I was supposed to do an Undertale post. I was supposed to do that Undertale post three weeks ago. And, if we’re being honest, I was supposed to do that Undertale post almost a year ago. But I have a problem writing about Undertale. I love that game so much, I respect it and all of its elements, it affects me to such a degree that whenever I try to put words down about it I end up hating them. See to me Undertale is a perfect game. Whereas many games have a numbing effect (think your Call of Duties, or your Final Fantasies, where you mow down endless enemies with no recourse and no deeper understanding of what they are other than “bad guys”) Undertale is the opposite. Undertale wants you to feel and it wants you to feel deeply. And it made me feel. It made me feel so hard that it’s nearly impossible for me to talk about it without hating every word. I will get you that Undertale post eventually and I will hate it. I will never be happy with it because nothing I ever write will adequately explain just how much I love Undertale. I am a sentimental ponce and damn proud of it.
So I decided to swap one indie darling for another. Five Nights at Freddy’s is that game your 10 year old probably loves starring a bunch of fucked up Chuck-E-Cheese robots. It is a literal phenomenon with toys, notebooks, pens, a book, and an upcoming movie. It exploded in popularity due to Youtubers screaming while playing it and its popularity only grew stronger as the layers were peeled back and a surprisingly complex story was revealed with each release. See FNaF (as it is popularly abbreviated) is a bit of an odd duck. There are many people who love them for all of their parts, but there are many more, myself included, who don’t enjoy the games but seriously respect them. This is the case for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the creator – Scott Cawthon – is by all accounts a really decent dude. He actively engages with his fans and the community, he works hard and often releases his games far ahead of schedule, he once donated $250,000 to a charity for a children’s hospital putting them a few hundred thousand dollars over their goal, and he general approaches game creation with a humbleness that is very much lacking in the industry.
Now I know most of you come here for books and that’s mostly what we run our humble little blog for, but games are just as important a part of life as books are and I care about the industry. Many of you reading this – whether you come here often or just happened to stumble upon the blog – I would suspect don’t know much about the industry. That’s for the better. It can be very toxic and it has been a major fueler of the rage culture that has proliferated in recent years on the internet and beyond. Developers are often mewling prima donnas for no reason other than that they’re developers and they think that makes them gods. Gaming culture, like most of what can be put under the umbrella of “nerd culture,” tends to encourage the worst aspects of what nerds are. What makes a person a nerd is, more often than not, just passion – and passion is easy to exploit. This may seem off topic but I assure you it’s not.
See Scott Cawthon developed many many games before making FNaF. His first game was released in 2003 and he’s had a fairly steady output ever since. His releases tended to be simple affairs with many having Christian themes and easy gameplay targeted at younger players. Nothing terrible but nothing notable. In 2013 he developed a game called Chipper and Son’s Lumber Company. A simple game that nevertheless came under intense criticism due to the character designs and animations seeming so lifeless that they were compared to animatronic animals and called creepy. This was, obviously, not Scott’s intent. According to Scott he fell into a deep depression after this and decided to quit making games entirely. Until he didn’t.
Taking the criticism to heart, Scott decided that if people thought his characters were creepy he would lean into that and make them creepy on purpose. Taking inspiration from Chuck-E-Cheese, he began to develop FNaF – a game that takes place in a haunted Chuck-E-Cheese-like restaurant and was propelled into super stardom.
This is admirable. There have been many developers that, when faced with criticism for their games (many of those games obviously flawed and practically unplayable), reacted by lashing out – some even going so far as to sue their critics. If you want a really fun story like this just look up Jim Sterling vs. Digital Homicide to see how ridiculous this sort of thing can become and just how arrogant developers can be. The sad thing is, this sort of reaction is the norm. Many developers don’t believe they should have to face any sort of criticism. Nerd culture is, sadly, dominated by entitlement. You see this with just about any sort of major release. Gamers whine and cry and cajole for the smallest of slights and the strangest of things. If a game isn’t perfect it’s shit, and if it’s a game people were excited for then it’s a personal affront. And god forbid your game dares to be inclusive to other genders/sexes/sexualities/etc… And recently there have been lots of examples of this sort of vitriol leaking into society at large with such releases as The Force Awakens and Rogue One being criticized for daring to include characters that aren’t white males at their centers. Gamers have been dealing with that bullshit for years. Then, when you give the reigns of development to such entitled pricks and dare to criticize their game, all that vitriol is unleashed at the public.
Scott Cawthon is a fucking rare example of a developer who took criticism and applied it to his work and made something better. I bring all of this up because, as a writer, I can very much sympathize with the depression he faced, and even the anger that other developers have felt. Writing scares me because I can’t stand the thought of other people validating my ideas that my own writing is shit. This is partially why I can’t get that Undertale post written or why my output on this blog is so low. I can’t stand the thought of making anything bad. Five Nights at Freddy’s kind of helps with that. As I said, I don’t like playing the games, I don’t find them very fun, but the games are an inspiration because of the story behind them.
Scott Cawthon pulled himself up, took his weaknesses, and made something better. He didn’t let the criticism stop him. As I said, that’s fucking admirable.
And the games have such an interesting story running through them that you really have to dig for. There are hundreds of videos of people analyzing and theorizing about the story line and if you take the time to find it all it’s very satisfying.
I know this post isn’t much like the other posts I’ve made, not even the other gaming posts I’ve made, but I’ve been pondering all of this lately as I try to break years long bout of writer’s block and finally get to work again. Scott Cawthon and FNaF are such an inspiration to me right now. While Undertale came out the gate swinging and its developer, Toby Fox, didn’t have many releases under his belt beforehand, Scott had a slow steady drip of games before finding success. He is a real testament to the idea that if you do what you love for long enough and are truly dedicated to the work, the success will come.