Mr. Beast’s Squid Game Ripoff Is Exactly the Kind of Video YouTube Rewards

While the video is popular, it's a reductive ripoff of the original, not a triumph for the "creator economy."
November 29, 2021, 5:29pm
A screenshot of Mr. Beast's Squid Game video
Image Source: Mr. Beast

YouTuber Mr. Beast’s take on the Netflix series Squid Game, where real people competed for $456,000, is a hit with viewers, racking up over 100 million views since it premiered last week. It’s a well-produced facsimile of the show, but it’s also bizarre to watch Mr. Beast and former YouTube executives celebrate its popularity as a huge success for so-called “creators.”

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Famously, Squid Game took over 10 years to actually be produced. Squid Game writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk told the Korea Times that although he wrote the series 12 years ago, its themes became more relevant as time went on.

“But after about 12 years, the world has changed into a place where such peculiar, violent survival stories are actually welcomed,” he said. “People commented on how the series is relevant to real life. Sadly, the world has changed in that direction. The series' games that participants go crazy over align with people's desires to hit the jackpot with things like cryptocurrency, real estate, and stocks. So many people have been able to empathize with the story.”

In a world as desperate as Hwang describes, it’s unsurprising that people in the real world would want to compete in the same games (though non-fatal) for half a million dollars. In seven months, YouTuber Mr. Beast painstakingly recreated every set from Squid Game, inviting 456 people to compete for $456,000. 

As a feat of production, it’s not just admirable, but enviable in how perfectly Mr. Beast recreated the sets of ths show. As a piece of media, it’s perverse. This doesn’t just badly misunderstand the anti-capitalist message of Squid Game, it’s a literal recreation of the villain's ultimate desire to watch desperate people compete for money purely for his amusement. In Mr. Beast’s version of Squid Game’s marble game the YouTuber’s research team even paired up best friends in an effort to emulate the tragic stakes of the original show. When the top six are asked what they’d do with the prize money, two of them say they would give it to their families.

More than just bizarre, Mr. Beast’s Squid Game highlights a fundamental problem of YouTube. There is no shortage of people who make original art and put it online, but the internet is dominated instead by people who can take advantage of existing properties and fan bases. This is a particular problem on YouTube, where the people film themselves literally reacting to things or laughing at other people’s memes and making a lot of money off of it. This video is no different from those. It owes a debt to Hwang’s show in every respect. Despite being original content from a popular content creator, it’s nothing more than a sad retread of someone else’s work. There’s also an ad spot for mobile game Brawl Stars in the middle of the video, meaning that Mr. Beast will also profit from the fruits of Hwang’s creative labor.