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Rise of the squidlike? Investigating the proliferation of Squid Game games

(Image credit: Mojang)

Unless another show rallies shockingly hard in the fourth quarter, Squid Game is the megahit that will define 2021 in popular culture. The Korean Netflix drama portrays the poor and downtrodden of a contemporary to near-future society, conscripted as participants in a reality show where they must compete in lethal variants of children's games, with the last person standing winning a multi-million dollar cash prize. So, what do I win for being the last person who hasn't watched it?

If nothing else, I have a unique, perhaps even privileged position as a Squid Game holdout. The cultural wake of this show has produced knock-offs, riffs, parodies, and scams in every sector. Weird pink guard costumes at Spirit Halloween, online cultural criticism, and Google Play Store DMCA-bait shovelware have all contributed to the cacophony of discourse surrounding this show. I'm here with a fresh perspective and cold, clinical gaze to sample some of that noise and report to you on Squid Game's effect on PC gaming. Here's what I've found.

Crab Game

 Get used to this view. (Image credit: Dani)

To even begin to tackle the enigma that is Crab Game, available on Steam for free as of October 29, you have to start with its creator, Dani. I had never heard of Dani before, but his YouTube subscriber count is north of the population of Chicago, and his most-watched videos reach 15 million views. He has a catalogue of humor-oriented, physics-based projects developed on the Unity engine, including a parody game called "3D Among Us." I did not go into Crab Game with the highest expectations, but found myself very pleasantly surprised.  

A victory I was never meant to taste. (Image credit: Dani)

Aside from cribbing Squid Game's iconic, lethal rendition of 'red light, green light,' most of the minigames are decidedly non-canon, including 'king of the hill,' 'hot potato,' and territory control modes cycled through at random until a single victor remains, at which point the next match can begin. 

Crab Game keeps to a fast pace of play, and it's honestly something I wouldn't mind catching up with a few friends over. It's also quite impressive that a single person whipped this up in less than a month, though you may want to wait for the update that stops it from leaking IP addresses.

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Minecraft

Hello Darkness, my old friend. (Image credit: Mojang)

I reinstalled Minecraft for the first time since 2012 in order to find a server doing Squid Game stuff. How well does this genre-defining title—beloved sandbox to children everywhere—mesh with the world's favorite Korean drama? Not terribly well, in my experience, but it was cool to see people try. Several servers out there are hosting variations on the theme of Squid, including automated matches and scheduled, player-hosted tournaments. I loaded into the Legundo server with my pathetic, default Steve skin and partook of their automated Squid Game mode.

A rare victory I was sure to savor. (Image credit: Mojang)

I found the expected minigames, I assume straight from the show, such as 'red light, green light' and a frustrating bridge crossing based entirely on guesswork. All of them were slightly hampered by controls more oriented toward careful exploration and construction than frantic puzzle-solving. Still, a lot of effort clearly went into the production and it's impressive for what it is.

Roblox

It's like I've been here before… in a past life… (Image credit: )

Roblox's multi-day outage almost kept me from sampling its own attempt at the way of the Squid. Thankfully, the Roblox Corporation averted catastrophe and brought it back online, allowing me to have one of the most dissociative experiences of my life. My nephew is still too young to bond with over games, so I had never loaded up Roblox before. I was dimly aware of this thing, this weird little game-making game exploding in popularity and landing in this generation's middle schools ten times harder than Runescape landed in mine, but I was not prepared to face it directly. 

I got over my shock at its frontier sense of copyright law and my own sense of awkwardness at being the only grown up at the playground, and loaded into the first legit-looking squidlike I found: Trendsetter Games' "Squid Game 🎃 EVENT."

Where is the respect for Intellectual Property?????? (Image credit: Roblox Corporation)

Squid Game 🎃 EVENT was largely the minigame collection I expected, with the requisite 'red light, green light' adaptation only notable for ripping audio from the show and featuring alarmingly loud gunshots every time a player was eliminated. I initially got my hackles raised over our children being exposed to such things, but then I remembered that my own father let me watch every Hannibal Lecter movie in the sixth grade, and calmed down. 

The most interesting thing I found here was a timed platforming challenge that felt like it was ripped straight from a Destiny raid. I finally met my end very late in a match and had the option to respawn back in for fifty "Robux," but I refuse to invest in cryptocurrencies, so I ended my run. (Kidding, it's just the normal kind of pretend money.)

Bungie, take notes. (Image credit: Roblox Corporation)

 Are squidlikes here to stay? 

What these games reminded me of the most was my own experience with Garry's Mod as a kid. I loved playing on maps that recreated movie scenes, with adaptations of the Matrix's lobby scene and the cabin from Evil Dead especially sticking out in my memory. I loved hopping onto servers full of strangers and competing in user-made minigames or weird prison break modes. I felt that same sensibility here, this enthusiastic rush to replicate iconic ideas from other media in games, mostly for laughs. 

PC gaming's rejoinder to Squid Game seems very similar to PC gaming's response to many trends over the years: confusion, playfulness, absurdity, and a delightful disregard for copyright law. I think I would have enjoyed myself more if I were still the same weird teenager who liked screwing around in Garry's Mod and who had friends with a similar abundance of free time. I can only assume that's what Squid Game is all about: reminding you of the warmth, the fun, and all the other great things from your youth. (And what could be sinister about that?) 

As timeless as such themes are, I doubt Squid Game games will be a thing for much longer. Janky, physics-dependent multiplayer games and mods continue to make up one of Steam's best genres, but you can only play so many 'red light, green light' variants before anything else is preferable.