Editorial: Five Nights at Freddy’s eats/saves children, apparently
If ever you’d like to see the nature of Internet commenting and issue-camping displayed in micro, I suggest looking up any YouTube video about the jumpscare-ridden furryfest that is Five Nights at Freddy’s.
Never have I seen such a polarized set of camps. Those who adore the screeching animatronic killers do so with cultish resolve; those who profess hatred for the Fazbear franchise dismiss it outright with such ivory tower condescension one can nearly hear the clink of their high-society wine glasses.
For my part, I am an unapologetic fan and supporter of the FNAF series and its creator, Scott Cawthon. For Cawthon, Five Nights at Freddy’s blossomed into a career Lazarus Pit, snatching hold of the last desperate gasp of a disillusioned creator and resurrecting his industry portfolio to the tune of a family diner full of money. Such stories are uncommon in a vast and competitive field, loaded with a customer base placidly grazing the short grass of AAA yearly releases.
Plenty has been written about the trilogy of illogical freak shows, which leads me to feel a little piling on from a fledgling games writer can’t hurt. Instead of a review, though, I’d like to present to you an interview with an amalgamation of hypothetical Freddy’s-haters based on my perusal of various comment boards and other game journalists’ videos. I’ll go into this assuming the entire universe is familiar with FNAF, its mechanics and the basics of its story.
Envision, if you will, a shadowy room, cool and smelling lightly of cleaning solution. A metal table, bolted to the floor, is flanked by a simple folding chair on either side. There are no doors, no windows; only two figures, each wrapped in grim-reaper robes. One’s robe flows bloody red, the other ghoulish gray. One is me. The other is the creature, the transdimensional shoggoth of teh haterz.
And so begins our utterly fictitious discussion.
Travisionist: Welcome, have a seat. I’m not sure how either of us got in here, but I feel an illogical topic deserves an illogical setting.
Haters: (swearing, insults, death threats, straw man attacks, outright lies, false equivalencies)
T: Feeling better?
H: Oh, much. That sort of things builds up like plaque on Mountain Dew-flooded teeth. Sometimes we have to purge.
T: Delightful. Let’s just jump right down the rabbit hole of your distaste for what has proven a terribly popular and valuable franchise, Five Nights at Freddy’s. I should mention, though, that popularity doesn’t make a creative property any good. I don’t have to be looking at you, Transformers movies, but you should know I am.
Now, dearest Haters, If you would, I’d like you to lay out what you consider the flaws with the series.
Section one: No player agency
H: It’s stupid.
T: Proud of you as I am for leaving out a volley of cursing, I’ll need you to be more specific.
H: It’s boring. All you do is sit around and wait for something to kill you.
T: Like a tower defense game?
H: No, in a tower defense game you can protect yourself. You can build defenses.
T: You can protect yourself in every FNAF game.
H: It’s not the same. You have no weapons in Freddy’s, which doesn’t make sense because you’re a security guard in at least two of them and playing a guard in the other. Where’s the nightstick? Where’s the gun?
T: Isn’t it the same? In all three FNAF games, defending yourself means careful resource management and watching out for the location of enemy units. I’ll give you that there’s a logic hole where the guard is unarmed — nevermind willing to stay in that hellhole so many nights — but the only way to actively win in most tower defense games is to last a certain length of time, just like FNAF.
H: You have to destroy all the enemy units, though. You can’t destroy the animatronics or defeat them in any way.
T: Yes, but tower defense units appear at a certain rate dictated by time. You will never attack and defeat your enemy in less time than it takes for all the enemy units to appear on screen. Even then you’re only defending your castle or whatever. That’s essentially the same as keeping the animatronics away for a fixed period of time, in this case until 6 a.m. The difference between a line of archers keeping an enemy out of your castle and the doors or flashlight keeping Foxy out of your room is only graphical.
Section 2: Jumpscares
H: Jumpscares are awful. They’re the weakest form of horror and they’re the only scare this series has going for it.
T: You have me there. Jumpscares in most horror properties are lazy and weak. How many times are we gonna jump when a bird slams into a haunted house window? But I must point out the jumpscares aren’t the selling point of the game.
H: The only reason these games are popular is because Markiplier screamed over them.
