'Squid Game' Introduces Viewers to All Kinds of Old-Fashioned Korean Marble Games

Callie (Carlos) Cadorniga - Author

Nov. 28 2023, Updated 11:37 a.m. ET

Playing marbles in 'Squid Game'
Source: Netflix

The Gist:

  • Squid Game introduces fans to various games involving marbles, but on the scripted series, there are deadly consequences for the loser.
  • The Squid Game reality show also has marbles as a part of a competition.
  • Marbles are part of the childhood games of many older Korean people.
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From "Red Light, Green Light" to tug-of-war, Squid Game is filled with all kinds of memorable and recognizable games. But in the mix are plenty of activities that are more or less specific to old-fashioned South Korean playtime. Case in point: marbles.

Marbles are known throughout the world. There are several different ways to play with them. In the Netflix K-drama, however, the older players recall very particular activities that were tied directly to their childhoods. Marbles aren't linked solely to South Korea, but children growing up in Korea years ago played very unique games using them.

The marbles find their way into the Squid Game reality show too, Squid Game: The Challenge and they're now pretty synonymous with the franchise.

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Players 001 and 456 in Squid Game on Netflix
Source: Netflix

What is the marble game in 'Squid Game'?

In Season 1 Episode 6, "Gganbu," the players group themselves in teams of two. Each player is then given a set of 10 marbles. The "partners" are then forced to compete against one another, and whoever is able to obtain the other person's marbles advances, while the losing player is killed.

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The catch to this one? Players can come up with their own rules and play whatever game they want to earn the other person's marbles. As long as they don't resort to violence, anything is fair game.

Each pair decides on various games of their own. Some make something up on the spot while others recall a game from their childhoods.

Squid Game Guards
Source: Netflix
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Several people, including most of the main characters, play games of holjjang (odds and evens) with their marbles. One person grabs a handful of marbles and presents it hidden to the other player, who then has to guess if the number of marbles they're holding is even or odd. Players bet various numbers of marbles, and if they guess correctly, they claim the marbles on the line.

Other players appear to be playing another old game involving trying to hit a pile of marbles with your own and claiming whichever ones leave the pile. Jang Deok-su (Heo Sung-tae) comes up with a variation of bomdeulgi, in which players take turns trying to throw their marbles into a hole.

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Squid Game marbles
Source: Netflix

The 'Squid Game' reality show features the marbles game too.

There are some things that separate Squid Game: The Challenge from the original show. But the marbles game isn't one of them. When it comes to marbles in the reality show competition, the rules are the same and teams are tasked with coming up with fair games to play for a set period of time. Whoever loses in each pair is "inked" and eliminated from the game.

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Playing with marbles is pretty old-fashioned.

The use of marbles played to the nostalgia of the middle-aged and older players in Squid Game, who knew immediately what could be done with them. According to the Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture, these and several other games were popular among young boys in the 1970s.

It's an old-fashioned hobby, and these games are rarely seen being played by children today. Even Ji-yeong (Lee Yoo-mi), a younger player in the scripted series, refers to it as "what those boomers used to play as kids."

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A game for boomers
Source: Netflix

The term gganbu (the episode title) can also be traced back to South Korea between the 1960s and 1980s. According to a Reddit post, the term reportedly refers to "best friends," traditionally ones who share a common goal with each other.

Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) and Oh Il-nam (O Yeong-su) recall the term fondly and declare each other their respective gganbu in their game of marbles.

For the reality show contestants, though, it's just about advancing to the next stage in the game.

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