A year ago this week, the horror video game Five Nights at Freddy’s was released on Steam to overwhelming approval from audiences. At its heart, it’s a simple Flash Game, but hey, it’s a damn good Flash Game. While the jump scares are probably what got everyone talking about it, as they were some of the most entertaining parts of the game, Five Nights at Freddy’s has a surprisingly extensive backstory to the animatronics you encounter.
Here’s the basics of Five Nights at Freddy’s for the uninitiated: You play as a security guard working the night shift at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. In the first game the animatronics inhabiting the Pizzeria are Chica (a chicken who I thought was a duck for like 5 months), Bonnie (a bunny), Freddy (the titular bear), and Foxy (a disused fox animatronic). The company has a bad history of taking care of customers and establishing proper safety measures in regards to the former, and the animatronics have a history of acting….oddly, stemming from “The Bite of ‘87,” an incident involving the loss of a presumed child’s frontal lobe. This is told to the players (who are experiencing the game from a first-person perspective) through phone calls from another employee informing you that the animatronics tend to wander around at night. If you’re spotted by them, the animatronics will see you as an endoskeleton and cram you into a suit. This wouldn’t be a problem if it were not for the metal and wires already stuffed inside the suits, as you later discover upon learning that the last employee to work the night shift was murdered in such a manner.
There are apparently changes in narrative continuity in the three subsequent titles, including a spiritual connection to murdered children whose spirits haunt the animatronics. But for our purposes, let’s just ignore that, as paranormal hauntings and ghosts have been done to death. Why not just commit to a company neglecting basic safety procedures and creating actual monstrosities to be unleashed upon the world? I’m not talking Skynet-type world domination (though the animatronics should totally look like this). Give the suburban horror a more palpable feel. The subject of ghosts and the paranormal is up for debate, but corporate greed manifesting in a lack of safety concerns is not.
Now hang on to something, because I’m about to blow your socks off: Five Nights at Freddy’s isn’t just a game that’s ripe for horror adaptation. It’s one of the most adaptable modern video games. There isn’t too much lore to adapt, so the creative team can play fast and loose with it. It’s admittedly ridiculous and doubles as a worthy black comedy, so you get more than just horror mileage out of it. Subsequent sequels, while straying too far into traditional paranormal tropes for my taste, have already explored different settings. The first sequel is a prequel set in ’87, while part three is set decades after the first game with the Pizzeria now rundown and turned into a horror attraction. Though I haven’t played part four, the latest installment apparently takes place within the house of a child where the stuffed animals are the Pizzeria mascots. That’s an almost Little Shop of Horrors crossed with Gremlins 2 level of satire that goes hand-in-hand with the ideas of more corporate greed, commercialism, and urban horror. There’s a good chance none of this will ever even remotely be the case, but you never know, right? Here’s to hoping that a full-on Five Nights at Freddy’s theatrical franchise is on the way.