Reporting Live from Hell

By Madeleine ConnorsJanuary 5, 2024

Reporting Live from Hell
SQUID GAME: THE TRIAL EXPERIENCE, Television City, Los Angeles, ongoing since December 6, 2023.

I am not the first person to say this: we are living in hell. It’s the reason we fell in love with the popular K-drama series Squid Game (2021) on Netflix. Crippling debt and callous hooded figures plotting your death for sadistic entertainment in a game feel like melodramatic but accurate metaphors for our current moment. And yes, I, too, love playing games and have no money. Squid Game: The Trial Experience, the latest immersive experience designed to recreate the hit television series in Los Angeles, is less interested in mirroring our political unrest or offering a heavy-handed metaphor for capitalism. (Worth noting: The ticket was 54 dollars.) Instead, it plays out like a Dave & Buster’s for fascism cosplay.

While waiting for the competition to begin, players are ushered into a night market comprised of a gift shop with Squid Game–themed merchandise and a Korean food stand. My friend and I bought a decadent, too-expensive espresso martini and perused the gift shop, and then arcade games, stopping to play with a Samsung Galaxy Flip on display. Everything we touched was for sale and overpriced—even if not a purposeful metaphor—achieving a certain shameless irony that I almost find impressive. A television show scorning the savagery of capitalism loses its sting when it releases a Funko Pop! collection. 

At the beginning of the game, players take a photo and are given a player number. The players are comprised of eager fans of the show and holiday tourists accompanied by their families. We are then escorted past blood-splattered walls and masked guards in neon pink jumpsuits, as seen in the show. The live experience relies heavily on the lore of the iconic costumes and sets to charm its visitors. Here we are, I thought, standing inside memes—only it feels more like a Chuck E. Cheese. There is a dystopian and uncanny quality to the experience, but that feels unintentional, if not depressing.

We play six games, from a memory game on glass tiles to marbles, all taking place on exuberantly colorful and impressive sets. The games underwhelmed me, but I’m unsure what I expected from an immersive marketing exercise for a media conglomerate. We were shepherded through a series of rooms and given ominous instructions that alluded to our “elimination” and “weakness” among us; we were sorted into groups and partnerships repeatedly to tease competitiveness in us. After a final round of Red Light, Green Light, the remaining players played egg-and-spoon. As a last moment of drama, the losing players were directed to duck as the sound effects of machine guns echoed throughout the room—we all giggled as we pretended to get shot. Is this overly morbid? Sure. Why are we paying money to pretend we’re getting murdered when mass shootings are already so omnipresent? As I left through the gift shop, I tried not to interrogate the franchise’s appeal: to satisfy our bloodlust in a dystopian game that mirrors our own lives.

But as we walked down Fairfax Avenue and made plans to get happy hour, griping about rent and our friend, the experience seemed to wash over us, leaving no impression. Movies and television shows exist now as seeds that proliferate fashion lines, food pop-ups, and corporate fan activations splashed across Instagram ads. Everything feels temporary and disposable—a flimsy cash grab in a soundstage in West Hollywood. It’s precisely the ethos Squid Game portrayed so brilliantly, only to fall victim to it in a second life as a branding exercise.


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Madeleine Connors is a stand-up comedian and writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in places like The New York Times, Bookforum, and Vanity Fair.


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