Emotional Intelligence Squid Game

Did you catch the Netflix series, Squid Game? Not only did it make us hide behind our sofas, but it also made us think. Can Emotional Intelligence help us to reach the final Squid Game? PCL’s Erin Ferrie explores. 


Picture this, you’ve received the invite. It’s time to play. Everything is at stake.

What’s one thing that will get you through? – Not strength or IQ, but Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how we perceive and express ourselves. The EQ-i2.0 measure consists of 5 composites with 15 subthemes within. These composites consider:

  • Self-opinion and understanding
  • Self-expression to others
  • Relationships and how we approach social situations
  • Using and resisting using emotions in decision making
  • Managing stress/coping with adversity.

It may not be immediately obvious to you how harnessing these personal qualities can help you in a game that involves playing 6 childhood games where the stakes are quite literally do or die; but Emotional Intelligence will help you to thrive in these games and in the game of life.

Still not convinced? Select each round below for our take on how your favourite characters have harnessed various aspects of Emotional Intelligence to help them through the series of rounds in the Squid Game series.

ROUND 1: Red Light / Green Light

Initially the players were thrown in at the deep end with an ‘every man for themselves’ style game of ‘red-light green-light’ (similar to the British ‘What time is it Mr Wolf?’ and ‘Musical statues’) where each person must make it over the line without being caught moving when the doll turns around. If she catches them – they’re out and we all know what that means in squid game. You really are out for the count…

So, what skills of Emotional Intelligence did they use here?

First of all, it was key that the players who made it through had a high Stress tolerance and Optimism. They had to watch the consequences of getting it wrong and remain resilient in the face of this impending doom. This also required a high level of Self-Regard because they really needed to believe in their own abilities and harness a feeling of inner strength to get them over that finish line.

But was it every man for himself? An unexpected turn happened when Abdul saved Gi-Hun from falling when the doll was looking. Here Abdul shows us two more subthemes of Emotional Intelligence – Social Responsibility and Empathy. His social consciousness is clear as he showed concern not just for himself, but the wider community and he was able to recognise Gi-Hun’s predicament from his perspective and choose to help.

ROUND 2: Honeycomb Shapes

In the second round, although bonds had been built outside of the games, the players had to again, harness their Self-Regard and Independence to solve the next problem. They split up to tackle carving out a range of honeycomb shapes without splitting the honeycomb, with some shapes much harder than others.

Though he didn’t have much choice in the matter, main character Gi-Hun was left with the hardest shape to carve from the honeycomb – the umbrella. But he didn’t let that rain on his parade. In fact, he harnessed his Flexibility and Problem-Solving ability to adapt to this challenging situation and found a novel solution despite the high stakes and having the odds stacked against him. His Reality Testing ability will have also helped him here as he remained objective when making a risky decision to switch tactics, from carving out the shape with a pin like the others were, to licking around the indent to reveal the shape without any breakage.

ROUND 3: Tug of War

The skills of Problem Solving and Reality Testing were key again here, as the team had to figure out a way to use brains over brawn when up against a physically stronger team in a tug of war. The older player Il-nam stepped in to suggest simple tricks of rope placement and a strategy of not moving for the first 10 seconds before leaning back to face the ceiling. Sure enough, the strategy worked but this required a great deal of Impulse Control from the players as they had to avoid the temptation to make any rash decisions for the good of the team and themselves, despite the techniques feeling counter-intuitive at first.

ROUND 4: Marbles

When the players were paired up and tasked with playing any game with marbles to decide a winner who would survive the round, we learnt a lot about their characters. Trickery and lies were told to make it through. However, one team that showed some key skills of Emotional Intelligence in this brutal game were the young girls Ji-Yeong and Sae-Byeok. They opened up to one another knowing it would be their last conversation and showed Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Expression in doing so. They were able to articulate their own emotions and understand the impact that these had on themselves and others, as well as express this both verbally and non-verbally to one another. These skills helped them to build on their Interpersonal Relationship which neither party wanted to end, although they knew it had to. Finally in the ultimate act of selflessness, Ji-Yeong sacrificed herself in the game to save Sae-Byeok, showing Empathy and Social Responsibility in the extreme.

ROUND 5: Glass Bridge

The glass bridge was a brutal game of hopscotch where some of the bridge panels were made from tempered glass and some were regular fragile glass, meaning those who stepped on the weaker glass would fall to their death. Those that harnessed their Stress Tolerance and Optimism were able to remain calm despite what was going on around them and look towards new ideas. One player stepped up to the plate and showed incredible Problem-Solving skills when he used his knowledge of light and sound reflection to find the real glass stepping stones for the rest of the team and guide them across safely.

Round 6: Squid Game

The final round of the games pitted Gi-Hun and Sang-Woo against one another in a gruelling battle to the finish line. However, their Interpersonal Relationship and respect built on years of friendship, and Gi-Hun’s high Empathy for Sang-Woo’s meant he couldn’t go through with it, even when the win would be easy. When he finally did win, he sobbed and held Sang-Woo, his Emotional Self-Expression revealing the guilt he now felt, despite his pursuit and intent to make it to the end. He had won, but he had also lost so much in the process which was clearly demonstrated by this emotional ending.


So Gi-Hun won a lot of money. He used his Emotional Intelligence to his advantage and made it to the very end. But instead of paying off his mountain of debt, he doesn’t spend a penny. Instead, he clearly feels guilty and sad about winning. His Emotional Self-Awareness is displayed as he reflects on the games. However, he needed to harness some other composites of his Emotional Intelligence in order to overcome these feelings. His Social Responsibility comes to the forefront as he demonstrates social consciousness and concern for others by giving the money away to those in need and fulfilling his promises to the friends he made in the game – those he had formed great Interpersonal Relationships with. Through this, he also shows willing towards self improvment through engaging in personally relevant and meaningful objectives. This shows his Self-Actualisation potential and how he could begin to use this to lead a rich and enjoyable life outside of the game despite his troubles.

Whilst this is a very extreme example, Emotional Intelligence is just as key in our everyday emotional and social functioning. Understanding the importance of balancing these factors is crucial to achieving high Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence eBook

To learn more about Emotional intelligence, click to view our eBook. Or enquire here to see how PCL can help you harness the Emotional intelligence of those within your business.