Whether or not you’ve ever intentionally looked up a Five Nights at Freddy’s video on YouTube, chances are at some point one has crossed your home screen, typically played by a big name gaming YouTuber like Markiplier or Jacksepticeye. And if you ever clicked on it, a never ending stream of other recommended videos about those games would follow. But why is that?
Nostalgia indie horror games took off following the success of the original Five Nights at Freddy’s games, and has morphed into a jumble of other friendly but off-putting characters with big eyes and colorful fur straight from our childhoods. Games such as Poppy Playtime or Amanda the Adventurer play off of the Millenial/Gen Z hunger for nostalgia and a return to simpler times, but do so in a way that twists and distorts those memories into something terrifying, or sometimes just plain silly.
The Bite of 87’
Five Nights at Freddy’s itself has eight “main series” games, with three additional less-cannotical games, and three book series with even more spin-offs within just those alone. The branches of just this series span such a wide range of media, and with a story that’s not necessarily chronological, fans have come to their own conclusions about what happens and when. Unsurprisingly, this means finding the “true” timeline, understanding each of the characters, or simply trying to piece the events of the game together, have all spawned a massive fandom and community–all searching for the lore behind the series. With each new game, book or merch drop the storyline gets more muddled and the understanding of the timeline gets more complex.
Take for example the main antagonist in the Five Nights at Freddy’s series: Springtrap.
Co-founder of Fredbear’s Family Diner, which would later become the Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria franchise, William Afton would lose two of his three children to animatronic accidents that would fuel his rage going forward. This rampage would lead him to murder children and stuff their bodies into animatronic suits (the same haunted characters that you must survive in the games). He would go on to eventually kill Charlie, the daughter of his co-founder Henry, thus triggering Henry’s drive to stop Afton. In one of these murder sprees, Afton would get trapped (and killed) in his springlock Spring-Bonnie suit, sit in a walled off room, his body decomposing in that suit for years, until he later comes back as Springtrap. We see his progression into further madness and rage, his inability to die fueled by…we’re not fully sure. Didn’t matter if he was burned, stabbed or removed from the entire face of the earth, he always comes back.
William Afton a.k.a. Purple Guy a.k.a. Springtrap a.k.a. Scraptrap a.k.a Burntrap a.k.a. Glitchtrap always comes back.
But is this a good thing?
Needless to say, understanding the FNAF universe and timeline is complex, and likely will never fully be “solved.” YouTuber MatPat has tried in over 40 different videos to solve it and has been unsuccessful.
But what about the other nostalgia horror games?
Take for example the newest game sweeping the indie horror scene; The Garten of Banban.
I didn’t know about this game until my TikTok started to fill with memes of one of the games’ many colorful and off-putting characters; Ophelia Bird. This derpy deranged bird was just the first indicator that another get rich quick cash grab of a game had hit the scene, and I wasn’t wrong. When Jacksepticeye can only describe The Garten of Banban as another game he has played, you know something’s bad.
The nostalgia horror genre is built on a tone of ominous and reassuring at the same time. Vaguely familiar spaces distorted into something from your nightmares; complete with music to match. Popular nostalgia horror game, Poppy Playtime, has a theme closely resembling that of the first song in the “musical experience” Everywhere at the End of Time, creating a feeling of a time long past and the dis-ease a place stuck in time brings with it. Likewise, in games such as Five Nights at Freddy’s, the lack of sound equally adds to the offputting atmosphere. You’re alone, and just like being alone in real life, every creak or noise feels amplified, adding to the sense of not truly being alone.
Haunted pizzarias, abandoned toy factories, creepily empty kindergartens, old animation studios, your childhood attic; the settings for nearly all nostalgia horror games are just that–nostalgic. And it’s because of this nostalgia that the indie nostalgia horror genre has become so popular and widespread.
But hey, that’s just a theory. A Game Theory!
Emily Imanishi is a Junior Writing for Film, TV & Emerging Media major who despite it all, is still tempted to give Freddy Fazbear a hug. They can be reached at [email protected].