Why Five Nights at Freddy’s is a Masterpiece

I realize that everyone else has already played Five Nights at Freddy’s, explored its secrets and nature, and moved on to the sequels, gotten bored, and finally started playing Undertale and Stardew Valley. I’m a bit of an iconoclast, to be honest, and I intentionally avoid things that are particular and surrounded by hype. Hype so often is misleading. It was only 3 or 4 years ago that I played Minecraft, and just a few weeks ago that I played Five Nights at Freddy’s. The exception to this was Pokemon Go, but I was kinda at the forefront of that hype train, so I knew from the start that it was worth the temporary hype–I also noted in my official review of the game for Cubed3 that the hype would be short-lived. Never let it be said that I don’t understand games.

In fact, I understand them too well, which is what led to my vicious review of 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, as I saw through the cracks in the game and recognized it for what it was: a Final Fantasy XIII-esque romp through various mini-games masquerading as a full game. My point is that there are three things that I know inside and out:

  • Sex
  • Video games
  • Anarchy

And music, too. Character development, maybe. But enough about ego stroking. Let’s talk FNAF, since that’s why you’re here.*

The War Between Doing Something and Dying

FNAF draws its strength from two simple facts: if you do stuff, you’re going to die. If you don’t do stuff, you’re going to die.

I’ve talked before on Twitter and Facebook about how much I hate the power mechanic, and it seems that I’m not alone, since it was removed from subsequent entries, but it worked like this: the owners of the pizza place gave you a generator, basically, to last through the night. Everything consumed power. Checking security cameras, turning on lights, keeping doors shut–it all consumed power. You also had a fan running steadily on your desk, which caused power to constantly drain, and you couldn’t turn it off.

Silence is Deafening

Let’s talk about the fan briefly. A lot of people hate the fan, but the fan was a critical part of the game.

First, the fan caused noise pollution. You just couldn’t hear with 100% clarity because there was a fan going constantly. You could still hear important things, but you had the constant whirring of the fan going the entire time. Moreover, this added an extra touch of realism: no one would sit there in total silence like that. I’m sitting in my house right now, and there isn’t a sound but the steady drip of water from trees above the roof onto the roof, and it’s driving me crazy. Every fiber of my being is telling me to get my fan and turn it on, and I’m going to do that. I don’t know at what point today I will get my fan and turn it on, but it will happen today, and silence will be the reason why.

Silence is scary to modern humans, because we never hear silence. When we hear silence now, we associate it with something being wrong, and we begin to hear everything. Every drop falling onto the roof. The low turning of my computer fans. The distant rumble of a diesel engine. These sounds are MADDENING. They are not rhythmic or predictable. They are intermittent, and it’s very reminiscent of Chinese water torture. When is the next drop going to fall? It’s the same reason that a barking dog is annoying, but a box fan is not: we don’t mind regular noise. We mind unpredictable noise.

My point is: even with life-threatening animatronics coming to kill you, you would be unable to resist having the fan on. I’ve experienced similar things first-hand, when my body and brain chemistry were adjusting to the influx of estrogen, leaving me totally terrified for a period of about two months, when I was too scared to even turn on lights at night, due to some primal and irrational fear that something was outside. Though I knew intellectually that there was nothing outside, I could not bring myself to simply pull back the curtain and look. If there had been devils and demons out there who would come for me if I didn’t look, then they would have gotten me, because in that two month period, fear bound my hands. This is much as someone would behave at Fazbear’s Pizza: they wouldn’t want to hear every little sound of the animatronics moving around in the distance. Without the fan, a real person would run screaming into the hallway on Night 3, “Fine! You want me? Come and get me! Just get this over with!”

Lastly, the fan provided a reason that the power constantly ticked down.

The War Between Doing Something & Dying

The first time I played FNAF, I died on the first night, because I ran out of power around 4 AM. I stayed in the cameras. In fact, that was my criticism against the game: “It’s really funny, but the fun part is looking through the cameras for the animatronics. But if you do that, then you lose.” And while I hated that just two weeks ago, I’ve since realized how extraordinarily brilliant it is.

The player is helpless in Five Nights at Freddy’s. You have two doors, two lights, and a security camera feed. All of it consumes power, as I said. You can’t just slam both doors and bunker down all night, because you’ll run out of power, and then Freddy will kill you by shoving you into one of the suits. The suits, of course, already contain endoskeletons (wouldn’t that just be “skeletons”?). Or Freddy might think you’re a suit without its endoskeleton, and might kill you by shoving an endoskeleton into you. It’s gory, but there’s no depiction of violence in the game.

Four animatronics are coming for you: Foxy, Chica, Bonnie, and Freddy. Foxy is unique in that he hides in Pirate Cove, and he becomes active if you don’t check his camera feed, or if you check it too often. He emerges slowly and through several stages, before he finally bolts down the hallway to come and get you. And shove you into a suit with an endoskeleton already in it. When he charges, you have to slam the door and then “trigger” him by checking one specific feed (he will come at an unpredictable moment if you don’t check this feed), and then he’ll return to Pirate Cove. Foxy is a symbol of everything this game is: doing everything just enough, but not too often and not too little.

