Horror games and I do not mix well. If it’s a good enough game that I actually play it, I often get so immersed into the game that I have to put the controller down to prevent having a panic attack. (Seriously. I was flying through Half-Life 2 in college up until that damn Ravenholm level, and never picked it up again!) But there’s something intriguing about watching someone else play such terrifying games — thus, the phenomenon of watching other people film and commentate on media of this genre on YouTube (Let’s Players) is pretty popular. It is through this strange pseudo-sharing spectacle that I have happily experienced plenty of indie and AAA horror games such as Slender, Outlast, Amnesia, Dead Space, and countless others. One of these games, however, really stands out: Five Nights At Freddy’s (and it’s sequel/prequel).
Is it the best horror game? Of course not. Are there problems with it? Definitely! But its debut birthed a lot of chatter in the gaming community for several reasons, and I personally adore the series for being such a fun, spooky little catalyst.
Survival Is The Name Of The Game
The gameplay mechanics and goal of the FNAF games are easy: You, as a security guard at a Freddy Fazbear establishment, must survive six hour night shifts (12 AM — 6 AM) during which you are assaulted by haunted animatronics who roam the empty halls.
The catch is that you, the security guard, are unable to move or fight back in any way. The only control you have is over the lights and the security cameras, which you manipulate via a tablet-like screen. Depending on which game in the series you play, you also have the ability to close doors and vents, reset failing surveillance systems, manipulate audio cues to ward off/redirect the wandering hostiles.
With each passing night, the animatronics become more aggressive and you find yourself having to multitask and determine new patterns in order to survive. Luck has also played an important part in the games as well in varying degrees, although some games have used this in better ways than others (more on that later).
The Five Nights At Freddy’s Timeline
Please note that the following description is drawn from conclusions that others have drawn, specifically the episode on FNAF from Game Theory. At the time of this article’s publication, FNAF creator Scott Cawthon has not released an official timeline of the game’s events. Only read the below section if you don’t mind plot spoilers!
Somewhere in the 1970’s or 80’s, an establishment called Fredbear’s Family Diner had a single animatronic bear: Freddy Fazbear, the titular character of the series.
At some point during this Diner’s existence, a murderer now known as the â€˜Purple Guy’ murdered a child in the parking lot of the diner. This was his first victim, and potentially the reason why the original Diner owners sold the company to what would become ‘Fazbear Entertainment.’
With a Chuck E. Cheese-like appeal, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria is a success that allows it to open several chains. At one of these locations, the ‘Purple Guy’ equips an animatronic suit ( a golden version of Freddy Fazbear) and uses it to lure five more children into a back room and murder them, too. Supposedly, he is caught the next day.
Here’s where the supernatural stuff kicks in: The vengeful spirit of the first child murdered, which latched onto a Puppet doll (featured in FNAF 2 and 3), then attempts to save the children’s souls by giving them ‘new life’ by placing them within these animatronic suits (Freddy, Golden Freddy, Chica, Bonnie, and Foxy).
It is at this point that six unhappy, tormented child spirits are haunting the pizzeria.
For whatever reason, the corpses of the children are never recovered from within the animatronic suits. Only after the stench of the bodies and grotesque rotting remains of the poor victims begin to ruin the ‘fun’ of Freddy Fabzear’s do they shut the location down.
But not for long~
Now, here’s where things get a little more involved. Although Five Nights At Freddy’s 3 takes place way in the future (and is the most â€˜present’ game to date), it shares some glimpses of the first Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza location.
In FNAF 3, old training tapes explain that in addition to animatronics, there were some suits that could be worn by actual employees. These suits, however, were very dangerous and could easily become a death trap if not put on correctly. These were the ‘Golden’ version suits, and there are two that we are aware of: Golden Freddy the bear and Golden Bonnie, the bunny. More on that later!
In Five Nights At Freddy’s 2 (the prequel game!), the old haunted animatronics were broken down and dismantled, replaced by shiny new ‘toy’ versions connected to a sexual predator database (in response to the past tragedies). However, these animatronics remain on the prowl and not even being partially broken down can stop them.
And, sadly enough, the events of the past repeat themselves once more. More children are murdered, and the chain is shut down. However, it aspires to re-open in another location after trashing the ‘toy’ versions and using their parts to rebuild the new ones.
Thus comes Five Nights At Freddy’s 1, the original game that places you in the middle of a crazy horror story. Again, the player has to survive five-night shifts. It’s all pretty much the usual unfortunate pattern.
Nowâ€¦ at some point, the vengeful ghosts do get their revenge on the infamous Purple Guy murderer. They do this by trapping him on a stormy night within the confines of one of the locations and frightening him into hiding within a Golden Bonnie suit. The moisture from the rain and probably his spastic actions cause the spring-loaded suit to malfunction, squeezing too tightly and effectively crushing him within the suit. A Golden Bonnie suit.
Eventually, Freddy Fazbear’s shuts down for good. All locations. The entire company. Done.
But the urban myths rage on, and with Five Night’s At Freddy’s 3, some enthusiastic horror attraction developers decide to rebuild the Pizzeria where all the murders took place. While seeking authentic pieces of the fallen company, they locate an animatronic and place it within the attraction: a single horrific-looking golden rabbit that fans have called Springtrap.
In FNAF 3, you have the ability to release the souls of the poor children who have long since gotten revenge on their original killer by discerning vague clues and playing disturbing mini-games while trying to survive 5 Nights at the attraction. Eventually, in the Good Ending, you succeed and the attraction burns down ‘mysteriously’â€¦probably due to faulty wiring. Probably.
At least until the (newly announced) Five Nights At Freddy’s 4!
Okay — But Why Is It Frightening?!
People usually roll their eyes at FNAF because, on the surface, they just see people getting freaked out by the jump-scares — and yes, that is a big part of it. But whether you consider these tactics to be “cheap” or not, note that the jump-scares in this game are the climax of the fear. It’s there, then it’s over as you’re faced with a Game Over screen.
Boom, done, that’s it.
What a lot of people tend to forget — especially those who only watch others play the game and not actually play it — is the build-up. Unless you’re in that chair with your headphones on, you can’t fully appreciate the ambiance of FNAF like those who do play it.
(And yes, I have played and survived the First Night. Then I got too freaked out and gave up.)
Most of the time, it’s silence: an empty, abandoned venue in the middle of the night. You can hear shuffling! You can hear something singing a “dum-dum-dum” tune — you hear footsteps.
You know they’re out there. All of your jobs start off with letting you know that the animatronics wander autonomously. It’s not you being ridiculous or paranoid, you know they’re walking around. They’re aware of you. They stare at you in the cameras and linger in your doorways; they want to get you, even though you’ve done nothing wrong.
What’s worse? You’re immobile. You can’t leave your security room. You can’t defend yourself. Anything that lays beyond your little haven is unknown.
And that is the core of FNAF fear: the unknown. Humans don’t like change, they dislike not knowing what comes next. Why else do lots of people get anxious just thinking about death? Because there’s no way to know what happens afterward! In FNAF, you can only see glimpses of these haunted inhuman possessed things waking up and getting closer and closer to you with evil intent and you cannot stop them. You don’t have a gun. You don’t have a shield. If they get into your room when you’re unprotected, you’re dead.
That is why Five Nights At Freddy’s is so terrifying. To most people, at least.