Part of the major appeal behind Squid Game, one of the biggest Netflix shows in history, is its twisted take on classic children's games. Between activities that most of us have grown up with and games specific to South Korean culture like sugar honeycombs and the eponymous "Squid Game," it's easy for viewers to relate to the competitions that play out across the nine-episode K-drama.
But few are as instantly recognizable as "Red Light, Green Light."
Anyone who attended kindergarten gym class or played in the park as a kid has probably heard of this game. One person stands at one end of the field with a group of players on the other side. Facing away from the group, the lone player says a certain phrase as fast or as slow as they want, and the group can only move while they're speaking. If you reach the other side without getting caught, you win. But if you're moving while the lone player turns to look at everyone else, you're out.
It's a well-known game, but different countries have their own unique phrases for it. The Korean chant featured in Squid Game is no exception.
What is the "Red Light, Green Light" chant in 'Squid Game'?
Whether or not this was intentional on the creators' part, kicking off Squid Game with "Red Light, Green Light" contributed immensely to the show's broad international appeal. It's a game that most people can identify, and raising the stakes with a deadly penalty for getting caught added just the right amount of shock value to an otherwise universal and innocuous children's game.
Of course, the game is played a little differently in other countries. While the rules are identical across the board, the phrase that the lone player says varies greatly.
Take the South Korean phrase featured prominently in Squid Game, for example. The Korean name of the game does not directly translate to "Red Light, Green Light." Thus, their version of the game is not played by saying those exact words in Korean.
The exact Korean phrase is "Mugunghwa kkoci pieot seumnida," which translates to "the hibiscus flowers bloomed."
The phrase itself sounds slightly more poetic and playful than the strictly literal "Red Light, Green Light" version of the game that Westerners are used to. Other than that, the game is played exactly the same.
Different countries have their own "Red Light, Green Light" phrases.
South Korea is far from the only country with its own unique phrase for this game. As the Western translation indicates, we know it as "Red Light, Green Light." Though the more traditional phrase (at least the one that I grew up with) is "red light, green light, 1, 2, 3," the English dub for Squid Game only has "red light" for stopping the players and "green light" for letting them advance.
Fun fact: In Japan, there was a manga in 2011 called As the Gods Will involving people playing a series of deadly children's games, much like Squid Game. The very first game they played was, in fact, "Red Light, Green Light."