Strategy games are popular all over the world, which is why we sometimes get to see characters in movies and TV shows play them. When done well, this can make the series more gripping, as it’s not just the narrative that keeps us hooked but also the game itself. Not only that, but the game itself can become a great premise for a story: think of the Stranger Things phenomenon, and how the entire show was based on fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. But which series feature characters who play strategy games? Let’s take a look!
1. Squid Game: the Dalgona Game
This massively popular Netflix show begins with a simple premise: a man named Lee Jung-jae (Seong Gi-Hun), who’s in desperate need of money to prove himself to his family, is one day stopped by a stranger by the underground. The stranger challenges him to play a game and leaves him with a mysterious business card. Needless to say, our protagonist calls the number and discovers that there’s money to earn if only he accepts to play a game.
But little does he know that not only is he not the only player, but the stakes are incredibly high. In contrast with the free strategy games that we can now find online, Squid Game sees all the contestants of this enigmatic game find themselves in life-or-death situations that revolve around the games themselves. And not only that, but the less players remain, the more suspicious they grow of one another. By the time the mystery is solved, after a series of cruel twists and turns, Lee Jung-jae and the other contestants are completely different people, and us with them.
Most of the games in Netflix’s series involve some sort of strategic element, but Dalgona stands out as being probably the most interesting. Dalgona is a kind of toffee candy that’s popular in South Korea, and the contestants have the challenge of trying to cut out a particular shape in the middle without breaking the candy, which is more difficult than it initially looks.
One of the key strategic aspects of the game is that shapes such as triangles and circles are easier to cut out than an umbrella or a star. In the series, the strategic nature of this game is begins before the characters start playing, as one of them – perhaps the only one who was able to guess which game they are about to play – finds a way to turn luck in his favour by choosing a shape over another. The series has recently been renewed for Season 2, and we can’t wait to find out which challenges await us!
2. Black Mirror: The Nosedive Episode
Season 3 of Black Mirror opened with a big-budget episode titled “Nosedive,” which remains, to this date, one of the most well-received, but also bleakest, episodes of the acclaimed Netflix show. Set in the near future where people can rate one another for every interaction they have, the episode revolves around a woman called Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is obsessed with having high ratings. Why? Because, the higher your ratings are, the more opportunities you have, as your socioeconomic status also improves with them.
And so, Lacie works hard at being liked by all kinds of strangers, until she’s able to move to a luxury home. But the bliss doesn’t last for long, as a series of unfortunate coincidences lead to Lacie receiving many bad ratings in a row, and all these opportunities immediately vanish. Not only that, but Lacie must now find a way to earn back her status, or she risks becoming a reject of society.
Of course, it’s Black Mirror we’re talking about, and the “Nosedive” ends in a way that you absolutely won’t see coming, and that you’ll find yourself thinking about for years to come. What’s interesting, here, is that what essentially begins as a strategy game in real life – with Lacey cleverly thinking of ways to show herself to the world in a certain way, in order to acquire status – soon evolves first into an analysis of the impact of social media in our lives, and then into an exploration of the effects that ostracism can have on our own personality and, ultimately, our survival. “Nosedive” is as bleak and hopeless as the best Black Mirror episodes, but it’s also infinitely clever, and not too removed from our own reality.
3. The Queen’s Gambit: Chess
It’s not so uncommon for a TV series to feature characters playing chess, but what’s unique about The Queen’s Gambit is that not only is its entire premise developed around the game, but it also features realistic, accurate games. Based on the book of the same name by Walter Tevis and set in the 1950s, the series takes us into the life of fictional chess prodigy Beth Harmon (played by Annabeth Kelly as a child, Isla Johnston as a teenager, and Anya Taylor-Joy as an adult).
When she’s eight years old, young Beth witnesses her mum’s death in a car crash and is taken to an orphanage, where her only joy is learning how to play the game from its sultry but well-meaning custodian, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp). Eventually, Beth is adopted, but her passion for chess remains, and she finds a way to start entering tournaments. During the show, we follow her as she enters the world of competitive chess as a young woman – something that was unheard of at the time – while also developing a series of friendships and struggling with addiction and the loneliness that comes with being a genius.
The series is largely focused on Beth’s personal struggles, but creators Scott Frank and Allan Scott made sure that the chess scenes were accurate by hiring grandmaster Garry Kasparov and other experts in the game to show the actors what to do. It also includes many references to chess terms and genuine moves that increase the authenticity of the show. If you like playing chess, The Queen’s Gambit offers authentic games that you’ll be able to follow; if you’re not familiar with it, we guarantee you’ll start playing it as soon as the end credits roll
The 3 series listed above have not only found a way to seamlessly integrate strategy games into their plots, but to create stories that revolve entirely around them, and that are more engrossing as a result. Happy watching!