Five Nights at Freddy’s: Jump Scares, Schadenfreude, and Effective Horror
Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast, Slender, Among the Sleep, Alien: Isolation — horror is in vogue among gamers. While it’s true that we’ve seen some great original horror titles in the past couple of years, there’s a slew of lesser-known horror titles that, while trading the subtlety and slow-burn that haunts you for days after completion in favor of a fast jump scare, are still popular enough to gain the public’s attention and inspire imitators. Most of them are made by indie developers and modders on a shoestring budget, and they usually don’t receive all that much coverage from the mainstream gaming press. So, how do they manage to gain internet infamy? And more importantly, why do more and more people aspire to make these games? The answer might surprise you: YouTube Let’s Plays.
Indeed, Let’s Plays of video games are among some of the most popular content on YouTube. And Let’s Plays of horror video games are exceptionally popular with the YouTube Let’s Play community. (The more jump scares the better!) As such, we couldn’t help but notice that there’s a certain quid pro quo scheme going on between indie horror game developers and various ‘Internet celebrities’ like PewDiePie or Markiplier:
• The indie game developers keep churning out these quick, disposable jump scare games;
• And in return, the YouTube Let’s Players milk them for all their worth — making countless ‘scared’ play-throughs, and thus effectively turning these games into smashing hits with their followers.
Case in point: Five Nights at Freddy’s, a game that has taken the internet by storm. And while normally we wouldn’t care what people enjoy playing, after seeing the amount of praise and a quasi-religious following that this game has (with some even going as far as branding it as “The Scariest Game Ever!”), the CCS Gang couldn’t help but raise their collective eyebrow and ask: “What’s so scary about this game?” Additionally, our horror game veterans are left scratching their heads as to what exactly makes Five Nights at Freddy’s worthy of the title of “scariest horror game”.
With the acclaim of Five Nights at Freddy’s being “the scariest game ever” by the YouTube community, we pause to examine whether its success is warranted. On the one hand, Five Nights at Freddy’s weaves a creepy narrative with disturbing imagery. On the other hand it’s almost built to exploit a rising indie-game/YouTuber symbiosis. Because nothing earns more YouTube subscribers than a cheap “Schadenfreude money-shot” jump scare. We also develop our own “ideal horror game” list of requirements, and analyze where exactly Five Nights at Freddy’s succeeds and where it falls short.
Finally, LaughingMan outlines his own ideal survival horror game, much to everyone’s discomfort.