The 18th century nursery rhyme “Boys and Girls Come Out to Play*” encourages kids to leave behind food and rest in favour of playing outside under the moonlight. Scott Cawthon’s announcement about the sudden release of Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 had the same summoning effect on games writers and YouTubers – but instead of running out to roll hoops and frolic, we slid behind our keyboards to collectively soil our pants while enduring jump scare after jump scare.
It’s a funny thing how much I’m enamored by the Five Nights at Freddy’s series (“FNAF” from here on out, because dang I ain’t getting paid by the word, yo) even though I’m not a fan of horror outside the occasional Stephen King novel or well-constructed creepypasta (I really wish I’d written Candle Cove).
There’s a whack of reasons why Scott Cawthon’s critters hit me where it counts (the kidneys, mostly). The games are crammed with silent scares that are leagues above blood, guts, gore, or even jump scares.
Yes, the very game mechanic that defines FNAF is easily its weakest trait. If you put on a mask and jump out at a person screaming “BOOGABOOGA,” anyone with at least two out of five functioning senses will leap out of their skin. Jump scares aren’t hard to put together.
But it takes an appreciable amount of talent to put subtle touches on creepy things – the stuff that makes an unsettling image the kind of thing that haunts you when you wake up in the middle of the night to use the can.
Case in point: Bonnie Bunny staring into the camera and directly at your soul is creepy. Bonnie Bunny staring into the camera and staring directly at your soul with white pinprick pupils ranks as a bowel-quaking sight.
Scott also doesn’t get near enough credit for his talent at music composition and, more importantly, effective use of sound effects. The “Death Minigames” in FNAF 2 (WARNING: Jump scares!!) are a good example. The mechanized voice chanting letters in the background juxtaposed with the Atari 2600-style graphics is reason enough to feel uneasy, but said voice becomes downright haunting when you realize it’s spelling out messages: SAVE THEM. HELP THEM. Chunky Atari-sprite kids die in each minigame, and despite the voice’s stoic pleas, you’re helpless to do anything about it.
The Atari minigames make a return in FNAF 3, and though the mechanized voices are gone, you can hear the constant grumble of a thunderstorm and the creak of the old venue just falling apart under the weight of its own ghosts. And “Purple Guy” – the shadowy child murderer whose legend spans all three games – makes a discordant screech that lets the player know he is not a part of this sad, quiet world the animatronics are now living in.
As if there’s any doubt.
That same discord also accompanies the already-infamous Easter egg picture of the game’s antagonist, Springtrap the animatronic hell-bunny, that pops up at random. Awful, unexpected picture combined with alarming sound that’s difficult for your brain to process? Yeah. That’s how you scare a person.
Stepping back a bit to talk about Purple Guy, he’s another reason why FNAF has kept my attention despite my aversion to horror. He’s part of the series lore, which you have to dig for. There’s a running story here about child murders, revenge, and uneasy ghosts, and Scott makes you work for it. I go into much more detail with a USGamer feature I was allowed to write before the release of FNAF 3.
FNAF 3 actually wraps up a lot of loose ends about the killer and his victims, but again, you have to dig for answers. Like, really dig. We’re talking about secrets within secrets. But if you do what’s necessary, it’s suggested – again, through Atari graphics – that the murdered kids mentioned as early as the first game find peace, and as a consequence, so do the animatronics they’ve likely haunted all this time.
I’ll go ahead and admit it makes me choke up a little.
It also makes me wonder if we’ve closed at least one chapter in the FNAF saga. I highly doubt the games are done for good; In fact, one of the endings for FNAF 3 indicates Springtrap is alive and “well.” But the cryptic Freddy Fazbear hat on Scott’s page has me thinking we’ve seen the end of the Dead Kids saga (which sounds like a rejected Dragon Ball Z storyline).
Future FNAF or not, Scott probably wants to take a long rest, and I don’t blame him. Three games and a cultural phenomenon born and raised within six months? Shit’s crazy. Scott’s kept the gaming community awake for innumerable hours. Not a bad year’s work for a quiet, mild Christian developer whose name meant nothing prior to August 2014.
*Apologies for that low-budget nursery rhyme video. It was actually the least frightening example of the song. That girl with the “whoop” is the scariest animatronic of all. FNAF 4 confirmed!!