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‘Squid Game’ and the other vast gambles we take in life

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Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

Would I participate in ‘Squid Game’? Absolutely yes. Not because I am gambling for the money, but because, God dammit, I love the challenge of a good old yo-yo tournament, or a fun round of stuck-in-the mud.

After months of a depressing binge-watching drought, streaming service Netflix finally graced our household and the households of many with Korean series Squid Game.

If you’ve watched it, welcome to the mastery that is Korean writing and storytelling. If you haven’t, this is what it’s about: the show focuses on a fictional survival series collectively called Squid Game in which several participants desperate for cash gamble with their lives by participating in games from their childhood.

Each player’s life is worth a healthy sum of money. Every time a player is shot, assassin-style, the value of their life – in monetary terms – is added to the pot. In the end, the winner takes it all and becomes a billionaire.

The philosophical questions: Does money solve life’s problems? Is a gamble worth risking everything for? And if you win at Squid Game, do you win at life regardless of the cash prize?

Would you do it? Personally, I don’t like a gamble. Not in the traditional sense. I don’t see the point of blowing cash on a slot machine that you have no control over and requires little strategic thinking.

What is this? Hope? I don’t know a lot of things, but I know you can’t eat hope. Hope doesn’t pay the rent and it certainly doesn’t help you help others pay the rent.

Hope is actually quite an awful thief. Take the lottery for example. The South African Lotto, or whatever it’s called. There is no guarantee that you’ll get out what you put in. Week after week, people spend what seems like a minimal R100, say, on a Lotto ticket. Sometimes they get R3 back, sometimes they get R50 back; often, they get nothing. The odds of making a profit are even less. The odds of winning the entire pot? Well, let’s call that hope, and we’ve already been through the empty illusion of this concept.

If I’m going to gamble, I am going to put my money into a game that requires some skill. Something I can learn from, become better at. Something that requires the odds of my own talent to at least match the odds of winning… or losing for that matter.

Bridge – the card game – is a good example of this. Want to place your bets? Let’s go. A game of darts or pool or table tennis? Hey, I’m not the best but put your money where your mouth is. I’ll take on the challenge. The outcome of all of these isn’t random. Win or lose, I am ultimately up against myself. But all these things have one thing in common – they’re a game. And playing a game is something I find very, very difficult to refuse.

So, would I participate in Squid Game? Absolutely yes. Not because I am gambling for the money, but because, God dammit, I love the challenge of a good old yo-yo tournament, or a fun round of stuck-in-the mud or a street-wide “milk in the dairy” challenge, or an outrageously unnecessary but rather punishing game like dodge-ball.

Confession: I like to choose violence sometimes in safe and controlled circumstances, it’s refreshing. I’m only human. (Side note: There are no real spoiler alerts in these examples.)

People who participate in Squid Game are chosen randomly. Well, not really. They’re kind of monitored Big Brother-style and their cash-strapped lives have a desperate stench that fills the air and attracts what are, quite literally, sharks. These strange predators approach participants at their lowest ebb and ask: Would you like to play a game with me?

Now here’s my caveat. If I am waiting at a train station or depressingly nursing a coffee at the harbour while I watch the boats dock and some stranger walks up to me and asks if I want to play a quick round of Rummy or Snap or whatever, it would be a hard no. Sir, or ma’am, or squid, my answer is a hard no.

Do not roll that damn dice because the only thing that will snap is me and, live or die, in a situation like that, it’s really win-win for me. But then again, maybe that’s why we play. DM168

This irreverent respite from reality is brought to you by author, journalist and podcast producer Haji Mohamed Dawjee.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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