool. There’s execution and murder in every episode. There’s gun violence graphic enough to show blood spurting out of bodies, people being killed whilst pleading for their lives, body dissection and organ harvesting, gruesome methods of death during the games, and then the cremation of bodies when people ‘lose’.

“Squid Game has everything – sex, violence and gore.” — feedback from our Youth Advisory Panel.

The violence in each episode varies but is generally cruel and shocking. We know from research that overexposure to violence can desensitise people in the real world. But here in the dystopian world the manufactured game scenario is unbelievable enough to not affect mature viewers (over a certain age) who can contextualise what’s happening on screen. That’s why an age recommendation is so important.

The social commentary that underpins the bloody violence could create worthwhile conversations with the young people in your life who might be watching and discussing the show: the value of life for different characters, the role of those more fortunate than others, the portrayal of human nature and our basic instincts of survival when put into a stressful situation.

There are three suicide scenes in the series. We know for NZ audiences that references to suicide can be triggering. Here the scenarios are contrived but are unlikely to be influential to a vulnerable person. When viewing with a younger person discuss these scenes with them. What led the characters to these decisions?

There is a moderate sex scene in episode four and by moderate we mean no graphic nudity or up close action but it’s still clear the characters are having sex. How does this scene provide context for the motivation of the female character? Why would she have wanted to have sex in this situation? Was that a good or bad decision, what were the consequences for her and the other character here?

We hope that our commentary here helps you make the right viewing decision for you and your whānau. The very grown-up nature of the show means it is not appropriate for people younger than 16. If they are old enough, take this opportunity to watch together and talk together. They’re highly likely to have heard about the show, even watched it and discussed it with their friends.

“My younger cousins haven’t seen it but are up with it and play the games because of social media… Despite being violent and gory it still generates interest for younger audiences.” — feedback from our Youth Advisory Panel.

Netflix is one of the Commercial Video On Demand ‘Schedule 4’ providers in NZ now covered by the Film and Video Publications Act. The legislation came into effect from 1 August 2021 and all Schedule 4 providers are now in a transition phase of updating their catalogues in line with our NZ rating and classification system. Netflix have self-rated Squid Game 16+ with warnings for suicide, violence and sex. In the UK Squid Game is rated 15 with warnings for sexual violence references, injury detail, crude humour, sex, suicide, sexual images and violence. In Australia it is rated MA15+ with warnings for strong themes and violence, blood and gore.

Update

Netflix updated the content warnings for Squid Game on 22 October 2021 to ‘Cruelty, graphic violence, suicide and content that may disturb’. We welcome this update to further warn potential viewers of disturbing content.

Help information

At the Office we know that everyone has a line. What might seem like an easy watch for one person could be different for another. If the content of this blog has made you feel uncomfortable please reach out. Talk to your friends or whānau or you can free call or text 1737 for more support.

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