This may come as a surprise to many of you, but I love horror! Even when I was a kid I loved watching horror movies, much to my mom's frustration, as she'd be the one who had to get me to fall asleep later. To get my horror fix I have a 'Fright Night' once a month with my good friend and fellow horror lover, Tiffany, where we watch scary movies and play horror games to our hearts content. Margaret and Lisa tried to join us once, but never came back after we watched "The Audition." Look that film up if you dare! Now way back in 2012, Tiffany came over sans any movie and asked if we could use my computer. I thought we'd be reading creepy stories or something, but instead I was introduced to a little game called "Slender: The Eight Pages." We each took turns playing as an unfortunate soul who has to wander through a creepy forest collecting eight pages that warn you of its dangerous inhabitant, Slenderman. This antagonist is a tall, slender (duh), faceless humanoid that seems to know when and where you've collected all the pages, becoming stronger and faster with each one, and he'll stalk you until there's simply no escaping him. Seeing him in all of his suited glory, even at a distance, amongst the trees was more than enough to send a chill down your spine and send you running the other way.
He'll steal your soul but not before showing you insurance plans.
Even with his effectiveness as a monster, the mechanics of the game were different from what the public was used to. It was easy enough so that casual gamers could play, making it very accessible, and while most games would give you some kind of weapon or way to defend yourself this game gives you nothing but a flashlight. It's also widely believed that you play a little kid because everything in the forest seems bigger, making the player feel vulnerable and heightening their senses, so that even a pin drop could make them scream. The game was scary, fun, and engaging enough that I figured it would probably be popular, but I truly had no idea. While you could easily find Slenderman in creepypastas
and memes everywhere online, before 'Eight Pages' was released, after the game's release, he truly ruled the Internet. After the success of the first game, many sequels were released, one of which really kicked off a worldwide discussion of the mythos behind Slenderman. In "Slender: The Arrival" the gameplay becomes more vast as your task is not just to collect pages, but figure out what happened to your friend, Kate. The story that unfolds isn't unlike many of the ones you can find floating around online where kids go missing, and adults who catch glimpses of him begin to go insane. It's even unclear as to whether he kills his victims, turns them into something else, or even sends them into different dimensions.
Despite just being a solid game, the main source of Slender's fame came from the video-sharing site, Youtube. Because of the games' accessibility, use of atmosphere, and occasional jump scares, it became the go-to source for amusing reactions from people who happened to record themselves while playing. Even well known 'Let's Players' like Pewdiepie and TobyTurner got in on the action and spawned hundreds, if not thousands, of copycats. Let's face it, no matter how good of a person you think you are, you know that seeing people get scared and scream is hilarious. Think I'm wrong? I've got billions upon billions of video views to back this up.
Admit it, you could watch this all day.
After the crowning success of Slender, hundreds of other games came up out of the woodwork promising to scare the living crap out of its players. It was (and still is) a beautiful thing, really. Aspiring game designers became inspired to use gaming engines to show their craft through the horror genre. In order for any horror game to stand out it needs to use visuals, sound, game playability and story elements to be successful and immerse whomever is playing it. Only the truly talented saw there games reach the YouTube limelight and it was because they used all of the above elements in new and creative ways, but none of them were able to reach the same level of stardom or public consciousness like Slender did. That is until some genius named Scott Cawthorn used a fear every kid has known since the early 80s and made it into something that has given millions of people sleepless nights.
What kid would find this entertaining and fun???
One fateful 'Fright Night,' it was my turn to introduce Tiffany to a game: "Five Nights at Freddy's." In this game you are a security guard working the nightshift at a fictional restaurant similar to a Chuck E. Cheese or the past Circus Pizza called 'Freddy Fazbear's Pizza'. It's your first night and you get a voicemail from your boss explaining the job to you. Everything sounds normal until he mentions that the animatronic animals on the stage wander around the place at night and will stuff you into an animatronic suit filled with wires and rebar if they see you. You're fixed to the one spot at your security desk, giving you limited perspective and making it impossible to escape. Even worse, you have a limited amount of power available to you, power that controls the cameras, lights and doors that are your only protection. Each night becomes more intense as the figures become more active and new characters like 'Foxy the Pirate' and 'Golden Freddy' keep you on your toes. At the end of the week you get nothing but a pathetic paycheck and a sense of dread about coming back to work.A-are you being serious right now?!
Once again, the games' method of leaving the player practically defenseless made the game stand out only this time the player is expected to notice patterns and develop a strategy for conserving their power and staying alive all five nights. And, like "Eight Pages," the game is easy to pick up and play for anyone. One other very important thing that "Five Nights at Freddy's" and "Slender..." managed to do, was create a mythos behind their game. We learn bits of information about the backstory of the restaurant itself in the first installment of "FIve Nights at Freddy's" but in "Five Nights 2 "an intriguing, if not disturbing, backstory begins to unfold strongly suggesting child abduction and murder by a mysterious 'Purple Man'. Until the release of the 3rd game, forums and comments sections were constantly ablaze with theories and speculations over what exactly happened at Fazbear's Pizza. Creating nightmare fuel since 1984.
Very recently, the third and last (possibly) part of the game trilogy was released. All of the stories were finally explained and Internet nerds everywhere pumped their fists in the air after finding out their theory was correct. But what impressed me the most was the feeling that I got after finishing the final installment. I won't spoil the ending of the game for you, but by the end you feel as though you've really just solved a decades long mystery and have brought peace to the souls of the murdered children, as silly as that seems. You're suddenly able to see the overarching story as a whole and realize just how sad and tragic it really is, but you still feel as though you've accomplished your role in the story. At that moment, I realized that I had somehow become incredibly invested and emotional over a horror game about walking animatronics. That's what made this game stand out among the others. The creator gave it a heart and soul, if you will. You're given a reason to care, and continue to care throughout the entire trilogy. This is very refreshing and a huge improvement from what the horror medium has been making in recent years. Too often it's about having tons of jump scares, being the most disturbing, or having the most gore. But all of these things in themselves are dull and uncreative and will be quickly forgotten.
Hopefully, "Five Nights at Freddy's" will inspire a mess of new games and projects that take risks, push boundaries, and make us all enjoy the journey to the end. And please, for the love of God, Scott Cawthorn, keep making games!
What are your favorite horror games and what makes them stand out? What do you hope to see in the future of horror games?
For information on the games mentioned in this post, please use the links below.