What makes a game scary? Well, if you ask much-lauded gamemaker (and Christian) Scott Cawthon, it’s not screams of raw-throated obscenity or sneak-and-slash game mechanics or hacked jugulars spewing crimson goo, it’s something much cleaner, much simpler. It’s the childhood fear of what goes bump in the night. And boy does he have a handle on dishing out that kind of fright! Cawthon is the creator of a little game that’s snuck up to the top of the phone app and PC download charts. It’s a game that has sold so well, in fact, that within a year of the first volume’s release, fans have demanded and received two sequels. It’s a series that’s been labeled “the scariest game in years” and “horror done right” by gaming critics.
So what is it, exactly, that makes Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 (along with its predecessors) popular? Well, it’s the deeply shadowed, blinking-light, screen-full-of-static chill you feel spending the night in a creepy Chuck E. Cheese-like restaurant called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza—while something dark moves your way.
A Mechanical Whir in the Shadows
The games put you in the role of a security guard of sorts. In the first two titles you’re stuck, immobile, in the security office of the eerie eatery with the simple goal of staying alive from midnight to 6 a.m. Game 3 feels similar, only now it’s years later and the menacing murderers (your assailants aren’t human, they’re mechanized) have been incorporated into a “Horror Attraction” that you’re a part of.
This kids’ food joint, you see, is the home of four human-sized animatronic critters—Freddy the Bear, Chica the Chicken, Foxie Fox and Bonnie the Bunny (and this latest installment adds a motley, stitched-together hybrid called Springtrap). These are incredibly freaky, blinky-eyed metal-and-fake-fur beasties that are allowed to wander the establishment at night in the hopes of keeping all their gears and electronics working properly.
There shouldn’t be anything scary about that, right?
The problem is that if the shambling, only-moving-when-you’re-not-looking automatons make it to your office, they’ll think you’re a animatronic endoskeleton without its furry exterior. And they’ll proceed to stuff you (offscreen) into a robotic suit with all those gears and wires and … well, let’s say your character doesn’t end up feeling so well.
Mess-Free Mayhem and Madness
Making it through the night, then, is a matter of quickly flipping through the various security cameras in desperate search of the shadow-creeping critters. That’s so you can use light switches, doors, music boxes, air vents and other gadgets at your disposal to keep them at bay. Sound easy? It’s not. It’s actually quite intense and nerve-rattling as you try to balance out your actions and resources only to—too late!—spot a tattered blank-eyed mech face gazing at you from a spot where it’s not supposed to be. It could be a nightmare-inducer for the small ones, I’ll say that.
As far as messy content is concerned, though, Freddy’s 3 keeps that to a minimum—in stark contrast to what we usually see these days in horror-minded games. The worst of it is merely talk of missing children from the past and what the mechs will do to you if they get to you. And there’s also an 8-bit-style platform minigame that depicts a purple bad guy meeting his end in “spurts” of blocky blood.
Gamemaker Cawthon, in fact, made some specific choices with this series that he says were directly informed by his Christian faith. It’s something he was asked about in a geeksundergrace.com interview:
“At first I took a very strict approach, thinking that being a Christian gamemaker means you have to make only Christian games. I think God granted me some wisdom in realizing that it’s not your work but you yourself that makes the difference. That being said, though, you have to still make sure your work doesn’t go against His purpose. There are a lot of games out there that are full of hate and gruesome imagery. If you feel drawn to make or play that sort of thing then you need to spend some time getting your heart right with God.”
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.