School of Cultural Studies and Humanities

Squid Game: Why we’re so obsessed with dystopian fiction

Squid Game, Netflix’s latest bingeworthy series, is fast becoming a TV sensation and is already one of the platform’s most streamed TV shows. 

Susan Watkins

The series is a South Korean fictional drama, where contestants compete to win cash, or die trying. 

Professor Susan Watkins, expert on dystopian and post-apocalyptic writing, has spoken to the Independent about why it is we’re becoming increasingly obsessed with dystopian fiction. Susan said: “Since the start of the pandemic, dystopia, apocalypse, infection films and games [have] just been hugely popular.”

Rather than wanting to escape the realities of our own pandemic dystopian world, Susan explains that people want to see their reality played out in fiction. Susan said: “It’s almost like processing trauma, such stories and shows allow us to think through what’s really going on, and put into play important questions we may be grappling with on some level ourselves, like: “How much does the individual put their own concerns and objectives and desires first? How much do they try and work collectively? Where are the boundaries?”

In The Handmaid’s Tale, arguably one of the most successful pieces of dystopian fiction of our time, author Margaret Atwood introduced us to the concept of ‘Ustopia’, which Susan explains as being a mixture of dystopian and utopian elements which presents a more hopeful vibe. There’s a hero to root for and a system to be challenged. Susan said: “Even if a character doesn’t achieve any actual change or any actual effective resistance, it just allows people to think, ‘Well, how far would I go?'” Which is valuable in itself.”

Susan predicts the next topic to be tackled through dystopian fiction will be the issue of climate change. “It’s one of the things making our world so scary, even if/once the pandemic becomes endemic, we’ve still got climate change; it’s the next thing we need to address as a world.”

To read Susan’s full interview with the Independent, click here


Professor Susan Watkins

Professor / School Of Humanities And Social Sciences

Susan Watkins is Professor in the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities and Director of the Centre for Culture and the Arts. She is an expert in contemporary women's fiction and feminist theory.