Three weeks have passed since the fatal crowd rush at Itaewon, Seoul ended up claiming 158 lives, with many more severely wounded physically and psychologically. While South Korean citizens are still trying to cope with the tragedy, a disturbing trend surrounding the incident among school children has left people in shock.
The hashtags “Itaewon Game” and “Itaewon Crush Game” are on the rise on social media. In this “game,” multiple students lie on top of each other, forming a human stack, and the student at the bottom wins based on how many people they can endure on top of their body.
Now, the game itself has been around for years under different names, such as the “Hamburger Game,” the “Pass-out Challenge,” and the “Sandwich Game.” Now, some Korean schoolchildren seem to be seeking a twisted joy out of mimicking the crowd on Halloween that fell victim to the stampede by renaming it the “Itaewon Game.”
A high schooler going by the surname of Park from Seoul described the whole process of the game. First, the students move all the desks to the side, and then one kid lies on the ground at the classroom’s center. After that, ten or more people will start stacking themselves on top, trying to squish the person at the bottom. Apparently, this game has become a frequent break-time activity. But some students are repelled by the concept, much like Park who said, “I was really shocked to see that kids would play the ‘Hamburger Game’ and call it the Itaewon Crush Game.”
According to other student testimonies online, kids are also imitating the tragedy during lunchtime. An online post described, “When we are getting lunch, kids shout ‘Push, push’ and mimic the Itaewon tragedy. A group of kids picks on a student by crushing them with the ‘Hamburger Game’ to bully them.” Another student wrote, “Students at my school played it again today, and one boy said his back hurt, and he couldn’t breathe.”
The rising trend of this Itaewon Game has shaken parents, and many fear this might become a new and fatal way of bullying in schools. And this fear is unfortunately not groundless. In 2011, a middle schooler was allegedly killed during the hamburger game after being crushed by classmates who were trying to bully them.
The Korean Association of Teachers of Media Literacy (KATOM) has expressed concern over this issue.
If children and teenagers play a game mimicking an incident, there is a high risk that it will lead to a big safety-related accident as they are not properly aware of the risk.
Some experts feel that young students need proper guidance on how to react to public tragedies of this scale.
As unfiltered, edited videos of the disaster are being shared on social media, there are great concerns that students could have a distorted perception…Although mass trauma is already being felt, it’s a big problem that no education is being provided on how students should accept and recognize disasters.
—Professor Yoo Hyun Jae, Department of Communications at Sogang University
Lim Myung Ho, a professor of psychology at Dankuk University, added that teenagers imitate everything by nature. This behavior was once reflected in the “Suicide Game,” alternatively known as the “Blue Whale Challenge,” which plagued the globe around 2016. Professor Lim added that when such distorted concepts become trends, most teenagers follow them without thinking about the consequences.
Lee Chang Ho, a senior researcher at the National Youth Policy Institute, opined that students need to be taught critical thinking to avoid such perversions around a catastrophic event like the Itaewon tragedy.