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The twisted mind behind Squid Game: ‘Ten years ago this idea seemed bizarre – now it’s

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The show’s tangled DNA also contains traces of Lord of the Flies, Graham Greene’s Dr Fischer of Geneva, the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, and those violently humiliating Japanese game-shows clips of which used to bewilder the audiences of 1990s magazine programmes. (The late Clive James, you suspect, would entirely have dug it.) Nor does it seem an accident that on their masks, the guards on the show wear triangles, circles and squares – making their heads look like the action buttons on the controllers for a PlayStation. It’s a gleeful mash-up of 21st-century technology and the oldest themes imaginable of man’s inhumanity to man.

The show’s creator Hwang Dong-hyuk first had the idea for the story as long ago as 2008. He was inspired, he says, by manga comics in the survival game genre; among them the genre-defining Battle Royale, in which high-school students are kidnapped and forced to fight to the death, Warrior Games and Kaiji, whose heavily indebted protagonist is forced to play a series of gambling games for sickeningly high stakes and loses a series of body parts in the process

But its time was yet to come. “In 2009, I had a two-hour script for a feature-film. But at the time people thought this was very, you know, very bizarre and kind of weird. I wanted to get investment to make it into film, but people didn’t find it attractive and they didn’t think this was like a big hit.” After another year’s work, the script went into the bottom drawer. 

Ten years later, he returned to it, at first thinking to make it into a webtoon. “Web-based cartoons are very popular in Korea nowadays,” he explains. But then a lightbulb went off. “I thought, well, there’s actually Netflix. Why didn’t I think of that? I proposed my feature script to Netflix, and they really liked it so we decided to make this into a nine-episode series.”  

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