T: I’m sure that helped a great deal. You are aware the jumpscares are a failure state, aren’t you?
H: Yeah, obviously.
T: You are aware that the failure state is something to be avoided, correct?
H: You’re being a dick.
T: Correct. It’s also the point. Jumpscares aren’t the end goal of these games. They only occur, in the first two, as a failure state and to indicate when something’s wrong in the third. The horror of this game is not delivered solely through jumpscares, but through a droning soundtrack, dirty, bleak visuals and a sense of constant tension. Combine that with a protagonist stripped of almost all power to defend himself or escape, and you’ve essentially created an eerie unit for gaming self-flagellation. We’ll touch on that last point later, because FNAF isn’t the only one.
Section 3: Silent Hill 2 is better.
H: I feel it’s time to channel 88% of the video game critics out there. It’s impossible to stop this urge…!
T: You’re about to bring up Silent Hill 2.
H: Silent Hill 2 didn’t have to rely on jumpscares. That game is true horror!
T: I agree. Silent Hill 2 is brilliant, a rusty dissection of the atrocities gurgling within every one of us. It’s also a painfully inadequate comparison.
H: They’re both horror games.
T: Horror has subgenres, you know. Silent Hill 2 is a story-centric human condition tragedy. Five Nights at Freddy’s is more akin to a slasher film with tower defense elements. You’re trying to compare a black-tie gala dinner with a backyard cookout, and that’s just asinine. And I would submit Silent Hill 2 is not “scarier” than FNAF, but rather the opposite.
H: You can’t be saying this $8 YouTube fodder is better than Silent Hill 2.
T: I’m not. I’m saying it’s scarier, at least for a while. Silent Hill 2 is not scary, to me. It’s depressing, unsettling and genuinely horrifying, but it’s more of a slow burning-of-the-guts kinds fear than FNAF’s heart explosion scares. Do not misunderstand: Silent Hill 2 is a vastly better game, certainly a better experience, and quite possibly the closest to perfect a horror experience ever has come, but comparing it with Freddy’s is simply a false equivalency.
Section 4: Night Trap
H: FNAF is just a Night Trap rip-off.
T: Why do you say that?
H: Think about it. It’s a horror game where the central mechanic is watching for enemies to show up on security cameras and hitting a button to stop them from doing something to cause a game-over.
T: It’s an ensemble-cast action movie that’s a callback to nostalgic character types, featuring a diverse team of toughs who share alternately jokey and competitive relationships while each offers a unique skillset toward defeating a big bad. The titles are awfully similar, and each features a sequel with an expanding multinational cast in which a new character is introduced to falsify an emotional response when–
T: I apologize.
H: Also, that’s bullshit.
T: Of course it is.
H: Those are movies.
T: Call of Duty is a Wolfenstein rip-off. Shadow of the Colossus is a Donkey Kong rip-off. Think about it. All you do is run, jump and climb to defeat a giant hairy beast.
H: But these both use the security camera mechanic and that’s incredibly uncommon. Borrowing something that’s only been done once makes the borrower a copycat.
T: That’s what makes it easy for magnanimous critics who feel they’re “above” FNAF to make the comparison to Night Trap. Firstly it provides them a big ol’ cult-nerd boner for mentioning Night Trap, which is more than 20 years old and only became popular because of how impossibly terrible it is in every way. Second, no one would seriously suggest Limbo, foe example, is a Super Mario Bros. rip-off just because they’re both platformers. There are so many hop and bop games out there, but because there are so few security-camera-centered games in existence — or there were, pre-fan-game avalanche — it’s easy to point to the one example in existence prior and call FNAF a clone.
Plus, apart from the gaming historians and nostalgia hunters, who seriously thinks about Night Trap that often? That game was a barely-playable train wreck that was about as frightening as a three-ring binder.
Section 5: Hard, boring, repetetive
H: Fine. You know what the worst thing about Freddy’s is?
T: Besides the fandom?
H: All fandom is inexorable.
H: The game is tedious. You have to wait so much, and it’s so easy to die. When you die, it gets rubbed in your face and you have to start several minutes back. It’s repetitive and for all the squawking the fan base does about the series’ lore, it’s so vague and scattered no one person is ever going to pick it all up alone. A story that’s so vague the community has to fill in the blanks isn’t a good story.
