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Psychology of ‘Squid Game’: 12 keys to success

psicologia juego calamar

The television and social phenomenon of the moment is the series ‘ El Juego del Calamar’ (Squid Game) thanks to the magnificent work of marketing strategy that Netflix has done again to achieve unprecedented success on the video-on-demand platform. The Korean series envelops the viewer in such a way that most of them choose to chain chapter after chapter to know the outcome of the game.


What are the psychological keys to the success of this series? If you have already seen ‘The Squid Game’ and you know all the adventures of its protagonist Seong Gi-hun, I invite you to read this small guide on the most important psychological aspects that have led it to be the most watched Netflix series in all its history. If you have not seen it yet, this article does not intend to make any kind of spoiler, so save this article for when you finish it and discover how right each of the points that we are going to discuss is.



‘The Squid Game’: psychology of its success


The ‘The Squid Game’ is a dramatic thriller that reveals some of the hardships of our society and its capitalist system. Various people with financial problems, some of them derived from previous unethical situations (gambling, embezzlement, drug trafficking, etc.), are involved in a plot related to a series of games that they have to overcome to win the prize. more money in exchange for his own life. We are not going to count much.


In fact, a quick summary of his success is that he has managed to combine strategies that have already worked in other projects within himself and hope that this engagement mechanism works on its own. The mere fact of making people talk because they have copied others has already served to give rise to seeing it. Sometimes copying works.


1 Symbology, logos and shapes


Simple shapes are the main brand identity of the series. From the logo of the name of the series, with simple lines that form the words ‘Squid Game’ to the symbols with which the entrance to the game is represented ○ Δ 🔲 and serves in turn to identify the degrees of command of the soldiers who they control the participants.


On the one hand, the simple forms are easier to identify and at the same time are curiously very similar to the forms of use of the Playstation, which will be even easier for the audience to remember.


In addition, the figures of the triangle, the square and the circle are those that the participants of the Korean traditional squid game must form.



2. Color palette


Throughout the game, the cinematographer and designers have been very careful to use a very specific color palette throughout the series. In all the scenes a very good combination of colors is perceived and represents at all times what it is trying to convey. For example, with the bright color palette used on the stairs that give access to the play areas.


3. Uniforms


The soldiers’ uniforms are a clear nod to those used by the protagonists of La Casa de Papel. A proven success that is again used to its advantage. The red colors of one and the green of another are easy to identify at all times. Green is likely to be used because it conveys more hope of exiting the game and red, the blood that causes failure.


That everyone is dressed in the same way enhances the feeling of belonging to that group and therefore better empathize with what happens throughout history. Uniforms are used in most groups for this purpose.


4. Numbers


The participants of the game are identified with a number that they wear on their uniforms. Curiously, the protagonist wears the 456, which is one of the easiest combinations to remember. Perhaps it was too obvious to put 123. Also, its number matches the first three digits of the prize for the winner and is the last to enter the game. That 001 was the old man is no coincidence and those who have already seen the series will already know why.


5. Song


The song that has been used for each moment of each chapter automatically leads us to highlight our emotional state. It is a song that we get into our ears to hum it and identify it very easily. Not to mention the famous song from Luz Verde’s early game, Luz Roja (mostly for Asian audiences).



6. Emotions


People are emotional beings and we tend to empathize in a certain way with the people around us. In this sense, the stories of each of the protagonists, especially the main one, revolve around that empathization of the viewer who is emotionally hooked on the future of the character.


The emotion that it arouses mainly is that of fear or fear that your favorite character will be the next to die. That fear of death that the characters have is transferred from the screen to the viewer’s brain. The rest of the plots, the friendship that is generated between the participants, the frustration, anger and uncertainty of the squid game make us keep an eye on what will happen, because we do not know when or how it will happen, but we know that it will happen. Emotions hook.


All the characters have a story behind that more or less can be easily identified as their own: family problems, divorces, children, financial problems, relationship problems, etc.



7. Copying is also original


Everyone thinks that only creative and original ideas succeed, but most great projects take ideas from others to make them their own. Creativity is that too, not just originality, but using the elements that work, optimizing and improving them. This series is very similar to movies like ‘ The Hunger Games ‘, ‘Saw’ or series like ‘ Alice in Borderland ‘ or even novels like ‘ The Long March ‘ by Stephen King or ‘ Battle Royal ‘ by Koushun Takami.



8. Mystery – Plot


The common thread of the series keeps the viewer in a constant intrigue. It is a mystery to be solved until the final chapter. From the motifs that surround each protagonist, the jailers to the people behind the entire circus of the game. In fact, the latter even appear under a mask as well. They are all masks and nobody knows anything for sure. Even this plot is designed so that the viewer has to be very attentive to the movements so as not to miss the following events. What is the squid game? Who are behind? and above all who is going to win the game? are the questions that keep you in suspense from the beginning.


9. Engagement and consumer psychology


The series follows three basic psychological principles to achieve rapid engagement: contiguity (events are happening one after another and quickly), contingency (the probability of them happening is high) and anticipation (we know that the event will come sooner or later). All this programmed with a variable intermittent reinforcement interval , so since we do not know when the event that we want to happen or we expect will appear, we remain glued to the plot.


Another effect it achieves is the so-called Zeigarnik effect by which our brain better remembers the events that have been left unfinished so it needs to solve them. Which is exactly what happens when a chapter ends: we want to know what will happen to the next.


10. Violence and sex

As bad as it may be, violence tends to have such a great emotional impact that action movies often work. The scenes of fights, deaths or even suicides by violent means are part of the story. The morbidity of violence is used in that sense, but remember that it is a danger if it is exposed to audiences that are too young.


In addition, the icing on the cake cannot be missing the role of sex or some scene a little out of tone within the total amount of media too typical to captivate the audience. The morbid usually works, people are attracted to witness those scenes that we know are ethically incorrect.



11. Childhood games


Another cause that most draws the attention of several different generations is that the dynamics of the Squid Game is based on popular games that many people played in their childhood: marbles, rope, white dove is (or whatever they say in your town , in the series they use the name of Green Light – Red Light, which is how it is called in North Korea). The very name of the Squid Game alludes to a childhood game popular in Korea.


This mixture of longing and play is another way for generations of different ages to coexist in front of the screen, playing once more with our emotional state.



12. Moral key


From the beginning of the series the moral vein of the spectators is touched. The moral basis is that money influences our decisions too much, based on an egocentric capitalist system that makes us hide our most human part in the most complex situations. People exposed to a limit are capable of totally inappropriate or violent behaviors that seem to get rid of our human side and our empathy.


It is similar to what happened in Milgran’s experiment on obedience and evil. Under appropriate contexts people can become violent and lacking in empathy. Events similar to those of the Stanford prison experiment also occur where prisoners and guards, depending on their role, perform borderline and violent behaviors, surely they would never think of doing outside of that forced context. As in the Squid Game, where there are prisoners and guardians.



Recommended series of the year

Undoubtedly, the Squid Game is perhaps one of the best series of the year and it is well worth viewing for all the moral nuances it touches, its realization, scenography, photography and direction of a cast of actors and actresses that embroider it. We are already waiting for the second season, will there be?


Iván Pico

Director y creador de Psicólogo Colegiado G-5480 entre otras cosas. Diplomado en Ciencias Empresariales y Máster en Orientación Profesional. Máster en Psicología del Trabajo y Organizaciones. Posgrado en Psicología del Deporte entre otras cosas. Visita la sección "Sobre mí" para saber más. ¿Quieres una consulta personalizada? ¡Escríbeme!

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