The “classic game model” developed by Jesper Juul can help us see more clearly. This model was indeed proposed in order to bring together any game under an almost universal definition, beyond historical or cultural differences. The definition given by Juul is based on the work of other game theorists, such as Huizinga, Caillois, or Salen and Zimmerman. He compared them to underline the similarities, and to finally arrive at a set of six criteria which would allow him to define, according to him, what is a game, what is not, or what would be a borderline case. game.
Let us thus examine whether Squid Game meets these different criteria. The first of these, and perhaps the most obvious, indicates that every game necessarily has rules.
In Squid Game, this condition is fulfilled, and this in a very clear way for the participants, since they are invited, from the first episode, to read and sign the three rules which will regulate the game: it is forbidden to stop playing, the refusal to play results in elimination, and play can only be stopped if the majority of players so wish. Each of the challenges that participants face also has its own rules. However, the meaning of the rules may remain ambiguous, as the participants will learn the hard way, since in Squid Game, elimination is synonymous with death.
This first criterion being validated, let’s move on to the following ones, which all relate to the outcome of a game which must, according to the Juul model:
- offer different possible outcomes, including allowing players to win or lose;
- value some of the possible outcomes over others;
- require players to make efforts to achieve a positive result;
- be a source of emotions as to the result.
Again, it is not difficult to see that Squid Game fulfills all of these conditions: it is quite possible to win or lose, it is much preferable to win, which implies that players must show many qualities to achieve this and that they are therefore very attached to the fact to win, especially since defeat results in their immediate death.
The last criterion proposed by Juul, on the other hand, seems to pose certain problems, since it indicates that a game can have, optionally, very real consequences outside the game. We can thus play poker simply for fun, or then by betting large sums of money: the outcome of the game then has effects on the “real world”. According to this criterion, these consequences are “negotiable”, that is to say that they are decided on a case-by-case basis, by each party.
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The case of Squid Game turns out to be more difficult here. On the one hand, the game has obvious consequences (becoming a multimillionaire or dying), but these do not seem at all optional or negotiable by the participants. On the other hand, one could quite imagine playing this game without it leading to such drastic consequences, on condition of “playing” on the ambiguity of its rules: the announced elimination of players in the event of defeat might only involve the end of the game, not death. But again, this last option is not left to the players in the series, and this has major effects on the flow of the game, since the participants come to kill each other voluntarily between and during the tests.