Five Nights at Freddy’s has become a goliath of the Indie Game scene with six games in the series, two books (with a third coming later in this year), a strategy guide, action figures, and a movie in the works.
The Five Nights at Freddy’s (or FNAF) franchise built off the back of its first game developed by Scott Cawthon way back in 2014, before justice dawned and we entered (and quickly exited) the Age of Ultron. The point-and-click adventure/horror game featured jump scares, resource management, and scary monsters. Beyond this unassuming exterior though is a mysterious storyline that has built, with each sequel, a community of theorists trying to piece together the full story over the whole franchise.
FNAF is the story of a serial killer and his victims. The mysterious Purple Guy and the children he killed whose souls are now inside the animatronics that plague (the Chuck E. Cheese style) Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. With each new game, we get a clearer picture of what really happened and what all the pieces mean.
We learn the identity of Purple Guy, we learn why these killings happen, and we see how much more there is to a game about haunted animatronics that seems so innocuous is more than meets the eye.
I could explain the intricate details of the franchise, but that would take a long time. I’ll just let MatPat of The Game Theorists explain if you really want to know. (his whole series of theories on FNAF are fantastic, but this is part 1 of his “final theory”).
The more interesting point is that I know almost everything there is to know about FNAF without ever playing any of the games myself. There are two reasons for this: The explosion of “Let’s Play” style videos on YouTube (that happened to coincide with the release of FNAF) and community that built around the lore of the game.
1. YouTube and The Algorithm
When FNAF was born it saw critical success, but it also coincided with a surge of “Let’s Play” style gaming videos that have started to become popular on YouTube. Before FNAF’s release, in 2013 YouTube’s algorithm had changed from favoring views to favoring watch minutes. It was a perfect storm for FNAF and YouTube gaming, the jump-scare horror game played perfectly into the reaction based content of “Let’s Plays.”
So, as new FNAF games continued to be released over the last few years I could watch as YouTubers like Markiplier and GTLive played through the game and uncovered its secrets. I’ve used this tactic to see a whole play-through of games like Doki Doki Literature Club and Kindergarten which are games that are a better experience when you play it with friends rather than a single player.
As a relatively introverted millennial, it is an amazing thing to be able to watch these YouTubers, who at this point are considered friends and, who expect nothing of me but to keep watching. It brings back the feelings of watching my older brother beat a game, but now it’s people across the country. Call it instant gratification or call it growing up in the age of the Internet, having content like this so readily available, especially for games that your friends may not like, is remarkable.
2. The Community of Theorists
FNAF is not a game franchise that often gives you explicit answers to its mysteries. So, as the community grew around this game, as they often do with games like FNAF, it started to work together to solve questions that some of the games left open. Questions like: Who is the Purple Guy? Who is Golden Freddy? How does Sister Location (FNAF 5) fit into the story?
And astonishingly they answered all these questions and more. However, it’s this puzzle, the mystery, that brought everyone together and made them really care for this series. Sure, the games are fun (I have to assume because I haven’t played them), but it’s what’s underneath the surface that fans see that the true game takes shape. It’s like seeing a subtle t-shirt design and getting the reference, that kind of community makes a franchise a franchise.
This all started with one game developed by Scott Cawthon in the wake of bad reviews of a game called Chipper & Sons Lumber Co. It was not positively received by reviewers saying that the main character looked like a scary animatronic. Cawthon took this criticism and, following a depression that almost saw him quit game development, decided to make something scarier and, Junkies, did he succeed.
Have you played FNAF? Have you heard all the theories? Have you seen their action figures in the wild? Let me know in the comments below.