Korean Games have recently become quite famous with people all around the globe. This is because of the popularity of the Korean TV series on Netflix, Squid Game, which has risen to worldwide fame nearly overnight. The show features many popular Korean games played by children, so perhaps it’s the best time to learn about them too.
So, what are those games presented in Squid Game actually like? And are there other popular games in Korea you might be interested to know about? This article will go over different games, from traditional and popular childhood games to modern-day games!
Korean Traditional Games
Even with South Korea’s modernization, its culture is still preserved today and is evident in Koreans’ daily lives. That includes the traditional games that are still enjoyed in Korea. We’ll discuss some of them below.
History of Korea’s traditional games
Traditional South Korean games have their roots in old folk beliefs. As the Korean peninsula has been driven by agriculture since the ancient days, Korean people have had strong beliefs in gods that protect their nature and lands. Singing and dancing were popular activities, and even exorcisms were performed to ensure and increase the volume of crops and the well-being of animals.
Popular traditional games in Korea
Through the beliefs and activities in this early period, traditional games were created. And they continue to be popular games even today, although many of those beliefs are no longer present. But what kind of traditional games exactly exist in Korea? Let’s find out.
Yutnori is one of the most popular traditional games in Korea, most commonly played on the first day of the Lunar New Year. It is played with four wooden sticks, which operate similarly to dice. Each player or team will take turns throwing the yut sticks, which are round on one side and flat on the other.
There are five different possible combinations the player can get when throwing the sticks: do, gae, geol, yut, and mo. If the player manages to throw the “yut” combination, they get to throw the sticks again. The sticks are thrown over a board game, the combination and landing of the sticks determining how the player or team gets to move their pieces on the board.
For example, if the piece lands on a space that the opponent is already occupied, the piece will have to be returned to the start. But if the piece lands on a space that belongs to the own team, the pieces will go together, making them unite into one piece. The team that has first managed to move all of their own four pieces around the board will win.
This is a Korean folk style of wrestling, with many similarities to Japanese sumo wrestling. In a fight, two players will wrestle each other in a sandy ring, and points are scored whenever the player can throw the opponent onto the ground. In modern-day ssireum wrestling, both opponents will wear a belt (called satba, 샅바) around their waist and their leg, and the opponent will typically lock onto this belt to throw the other player onto the ground.
Yeonnalligi or kite flying is a traditional game activity to do in the winter season. Traditionally it was an especially popular activity between Lunar New Year and Daeboreum, the first full moon of the new lunar year. Today kite flying is not as common anymore as back in the day, but it is still done to some extent.
This is an outdoor activity that is similar to a seesaw. However, instead of sitting, players will stand on each opposite ends. They will then take turns jumping on the board, resulting in the other participant getting propelled into the air.
Neolttwigi is especially popular among girls and is played during different holidays, such as Lunar New Year and Chuseok. Performances utilizing the neolttwigi board are also held occasionally; in these performances, acrobatic tricks are performed.
Jegichagi is very similar to a hacky sack, as you will kick the “jegi” in the air among a group of people, trying to keep it from dropping onto the ground. Of course, the player with the most kicks wins, and jegichagi can be enjoyed as a solo game as well.
Unlike the footbag in a hacky sack, jegi is made out of paper, which is then wrapped around a coin. Its appearance is closer to badminton’s shuttlecock. This is another wintertime activity for young people, especially popular to play over Lunar New Year’s holiday.
This is the Korean version of “tug of war,” and if you’ve watched the recent Netflix success show Squid Game, you may have seen it played. Of course, in reality, you are supposed to simply enjoy juldarigi, not play for life or death!
Juldarigi is a traditional game commonly played at festivals as well as community gatherings, and besides being a popular and fun game, it has quite a deep-rooted traditional and ritualistic meaning, especially to agricultural communities.
For example, the outcome of the game is assumed to predict the year’s upcoming harvest. The game is played with two ropes, made from rice straws, which are connected by a peg in the center, with the two teams pulling at the ropes from opposite sides.
What are the other games played in Squid Game?
Alongside 줄다기리, the popular Netflix series Squid Game featured some other popular games for children as well. Here are some of them.
Mugunghwa Flower has bloomed (무궁화꽃이 피었습니다)
This game was shown in the very first episode of Squid Game, and is called Mugunghwa Flower has bloomed (무궁화꽃이 피었습니다, mugunghwakkotchi pieosseumnida). Even if you grew up outside of Korea, you may remember a similar game from your childhood: “Red Light, Green Light.”
In this game, one player is chosen as “it” and stands at the end of the playing field, with their back turned to the other players. While keeping their back to the other players, the “it” player will yell out “green light,” signaling it is okay to move to the others.
But when they yell out “red light” and turn around, the players in the field are supposed to stop moving. If the chosen player sees anyone moving, that player is out of the game. The person who first reaches the chosen player will be the new “it” for the next round.
In the Korean version of the game, instead of green or red light, the players may be able to move while the chosen player sings the words “mugunghwa flower has bloomed”. Therefore, they are also supposed to stop moving once the player has finished singing. Otherwise, the mechanics of the game remain the same.
