Five Nights at Freddy’s infects you with the kind of irrational fear that will take to back to your childhood hiding under the covers.
I’d like to consider myself a rational adult. I watch the news, object permanence makes sense, all the symptoms of adulthood. Yet there’s one thing that makes me forget all the knowledge I’ve accrued. It’s something that brings me back into that irrational dark; something that brings a creeping dread close to me and whispers into my ear, “Yes, you should be afraid."
This was going to be a joke about the US Presidential Elections, but this is a game site. Instead, let’s talk about something more relevant: Five Nights at Freddy’s.
I know, original choice, but it wouldn’t be so popular if it was just a cheap jumpscare game. Think about how Scott Cawthon was able to make such a cultural juggernaut. If it was just dumb luck, it wouldn’t have six games and a book. It's not destined to die, it’s going to be adapted to film! No matter how you feel about his games, you gotta respect Mr. Cawthon for making something so beloved.
But I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve yet to beat a game in the series. Feel free to laugh; I’m amazed myself. I bought the main four games, yet I still can’t bring myself to play them. Why am I still too scared to play this? The easiest answer is that I’m just a coward, but there’s something much more than that. Five Nights is a series that’s almost impossible to play as an adult.
What the hell does that mean? Well, let’s first take a look at a more adult game: Silent Hill 2. Think about Silent Hill 2’s story. Think about its themes, its characters, its symbolism. It’s stuff that lets you stroke your goatee and sound like a member of academia. You can talk about its use of sexuality in regards to the Bubble-Headed Nurses, the overarching theme of guilt in most characters in the game, the comparison of the HD Collection’s more “Hollywood” performances compared to the original acting by smaller names like Guy Cihi. It’s a scary game, for sure, but it’s a scariness you can rationalize. It’s something you can disconnect with a more “objective” viewpoint, looking at it with an analytical mind.
Can the same be said with FNAF? Probably, but not in the same way. For starters, the narrative of Five Nights at Freddy’s isn’t really a journey in the same way Silent Hill 2 is a journey. It’s just a situation where you deal with some monsters and survive the night. It puts thought in its story, but not in the moment. You don’t ask a question like “What is the implication of Freddy Fazbear being a bear?” because it’s almost irrelevant.
That’s not to say you can’t do that, analysis is analysis no matter the text. But Five Nights takes pride in its “lowbrow” horror. It’s not an adult fear like James Sunderland’s guilt in Silent Hill 2, it’s a child’s fear. It’s that fear you had when you were six years old about the boogeyman coming to get you. FNAF tells you boogeymen are real, and they’re ready to attack. That’s why it scares me so much. It rips away my facade of maturity and brings out my inner child. Not through a sense of wonder or nostalgia, but through terror. I’m a scared kid again crying for mum. No other series I can think of makes me want to hide under a blanket like that.
This is less about the game and more about myself. Horror, by its nature, is one of the most personal genres. Things might generally scare you, but few things honestly terrify you to the core. Five Nights at Freddy’s is what currently terrifies me. I remember waking up from nightmares, afraid of being whisked away by monsters. They weren’t animatronics, mind you, but they were overpowering nevertheless. It’s not my innermost fear (they’ve yet to make a game about it), but it’s the closest a game has gotten to getting under my skin.
But isn’t it strange that a game like Five Nights at Freddy’s messes with me that much? I don’t have to worry about animatronics that’ll kill me, yet that game makes me feel like I do. It lingers after I close anything involving it. What is it about FNAF that makes me childishly afraid? Maybe it’s a sign that I’m scared of making the same mistakes I did as a child? Maybe I just had a bad experience at Chuck E. Cheese that I repressed? It’s amazing how a simple game about spoopy animatronics can cause you to psychoanalyze yourself if you let it. Give it a shot sometime, it’s cheaper than therapy and a lot less helpful.
Perhaps when I try it again, I’ll find out that I’m just exaggerating and that FNAF is just a silly ghost story I’ll forget about years from now. Until then, I’ll scamper to my blanket and tightly shut my eyes. Maybe the monsters won’t come if I pray hard enough.