Most survival game stories keep the cash offstage, trading instead in lives, weapons and vital resources. In Squid Game, the conversion of lives into cash is literally writ large, on a giant scoreboard that keeps count of the diminishing number of players and accumulating prize money. An allegorical reading about class or capital seems redundant when the role of individual debt, financial speculation and violent inequality is as transparent as the giant glass piggy bank that hangs over the players’ dormitory. Which leaves us free to ask slightly different questions about the survival game as a prominent feature of contemporary culture: not what it is about, but what is it for?
I have to admit that I felt deeply irritated by the website for Bret Easton Ellis's novel Imperial Bedrooms, by its very existence. (It's a casting-couch choose-your-own-adventure game.) If you listen closely, you can hear every exhausted literary writer in American saying, very quietly to themselves: 'So this is how it's gonna be now? I have to code my own flash game?' One half expects to find action figures of the novel's characters at Wal-Mart. But of course then I played the thing and, like most people, I'd imagine, immediately started trying to get the actress high, naked and into bed.
The most popular game on miniclip.com at the moment is Volcanic Airways. ‘The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland has erupted, you must escape the volcanic ash and get to safety! Loops get you more points!’ For all those urgent exclamation marks, Volcanic Airways is the slowest game ever – your chubby Boeing drags its bulk through the air at such a leisurely crawl that when the ash cloud finally catches up you can’t help but feel you deserve to be engulfed. The work of the programmers behind the game, though, has been undeniably swift. The internet gaming industry has never been slow to respond to the news. As the presidential campaigns for the 2008 US election ground on, a game called Presidential Paintball appeared:
Auctions are often plagued by something called the winner’s curse. The person who ‘wins’ the painting or Floridian land parcel usually pays too much for it. Unless the winner knows something that the other bidders don’t, he's probably overvalued the object: otherwise, why wouldn’t someone else in the room be willing to pay as much? But the online charity auctions run by raffle.it are in a format I hadn't encountered before – they seemed, possibly, curse free. Each of their auctions is like a regular raffle, except you get to choose your own number (only positive integers are allowed). The winner is whoever has the lowest unique number: if Anne has 2, Betty has 3, Cindy has 2 and Diana has 7, then Betty wins. Once you've chosen your number, you're told whether or not someone else has already gone for it.
Think of a book. Then imagine someone other than the author who might – or could never – have written it.
An OuLiPian(ish) challenge: Think of a word of more than three letters* that, however many letters you remove from the end of it, is still a word (e.g. ANTICS: a, an, ant, anti, antic, antics). Then write all the words out in order and punctuate them to make a (more or less) meaningful sentence. A: an ant, anti-antic, antics. Are there any others? Or is this as it were a hapax legomenon? *Three letter ones are relatively easy: A, an 'and'. I, in inn. O, on one. Etc.