In this game, the contestants each receive a flat candy made out of melted sugar and baking soda, resembling a honeycomb. Each candy has one of four possible figures crafted on them. The purpose then is to pull out the figure without breaking it. In Squid Game, the figures shown were a triangle, circle, star, and umbrella.
This is a game that was created by street vendors who sold these candies between the 1950s and 1960s. In the original game, each kid who could pull out the figure from their Dalgona candy would receive a free bonus treat. Here’s an actual Dalgona candy used for Dalgona Game that you can find in convenience stores in Korea.
This wasn’t formally played within the game itself, but ttakji was introduced in the first episode of the drama on the scene with Gong Yoo and Lee Jung Jae’s characters. It is played with folded paper tiles, with the purpose being to slam your own tile on the opponent’s tile so that it turns over. If they are successful, they get to keep the tile they turned over. This game is also called Korean Pogs.
What are some modern games played in South Korea?
While many traditional games from the past are still enjoyed today, of course, every generation has also come up with a game of their own. You may have seen some of them played on Korean dramas and variety shows. Here are some of them.
Cham Cham Cham
This is a two-player game that you’ve probably seen on at least one variety show before. It’s an incredibly simple game; all you have to do is face the other player and then point left or right.
If the other player turns their head in the same direction you have pointed, you win. Simple as that!
Cockfighting (닭싸움 | dakssaum)
Cockfighting is more of physical competition. Each player has to stand on one leg, grabbing their hands around their other ankle. Then, while hopping on one leg, each player will try to knock their opponent off balance. The last one still standing in the correct position wins.
Rock Paper Scissors (가위 바위 보 | gawi bawi bo)
Although it has its own name in Korea, 가위 바위 보 is a game known everywhere in the world. In Korea, it also works with the same rules. The players will shake their fists and then reveal one of the three symbols, with rock winning over scissors, scissors winning over paper, and paper winning over rock.
Rock Paper Scissors – with a twist (묵지빠 | mukjippa)
묵지빠 (mukjippa) is a version of rock paper scissors. In it, three rounds of 가위 바위 보 are played. The winner of the third round then gets to be an attacker, where the purpose is to get the opponent to throw in the same hand as the attacker. If the attacker and defender have the same hand, the attacker wins the game.
Spinning Top Game (팽이 놀이 | paengi nori)
Did you ever watch the anime Beyblade? It’s an old children’s series with origins in Japan and Korea, which was shown across the world in the early 2000s. If you’ve watched it, you know this game already, and perhaps even had your own spinning tops growing up!
The purpose of the game is to pull the winger of your spinning top so that once the spinning top releases, it will either spin longer or knock down your opponent’s spinning top.
Korean drinking games
Koreans love playing different kinds of games, and this is present even when a group goes out to drink together. These particular games are fun to play together with many people, even if no alcohol is involved.
Flick the Cap
This is a classic drinking game played when drinking soju. Once the bottle has been opened, the strip at the end of the soju cap is twisted until it’s close to coming off, and then each player will take turns to flick the strip. The one who flicks the strip off is the loser and will have to drink a shot.
Once the strip has been flicked off, the fun that you can have with the soju bottle cap doesn’t end yet. Hidden inside the bottle cap is a number, which this game can be played with. The person who lost the previous game now gets to see the number, and the other players guess. The possible numbers are anywhere between 1 and 100, and with each guess, the person knowing the number will say “higher” or “lower.”
This depends on whether the guess was a number lower or higher than the number in the cap. For example, the number in the bottle is 12, and someone guesses 30. The person knowing the number will say “lower”, making the possible range now 1 to 29. Depending on the rules you play with, either the person guessing the correct number will drink, or everyone else will.
Instinct Game (눈치게임 | nunchigeim)
This is a game of numbers, sort of. One player will start by saying “1”, then one player will say “2”, and so on. There is no specific order the players will say the number. The point is to assume nobody else will say the number. If two players simultaneously speak out a number, for example, “3” after 1 and 2 have been said, they lose and will have to have a drink, and then the game will begin from number 1 again.
Baskin Robbins 31
Baskin Robbins is not only a delicious and popular ice cream chain in Korea, but a drinking game also carries the same name. In this game, players will sit in a circle, and unlike in the above game, each will take a turn to say a number in a designated order. It’s possible to call out up to 3 numbers at once. Each round of the game finishes with the loser having to call out “31” and drinking.
3-6-9 (삼육구| samyukgu)
Finally, another popular drinking game that goes by numbers! Each player will once again take a turn to say a number, going from 1 until indefinitely, in a specific order. However, the catch is, whenever the number has “3” or “6” or “9” in it, instead of calling out the number, the player whose turn it is, is supposed to clap.
If they accidentally call out the number, they lose the game and will have to drink. The game will go on for as long as someone slips up with that number or forgets which number comes next.
Have you had fun learning about these games in Korea with us today? Do similar games exist in your country? Hopefully, you’ll get to play some of these fun games when you’re in Korea next time, or even in your home country with your friends or family. Let us know in the comments if you’ve already had a chance to try some of these games, from traditional to drinking games!
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