The Internet: GASP!
H: You son of a bitch.
T: Everything you just said applies to the Souls series. It’s frequently tedious, as some fights require the player to plink away at enemies with a bazillion life points. Plus, it’s largely a counter-attack-based economy; meaning, you spend a lot of time waiting for your enemy to strike first. Your enemies can kill you easily. It’s repetitive as hell, especially in the early going. When you’re killed, and you will be, the game informs you of your death in massive font with a flourish of sound. Then, you walk back to wherever you were killed, hope to regain what you lost, and try again.
And don’t get me started on the Souls series’ lore. The Great Wolf Sif, for example, has one of the most beautifully tragic stories in all of gaming, but you’d scarcely scratch the surface of it just playing through the game. The best place to learn the series’ lore is, almost certainly, a wiki. Dark Souls openly invited that kind of collaboration, which the community calls “jolly cooperation” for some reason, not only to uncover the world’s secrets and defeat its challenges but to understand its history, too.
And no, I’m not suggesting FNAF is better than Dark Souls.
Section 6: Release schedule
H: The games came out within a few months of each other. That’s oversaturation and it makes people sick of hearing about it.
T: I link to them of them as episodic releases. The games cost about 20 bucks combined unless they’re on sale. You can finish each one in a few hours if you’re quick on the uptake. That’s still cheaper than any 2014 AAA game on the market if you look at them as a unit. And if you don’t look at them as a unit, consider that what FNAF has done is what Half Life was supposed to do: Small episodes of a story delivered with greater frequency at a lower price. Where Valve has failed to deliver on that promise, FNAF will have delivered an entire four-episode, complete (we can only hope) story arc of gameplay over the course of about twelve months.
Section 7: Four
H: There shouldn’t be a fourth one.
T: Actually, I agree. I feel like the good ending of FNAF3 and the defeat of Springtrap wound everything up nicely and created a sense of closure. There is room for a few more games in the timeline, but enough has been said and done to round out the tale, for me. Don’t ask if I’ll still buy the fourth one, though, because of course I will.
Section 8: Film
H: So what about the apparently upcoming FNAF movie?
T: Considering the undeniable fact most video game tie-in movies are hideous to begin with, I’d say a FNAF movie has the capacity to be among the worst. Ignoring the movie critics who would happily defecate miniature cities all over the best video game film, I think it would require such enormous creative liberties the thing wouldn’t resemble FNAF anymore. Who is the protagonist? It requires tremendous suspension of disbelief to picture animatronic characters on the attack, which works in the games because we never actually see them perform kills, but a movie can’t get away with that sort of artistic choice.
For just a moment, imagine a CG version of Bonnie or Chica moving around the pizzeria. Then sigh loudly. I don’t want this movie. I’ve never spoken to a FNAF fan who wants this movie. I’m not sure I want to meet that person.
Section 9: Final thoughts
T: Considering all the topics we’ve discussed, how do you feel about Five Nights at Freddy’s now?
H: I hate it, it’s stupid. Clearly, you’re an idiot for enjoying it — (racism, sexism, swear swear genital innuendo death threat)
T: And we’ve lost ’em.
What makes Five Nights at Freddy’s, for me, is the way it comes off as brilliantly constructed or haphazardly stitched together depending on the source. That it can be viewed so powerfully in any direction speaks to its ability to create emotion, which is a sort of virtue in itself.
I would like to end my thoughts on this strange dark-horse-turned-shark-jumper.
Seriously, it’s like 20 bucks for all three games. They’re such a small part of the gaming landscape, despite their rabid following, one could easily go on about life as if they never happened rather than spew hatred over them. FNAF isn’t changing the gaming industry to any critical degree. The industry hasn’t created an entire wing of security-camera-based AAA releases.
What is changing the landscape is preorder culture, early access and the double whammy of ridiculously high production budgets and unreasonable release schedules in the mainstream market. On the evening of May 27th I noticed Electronic Arts’ Madden 16 Bundle for sale on the Playstation Network for a mere $99.
$99, for what amounts to a roster update and potentially shinier visuals.
And the worst part? It’ll sell tremendously. So hate on Five Nights at Freddy’s, Slender, or whatever. At least they tried something new at a reasonable price.