Milan – There are childish games, red-clad guards and only one winner — but for Italian fans of the ultra-violent Netflix hit “Squid Game,” the dying is fortunately only make-believe.
About 50 thrill-seekers gathered in a hangar near Milan transformed into the world of the South Korean television series that has become a global phenomenon.
It depicts hundreds of marginalized people forced to take part in traditional children’s games. Sadistic “VIPs” watch on as they battle it out, with the sole eventual winner earning a fortune — and everyone else suffering a brutal death.
On a cold, wet November night in northern Italy, a masked guard in a red boiler suit shouts at a crowd of fans to “Get in line!”
The masked Front Man, who runs the game, fires a shot in the air, and there is silence.
“You’re here to satisfy the VIPs, this game was organized for them,” he declares, pointing to two masked people sitting in a corner.
The first game is “Red Light, Green Light”, where in the TV series participants must creep up on a terrifying robot doll when her back is turned — with the risk of being gunned down if she sees them moving.
Here, the bullets are plastic pellets and the guards say they aim not to hurt anyone. Participants wear masks to protect their faces, along with a T-shirt adorned with an identifying number.
But many are quick to get into the spirit of things. “Is it here I can win 45.6 billion won ($38 million)?” enthused Stefano, a 42-year-old doctor, referring to the prize money on the South Korean series.
Laura Tatolo, a 27-year-old waitress who came with a friend, told AFP: “The series fascinates me and I was looking for a game to find the atmosphere!”
“Squid Game”, directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, became Netflix’s most popular series at launch, drawing at least 111 million viewers into its dystopian nightmare.
There are Squid Game fans the world over making merchandise and murals, while “escape games” such as those in Milan have popped up across the globe.
“It was supposed to be a Halloween event, but it’s done so well that we kept it going,” said Anna Kovalova of Enigma Room, the Milan company which organized the evening’s entertainment.
As with the TV series, the game has its detractors. “We received emails from outraged parents,” she said, adding that people under 16 are banned.
There are six challenges in total — including a tug of war that in the TV series brings the risk of falling off a sky-high bridge — and the experience lasts two hours.
The final duel in Milan was won by candidate number 15, Federico Alemanni.
“We found the atmosphere, the adrenaline of ‘Squid Game,'” he said.
The prize is not quite the 45.6 billion won offered in the show. The winner gets free entry to another game.
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