No college class could prepare you for ‘Squid Game’

A drawing of three students with "Squid Game" outfits in front of a USC-style building.
(Lyndzi Ramos | Daily Trojan)

If invites to play Netflix’s “Squid Game” were extended to college students, almost none of us could claim victory as long as the game represents capitalism, which only the top 1% have mastered. Released Sept. 17, millions of viewers all around the world binged “Squid Game,” especially given its real life applications and implications. 

The Korean series became a breakout hit on Netflix, enticing 111 million watchers with its dystopian story that follows demoralised people on the margins of society — those who are unemployed, those who are impoverished, those in debt, those addicted to gambling, those who embezzle — playing children’s games with the highest stakes one could imagine: If they win, they secure 45.6 billion won, but if they lose, they die. 

This sounds a bit too familiar when compared to the context of the United States’ university system, given that U.S. News notes a $19,459 median federal loan debt among USC student borrowers upon completion of their undergraduate degree. Dubbed “University of Spoiled Children,’’ USC’s preppy and well-off student body begins to conceal the challenges faced by the silent minority. 

College has become increasingly correlated with prestige, encouraging cutthroat competition between students rather than ensuring education and financial well-being for all. Higher education’s prestige baits applicants with the promise of wealth upon graduation. Oftentimes, we scour U.S. News rankings as if a rise in a few positions would compensate for each semester’s absurd tuition. 

In essence, the show is a microcosm of higher education — the players portray students, minions represent staff, and the Front Man and recruiter symbolize authoritative figures within the hierarchy of a university. 

As a group of young adults, college students’ attraction to the show’s suspense makes sense — after all, it reintroduces childhood games to a group of 456 adults with far more dire consequences. Failing these challenges brings a competitor to their ultimate elimination, forcing them to miss out on the growing cash prize: an outcome likened to graduating and securing a job. 

At a time of social and political unrest intertwined with the ongoing pandemic, the job market is as hostile and competitive as ever. Recently, graduated students struggle to establish their professional lives post-graduation amid the ongoing coronavirus. The rising tension of finding a job in this time creeps its way into the mind of the players, evading their preconceived game plan. 

By the first elimination, every competitor, still processing the first round, is extremely tense — a feeling similar to that moment after you submit a final project worth half your grade. The stress of future games — midterms and projects — only minimizes one’s performance. Although we undergo stress when submitting assignments on time or cramming for tests, our stress does not match the pressure faced beyond the game. Very few of us have a chance to advance given the life or death situation. 

Taught to keep our eyes on the finish line, college students do not possess the skill to win each challenge and qualify to the next stage. Classism soon prevails as college students overestimate their intellect compared to other students of various educational and socioeconomic levels. By mentally positioning themselves within a social hierarchy, biased college students would get ahead of themselves and bring about their own demise. 

Bombarded by deadlines and midterms left and right, college students seldom complete each assignment to their fullest ability. Instead, they submit haphazard attempts for a grade. 

The small shot any student makes it to the end relies on an insurmountable amount of luck. Because universities do not teach students every possible life skill required to advance in their professional careers, how long will it take until their luck runs out and their figurative elimination from the “Squid Game” follows?

Although one may survive the first game, the next challenge will reveal a trust game, one far more horrifying than physically strenuous challenges. The “Trojan Network” can only take you so far when a piggy bank filled to the brim with cash is up for grabs. 

An evident divide exists between students and the administrations above. Hence, it is necessary to take the message of “Squid Game” at face value: We, too, are oppressed by debt and lack the societal infrastructure to escape it. If we truly believe that “Squid Game” reflects a horrific concept, we should look no further than our own society and demand that those in power end the menacing game of student debt. 

The fact of the matter is that not everyone studies for the sake of improving the world — many students strive for money and sustenance regardless of the stakes. As participants, undergraduate students would fear not only the harsh nature of the games but also the cruel world, with its lack of opportunities and second chances, that lies beyond. 

These thoughts would diminish survival chances within a system upheld by the socioeconomically privileged at the expense of marginalized groups. Thoughts of failure within the broken system will catch up to the players who are most disadvantaged, causing them to seek an escape from the perpetual cycle of advancing the 1% at the expense of the 99%.