You have to be Goldilocks, and the game becomes steadily less forgiving as the nights progress.

I look back and wonder that I ever died on Night 1. God, I was such a noob. I also died on Night 2, though. And Night 3. And Night 4. In fact, I only just beat FNAF recently, and I died repeatedly on each night as I progressed through them. This is exactly right, though–I would bet that my arc through Five Nights at Freddy’s is identical to the ordinary player’s who looked at a few tips but didn’t want to learn any of the “rock solid” strategies that take the fun out of the game.

On the first night, camera usage is constant, and players die either by running out of power or having an animatronic sneak up and kill them. So then they learn to use the cameras less, to avoid running out of power, and die because they didn’t see someone coming. Around this time, they probably reach Night 3, where Foxy becomes active, and they die due to not using the cameras often enough. Then they die from checking the cameras too often. The animatronics become constantly more aggressive, and the player’s attention has to be split into four different things all the time, and doing any of those four things too often results in the player’s death.

In fact, if you want to see someone play out exactly what I just described:

On the first night, players can waste a lot of power and still be alright. Those players who end the first night with 5% power will not survive Night 2, though, and Night 2 will teach them to manage their power more effectively. Then Night 3 will teach them that they managed their power too much, and they’ll die to Foxy. They’ll learn to use more power and check cameras more often, and this will kill them in Night 4, when all four animatronics are active and Chica or Bonnie regularly come up to the door and hang around for a long time. This forces the player to use between 2 and 3 sections of power at all times, because the only way to know if it’s safe to open the door is to check the lights. Players will run out of power, and Freddy will get them. A first-time player will likely finish Night 4 in total darkness, not moving, and hoping that 6 AM arrives before Freddy finishes his song. Indeed, this is precisely how I finished Night 4.


Then I died very, very, VERY quickly in Night 5 (before even 1 AM! I know… It was embarrassing…) because I didn’t check the lights often enough and kept the cameras up for too long.

Jump Scares

Five Nights at Freddy’s has ’em, and they are damned good jump scares, but they only work the first half-dozen or so times. After that, you’ll almost always know before something kills you, because you’ll know that you fucked up. The first time you die, huge jump scare. Second time, not so much. The third… not so much. Keeping in mind that I’m the same person who spent two months bunkered in my house with lights off, refusing to even look out the windows at night, I have no problem playing FNAF–though it’s also true that fear passed, because my brain chemistry did normalize, and now my nipples are sore as hell. Just a small transsexual update.

If you think you might be interested in FNAF (which is available on PC for $5 and Android for only $3–what’s up with that?), then I would recommend not watching any videos about it. You’ll likely gain a sense of what to expect. I went into FNAF totally blind. I didn’t even know it was a horror game, though it didn’t take me long to figure that out. As I said, I intentionally avoid hyped things, and that included all the Game Theorist videos–I even criticized MatPat (not heavily or anything), asking him to do more videos for people who didn’t give a shit about FNAF. You should avoid all that, too, because a jump scare isn’t effective if you know it’s coming, and FNAF’s jump scares are damned good the first few times. They’re well worth experiencing.

No Save Scumming

One of the more brilliant elements of FNAF is that you have to go 6 hours. You have to. There’s no save point at 3 AM or 4 AM. You start Night 3, and you have to make it all the way through Night 3. This means the tension steadily climbs, as the stakes get higher with each passing second. No one wants to die at 5 AM. Indeed, dying at 5 AM has caused more than one Rage Quit from me–not really because I was angry, but just because I didn’t feel like doing it all again. This can be frustrating, but it’s also one of the game’s charms: you can feel the increasing tension with each passing second, because the stakes constantly get higher and your remaining power constantly gets lower.

And the only way to do it… is to do it.

This is why FNAF never stops being intense–at least, not until you’ve mastered it. Once you can do 4/20 (which is a custom mode with all the animatronics on the highest difficulty setting), then the game isn’t really very intense. Everything moves so quickly that you just react in the way you programmed yourself to react. Light, light, door, camera, door, light, door, camera… I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it, not without a time investment that I’m not willing to make since I can move on to FNAF2, but it basically becomes muscle memory at that point. I know the Stop Having Fun Guys get angry when people point out that video games at that level of play are primarily feats of muscle memory rather than feats of skill, but I’m a bad ass guitar player: I know muscle memory when I see it.

I’m waiting on my FNAF Night4 video to finish uploading to Plays.tv. When it finishes, I will update this and post a link. In the meantime, I’ve got shit to do. Thanks for reading, and maybe you’ll check out FNAF.



* It shouldn’t need to be said, but the fact that I put “Sex” first should make it obvious that this is a joke.

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