The Hated Success
With the new release of Five Nights at Freddy’s; Sister Location, my response was a sleepy sounding ‘there’s another one? Dead horse, meet stick.’
I was actually being woken up at the time, so you’ll forgive the somewhat biased response. Because honestly, I used to keep up with Five Nights pretty much religiously. I knew all the secrets and easter eggs, I was on the forums, and I was really excited for some new baby survival horror games to come out because of it.
Then, around the third one, I started to lose interest. Nothing was really changing in terms of design, and while the concept of a Springtrap suit filled me with glee, there wasn’t enough to hold my interest any longer. Full disclaimer however, I’ve never been able to finish a Five Nights game in my life.
A Moment for Scott Cawthorn
Kudos Scott! For all this to come out of a game you thought was a last ditch effort before quitting the games industry- that’s gotta feel good. Or terrifying. Or both. Regardless, here we are, 6 games later (if you count FNaF world), a novel and a movie in the works, with Scott obviously not quitting the games industry. I really respect that he took a harsh review of a game, and made something great out of it.
There’s a lot of reasons why FNaF succeeded, despite seemingly half the internet hating it. We hadn’t seen anything like it before in the horror sector. A game that made you stay still rather than run and hide was an idea we hadn’t cornered. It’s Diner Dash with Jumpscares. I think honestly, the resounding success, without a shadow of sarcasm or hate, is because 12 year olds are really competitive.
Fancy Games Design Terms
No, seriously. So in basic games design, we divide gamers roughly into 4 quadrants. The Troll, The Explorer, The Perfectionist and the Social. Trolls are there to mess with people, Explorers only care about finding everything in the game regardless of the achievements, the Perfectionists are there to 100% it and the social are there for the community.
No one wants to go through my Games design textbooks, so I’m keeping it simple as best I can. Particular play-styles tend to correspond with the 4 elements of play, what we call Agon, Alea, Mimicry and Ilinx, coined terms by Roger Callios. The Killer or the ‘troll’ tends to be Illinx, a bodily reaction, a feeling of vertigo from play. The Achiever, or the ‘Perfectionist’ falls into Agon, short for agony, or the comeditive nature of games. Explorers are your Mimicry, often embodying the playstyle of game and mimicing, both in and out of game. Finally the Socaliser, who falls into Alea, the Latin term for dice, or shortly, ‘the luck of the draw’.
Some people fall into two or three of these, some fall into none, not really settling into any.
Now, when a person is jump-scared, it removes the built tension. It’s a sudden release wired specifically to that part of your spine that jolts, and then the instant relief when you, yourself, are non injured. Not only that, it pauses the player. When the very first FNaF came out, the lose state was getting a jumpscare. This allowed for tension to be constant, but it also gave you the death screen immediately afterwards.
That’s why I’ve never finished a FNaF game. I can’t bring myself to sit through jumpscares after I’ve already lost the tension, so I tend to just watch, read, and when I can, play through as far as I can. (I’ve made it to Night 4 of Sister before I got jumped).
When examining this, I was always curious about how it did well. The tension is lost, the player is paused, and the desire to do it is gone because the relief of safety has arrived, and no one likes to lose that.
Except maybe 12 year old adrenaline junkies.
12 Year Olds?
Okay, fine, I’m being a little rude here. But, when you’re young, you’re much more likely to be the kind of person who’s trying to one up your friends. The competitive nature of a pre-teen is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Let ’em run for president I say. Regardless, this competitive streak is what led a lot of people to scrape themselves off the ceiling post jumpscare and get back too it.
Honestly, this game does have enough to give something to everyone. It has enough gentle clues and mysteries scattered around the story and game for Explorers It has a massive social community for the social players, including Let’s Players. The 20/20/20/20 modes for the Perfectionists (often quite competitively) And lets be real, if you haven’t met a Troll on at least every article/video/review of FNaF you aren’t looking.
Survival horror fans are generally Killers/Socialisers, but FNaF is hitting something for all four. It has competition, certain luck based elements, mimicry through fear and ilinex through Jumpscares. Logically, it has to appeal to someone, but it seems it hit a niche market here.
So Why Do We Hate It?
Well, obviously, I don’t. The first one made me really happy, and reminded me about my love of horror. I liked the simplistic design, the spooky noises, the hidden surprises and looking for story clues.
Now there’s never going to be any clear cut reason why a game isn’t popular (unless it’s, y’know, about murdering puppies). For Five Nights, its anything between people disliking the simplicity, disliking the community, disliking anything younger folk like, disliking Markiplier (no really I’ve heard this), disliking that it was made by a Christian or just plain old hipsterdome – I don’t know. Any number of those combined.
Taking from the terms I outlined above, it’s a pretty well-balanced game, it really doesn’t deserve the idea that it’s bad because it was simple. Simple games aren’t bad! This is merely speculation on my part though. In a post on steam that has since been deleted, Cawthorn summed it up best.
‘Being good at something is something to strive for, not something to demonize. Criticisms of my games are fine, and a lot of times the criticism is valid. But there are a lot of people out there who will hate anything that becomes popular, just because it’s popular, and hate anyone who becomes successful, just because they are successful.’ -Cawthorn, Via Kotaku.
Hipsterdome and the edgy idea that hating things that are popular seems to be pretty huge in gamer culture. Five Nights even has a dedicated ‘Hatebase’ to counter the Fanbase, and they’re honestly more cringe-inducing than any fan I’ve ever met. As my mum always said, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, probably don’t go on Reddit.’ Or something like that.
The Latest Installment
So, we’re here at number five (or six, if you count FNaF world.) Sister Location is what the series really needed around game three. I liked three, but like Zelda, it stopped evolving for a long while.( I promise I’ll stop being rude to the Zelda series someday.) Regardless, the fanbase was clearly still there, supporting it and still buying.
Where Sister Location Fits In
Sister Location has new story tellers, a different approach to humour (very reminiscent of Portal), different mechanics and some new interesting games design. I would definitely classify it as a horror simulation than a horror game: you have little free will and while you take action, the story won’t progress until you do it appropriately. This suggests Cawthorn put a lot of work into really revamping his series, a lot of study and a lot of interesting techniques.
In terms of overall design, it’s honestly really sound. Sister Location has a great story which if you poke at it, can be a really interesting allegory for asylums. Obviously, that’s my personal interpretation, but to get from ‘Suits are possibly haunted/have dead kids inside them?’ to a well written, well-produced storyline with interesting parallels, WHILE still allowing for fan interpretation. Cawthorn still takes the time to put in little easter-eggs, mini-games and secret stories, as well as nods for long time fans of the series (with literal fans!) so as much criticism as he and the whole series gets, he’s still clearly got something going on that no one else can replicate, or even quite understand.