Netflix has a surprise mega-hit on its hands with South Korean production Squid Game, which has thrilled audiences around the world with its dark and – at times – gruesome story.


The survival horror series sees a group of people in desperate situations gathered together by a mysterious mastermind to compete in twisted versions of classic children's playground games.

A horrible death awaits anyone who fails at the devious challenges in store, but a few lucky victors could find themselves taking a share of a mammoth ₩45.6 billion (that's almost £30 million).

As Squid Game has quickly become Netflix's biggest series ever, some viewers have found themselves wondering if it could possibly have been inspired by a true story – a frightening thought indeed!

In a recent interview, creator Hwang Dong-hyuk revealed that several elements were indeed drawn from real-life inspirations – read on for the true story behind Squid Game.

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Is Squid Game based on a true story?

Rest easy - while gameshows are certainly getting more elaborate, there have been no real-life cases of contestants forced to compete in deadly editions of childhood games.

Instead creator Hwang Dong-hyuk drew his inspiration from Japanese manga and anime, with themes of survival resonating with the writer-director during a tough financial situation and inspiring an allegory about modern capitalist society and the competition it encourages.

“I freely admit that I’ve had great inspiration from Japanese comics and animation over the years,” Dong-hyuk told Variety. “When I started, I was in financial straits myself and spent much time in cafes reading comics including ‘Battle Royale’ and ‘Liar Game.’

Read more about Squid Game

"I came to wonder how I’d feel if I took part in the games myself. But I found the games too complex, and for my own work focused instead on using kids’ games.”

Dong-hyuk then turned to traditional playground games, with the majority of the show's challenges - including marbles, tug of war, hopscotch and Red Light, Green Light - are clear riffs on games popular the world over.

However, Dong-hyuk revealed that the inspiration behind Squid Game's title and climactic final challenge came from a childhood favourite game that was mostly limited to Korea.

“Squid Game is a game I used to play as a child in the schoolyard or the streets of the neighbourhood,” Dong-hyuk told “This is a story about people who used to play this game as children and return to play it as adults.

“It was one of the most physical and it was also one of my favourite games. I felt that this game could be the most symbolic children’s game that could represent the kind of society we live in today.”

What is a Squid Game in Korea?

Squid Game
Squid Game

Dong-hyuk was not alone in playing Squid Game during his youth, as the schoolyard activity is a popular children's game in Korea.

A variation of tag, Squid Game works much the same way as seen in the show, and is played on a board drawn in the ground that resembles the shape of a squid.

Players are then split into two teams, with one attacking and one defending. Attackers can only hop until they reach the waist of the squid, and win by tapping the squid's head with their foot.

It is then up to the defenders to stop the attackers from advancing, and can achieve victory by pushing them outside of the court's boundaries.

However there is one important difference between the real-life game and the show's portrayal - as one would hope, players usually aren't armed with knives while taking part.

The second challenge, in which contestants have to pick a stamped shape out of a honeycomb snack, is also based on a Korean tradition. The snack in question is called Dalgona, and Korean children often attempt to eat the embossed shape without snapping the treat.


Squid Game is currently streaming on Netflix. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best TV series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide.