Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. New Statesman A-Z of 2021
15 December 2021

G is for Green Light, Red Light: How Squid Game became the most in-demand show in the world

The violent South Korean Netflix series was an unexpected streaming sensation.

By Eleanor Peake

In 2021, Netflix users across the globe watched 1.4bn hours of Squid Game, and that was only in the first 23 days after it was released. The stunning statistics don’t stop there: it was binged by 142 million households and performed better than 79 per cent of other streamable shows. Two weeks after it was released, it was the most in-demand show in the world – and it hadn’t even enjoyed the luxury of a pre-release marketing campaign.

First aired on 17 September 2021, the series seemed obscure. The premise is a gruesome life-or-death tournament better-known as the Squid Game. The debt-ridden players, with nothing to lose but themselves, enter the games to compete for a massive cash prize.

Each episode focuses on a simple playground game: the best-known being the first episode’s “Green Light, Red Light”, in which we see 200 out of the 456 players shot to the ground. (We later learn that the mastermind behind this death machine has a certain nostalgia for childhood; playground games being the only time he could remember feeling joy.) 

Usually this flavour of macabre would remain on the fringes of our streaming sites, but somehow the show’s painfully endearing contestants found their own mass audience.

So how did this off-beat show become a worldwide obsession? Perhaps because Squid Game went beyond gore. As each episode played out, we watched closely for a glimmer of mercy or even further depths cruelty – for an understanding of what a person on the brink of death is capable of.

At its heart, Squid Game is an honest look at how desperation can change us. It searches for an answer to the terrifying question: with nothing left to lose, what would you do for survival? It was its humanity that had us hooked.

Find the other entries in the New Statesman A-Z of 2021 here.

Content from our partners
How to navigate the modern cyber-threat landscape
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government
Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.