Squid Game – A Lawyer’s Analysis

Before you read the rest of the article: Here is your obligatory *Spoiler Alert!*

Netflix show “Squid Game” has recently become a worldwide phenomenon, with Netflix proclaiming that it is on track to be its most popular original show ever. But unlike its fairytale stardom, the show itself is rather gruesome, as the lives of 456 people are decided by deadly variants of games, such as, red light – green light, dalgona candy and tug of war.

In the lawlessly dystopian world of Squid Game, survival and self-benefit stands above all else, and morality is a question answered only through the trials of life and death. Fortunately for those of us living in the real world, we have the luxury of scrutinising our morality without going through trials of life and death. That being said, it’s still a fun activity to switch on our creativity and imagine:

Legally, what would have happened if Squid Game took place in Australia?

Let’s start at the beginning. When the mysterious person (Gong Yoo) slapped Seong Gi-hun (Protagonist) in the Subway for his losses in Ddakji (Paper Game), did he theoretically commit a crime of injury?

So, before the start of the games, a mysterious man in a suit makes an agreement with Seong Gi-hun (protagonist) in a subway station. They both agree to play Ddakji (paper game) and set a wager of 100,000 won per game if you win. When the penniless Gi-hun loses the game however, and couldn’t pay, the mysterious man proposes to slap him each time he loses. Eventually, after being slapped senseless, Gi-hun finally wins 100,000 won.

In Section 61 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), it is stated that ‘whosoever assaults any person, although not occasioning actual bodily harm, shall be liable to imprisonment for two years. On the other hand, a maximum sentence for assault that causes serious injury can also result in 5 years of imprisonment. 

The most common defences used by assailants in these situations are:

    – That they were under the coercion of others;

    – That it was in self-defence or;

    – That they were given consent to do so.

In which specifically, in the case of “giving of consent”, “consent” is defined as a decision made by the victim voluntarily, without coercion or unconsciousness. It is worth noting though, that the defence of “consent” is only applicable for general injuries, not serious or life-threatening situations. 

Getting back to Squid Game, since the protagonist agreed to be slapped as a substitute for paying money, and then voluntarily chose to continue the game, legally speaking, the harm caused by the mysterious man was perfectly just.

If a participant signs a consent form prior to entering a death game (or voluntary chooses to participate), does that make the game legal? Can the game organisers be exempt from liability?

Well this one is simple! Australian law stipulates that all agreements involving criminal acts are invalid, and since invalid agreements are not legally binding, it would stand that a death game which involves the murder of it’s participants is illegal (as expected). 

Of course, other examples such as, hiring an assassin, is also illegal regardless of the conditions agreed between the hirer and the killer, as the agreement itself is considered illegal and invalid.

Specifically, in Squid Game, all participants sign the following consent form/contract prior to the game’s commencement:

    1. Participants cannot abort the game arbitrarily.

    2. Participants who refuse to play the game are considered eliminated.    

    3. The game can be stopped when more than half of the participants agree.

Just from reading these simple (and poorly defined) terms of agreement, it may not seem as though any illegal practices are being committed. However, as soon as it is revealed  that “elimination” actually refers to the participant’s “death”, the agreement becomes void. As Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates, “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” And the illegal deprivation of another’s life constitutes murder. Hence the consent form signed by the participant is illegal and has no legal effect. 

As soon as the game organisers shot and killed the participants, regardless of the existence of any consent form, or even whether or not the participants acknowledged that elimination was equivalent to death, the organiser were legally liable for their deaths.

Would the free-for-all killing contest between the contestants before their bedtime be considered a form of murder; or could it be classified as “self-defence”?

Section 418 of the Criminal Act 1900 (New South Wales) stipulates that:

    (1) A person is not criminally responsible for an offence if the person carries out the conduct constituting the offence in self-defence.

    (2) A person carries out conduct in self-defence if and only if the person believes the conduct is necessary:

To further clarify, a person’s behaviour can only be classified as “self-defence” if their actions are made:

    (a) in the defence of himself or herself or another person, or

    (b) to prevent or terminate the unlawful deprivation of his or her liberty or the liberty of another person, or

    (c) to protect property from unlawful taking, destruction, damage, or interference, or

    (d) to prevent criminal trespass to any land or premises or to remove a person  committing any such criminal trespass, and the conduct is a reasonable response in the circumstances as he or she perceives them.

Of course, the act of self-defence must also be applied within a reasonable level, that is, the implemented violence must not be excessive (such as using a gun against an unarmed assailant, or manslaughter). 

So, after the lights were turned off on the second day of the game, and the participants were forced to kill each other, how does the law categorise their actions?

Well, unfortunately, the participant’s violent acts on that fateful night fall into a centripetal grey area where murder, manslaughter and self-defence all overlap. It would definitely be a complicated matter to resolve, and wouldn’t be easy to immediately classify. The only true winner of this situation then, would be someone who does not participate at all. Thus, one could say Player 001 (the mastermind behind the scenes), who retreated to a secluded area to avoid confrontation with other participants, was the sole winner, as he managed to  protect himself from the others and also avoided criminal actions of manslaughter due to potential over-defence.

If the organ trafficking in Squid Game were to occur in Australia, would you face criminal liability?

Well, as one might expect, in Australia, organ transplants can only come from donations. The 1995 Federal Criminal Code stipulates that human trafficking or human organ trafficking constitutes to a criminal offence regardless of whether the organs are being trafficked to Australia or from Australia to other countries. In “Squid Game”, the masked organisers colluded to smuggle organs, and if this were to happen in Australia, the organisers will likely face up to 12 years in prison, or even 20 years in prison if they were found to also commit one of the  following offences:

    1. Deliberately removing the organs of others; or

    2. Performing cruel and inhumane behaviours on the victim during the removal of organs; or

    3. The removal of organs causing death or serious injury to others.

Furthermore, if the victim of their offence is under 18 years of age, the maximum sentence is further elevated to 25 years in prison.

So there you have it. Here, we’ve explained some of the legality behind Squid Game should it have happened in Australia. 

*Disclaimer: This is intended as general information only and not to be construed as legal advice. The above information is subject to changes over time. You should always seek professional advice before taking any course of action.*

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