When Squid Game: The Trials opens in Los Angeles this December, the immersive experience will have two lofty goals. One, to reflect the tense themes of the hit Korean series in what is essentially designed to be a fun day or night out. And two, to ensure that at least one of the show’s subject matters isn’t present: exploitation.
Crippling debt, financial desperation and a general lack of prospects in all aspects of life were at the heart of Netflix’s global sensation “Squid Game.” A mix of hopelessness, vulnerability and class warfare led the show’s participants to take part in a series of life-or-death challenges. The stakes won’t, of course, be as high at Squid Game: The Trials, in which guests will opt-in for a series of simple-to-learn, excruciating-to-win games. Everyone walks out alive, but scores will be kept, no money will be won and, if all goes according to plan, everybody will likely be just a little bit poorer.
Designers of the immersive experience promise the series’ taut themes will be present and handled in such a way to make sure that those who buy in don’t end up feeling like they’ve been had. Netflix has long worked in the immersive space — experiences based upon “Stranger Things” and “Bridgerton” have previously made their way to the Southland — and the company says lessons from both will be on display at Squid Game: The Trials, which is promising a mix of theatricality, technology and food, the latter courtesy of the acclaimed culinary team of downtown’s Yangban.
The experience, created in conjunction with experiential entertainment firm Superfly, will launch Dec. 6, shortly after the premiere of reality competition series “Squid Game: The Challenge.” Don’t expect the equivalent of going to the gym, says Netflix, as designers don’t want, say, “Squid Game” meets “American Gladiators.” The goal is to bring guests lightly into “Squid Game’s” harsh world. To that end, Netflix will be hoping players buy “Squid Game”-inspired tracksuits to wear, which will allow for the look of the show to be replicated. And some games will be purely intellectual. Squid Game: The Trials will be hosted at the Television City complex, near the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard.
“We don’t want it to be purely based on a series of physical challenges,” says Josh Simon, Netflix’s VP of consumer products. “When you think of the gameplay, some of them skew a little more psychological. Some of them end up being individual. Some of them end up being more of a team. They might be with a team of people you showed up with, or you might be forced to work with a team of people you’re unfamiliar with. We’re trying to introduce more epic moral dilemmas into the equation.”
Though Netflix is keeping the full list of games close to its vest, expect some “Squid Game” staples, such as the series’ twist on childhood stop-and-go game Red Light, Green Light to appear. Concept art shared with The Times shows a re-creation of that game’s Young-hee doll, in the show a killer, motion-sensing animatronic. The event will intermix challenges from the first season of “Squid Game” as well as the upcoming unscripted series. There will also be some games and challenges that are created exclusively for the experience.
Still, Simon says the goal is to have zero physical fitness requirements. However, the experience is designed for those ages 13 and older. Those younger than 13 will not be admitted. “We want to keep it as broadly accessible as possible,” he says.
For most days, tickets will be sold throughout the day in 30-minute increments, with entry points on some as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 9 p.m. Each player will be outfitted with a wristband featuring radio frequency identification technology, a first for Netflix’s immersive experiences. The band will keep score, and a winner for each group will be announced. “We’ve developed a point system,” Simon says. “People will accumulate points as we go through. One winner will be crowned atop a leaderboard. We want to play with some of that really great iconography from the series.”
Simon was asked about how the experience will deal with some of the series’ darker elements. “There’s only so much tension and the stakes of the show that we would personally want guests to experience,” Simon says. “But the psychological stakes of it, especially when you’re in these environments, really start to feel elevated. We’ve developed a lot of fun concepts that I think will keep people slightly off guard throughout the experience. There’s a mystery, and some psychological intrigue that we’re going to introduce.”
Netflix says the games should last about 70 minutes, and said they will be designed as a “series of escalating challenges.” There will be a total of six games. In addition to Young-hee, “Squid Game’s” masked antagonist the Front Man will figure heavily into the event and, “obviously, the guards, in a variety of sort of pink jumpsuits will be throughout,” Simon says.
A key component of Squid Game: The Trials will be a neon-drenched night market with Korean-inspired food led by Yangban’s chef Katianna Hong. The website for the event says to expect “instant ramyun, bibimbap, soju-infused cocktails, and more.” The Night Market, says Simon, was a lesson from past immersive events. He says about 90% of guests to a Bridgerton-inspired ball arrived in costume and wanted to hang out long after the timed portion of the evening ended. Some past Netflix events did not always have a post-event meeting place ready to go.
“The experience ends, and people just want to hang around and have a dance party,” Simon says. “We had to start ushering people out because we had multiple shows per night. That’s one of the learnings we’ve evolved into. If you’re a fan of the world and had a great time, we want fans to be able to really to immerse themselves in it. That Night Market aspect is a way we think we can deliver on that.”
“Squid Game,” of course, had a food component in one of its games — one that inspired a viral social media challenge. In the show, the contestants must punch out certain shapes from a dalgona cookie — a honeycomb toffee-like sweet made from caramelized sugar and baking soda. The participants are given a needle to try to carve out their assigned shape without breaking the thin cookie in a limited time.
While Simon didn’t say if the dalgona challenge would be replicated in one of the event’s games, it’s safe to assume they will be heavily featured at Squid Game: The Trials. “It’ll definitely feel like a self-contained universe,” Simon says of the event. “There is a such a specific sense of world and place to ‘Squid Game.’ We want it to feel that way.” He adds, “There are certain things, like the dalgona cookies that are prominent in the series, that we think fans will love.”
If you go
Tickets for Squid Game: The Trials are on sale now. Opening Dec. 6, tickets are currently available through Jan. 31. They start at $39 for midweek and increase to $54 on the weekends. A VIP experience is also available for $99.
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