The global phenomenon “Five Nights At Freddie’s” (FNAF) has spawned 11 major games, spinoff games, 19 books, countless comics, an upcoming movie (allegedly), and ENDLESS FAN THEORIES. I admit, when I first heard of this jump-scare-based game with haunted animatronics, I viewed it as a silly novelty- a clever way to create cheap horror using monsters who jump out at you in a dark room… then I saw this:
The YouTube channel Game Theory, which has been analyzing and dissecting the games for the last 8 years finally created a complete chronology of the games’ lore. Like a lot of the best horror stories like Dracula and “Sleep No More,” the game scatters a lot of its lore throughout the game in the form of mini-games, security guard notebooks, newspaper clippings, and of course, the iconic, nervous late-night phone calls that your character (a nameless night watchman) receives from a mysterious character known only as THE PHONE GUY.
This story is truly the stuff of nightmares- serial killers, murdered children, ghosts, possessed robots, broken families, and unending quests for revenge from beyond the grave. Of course, a few of these tropes Mr. Shakespeare would be very familiar with, so I thought I’d delve into some of the themes, tropes, and ideas that link these two franchises. My goal is to get fans of the video game to understand that, since Shakespeare and Scott Cawthorne (the creator of the game) use a lot of the same horror plots and ideas, that, if you can understand FNAF you can understand Shakespeare!
Part I: The mad scientist- William Afton Vs. William Shakespeare’s Prospero
The story of Five Nights At Freddie’s revolves around its main antagonist- a genius roboticist-turned-serial killer named William Afton, who starts out as a successful businessman and children’s entertainer obsessed with bringing his creations to life. Any horror fan will tell you that this is an automatic sign of a villain because he is trying to master the skill that only God possesses- the ability to create life.
In Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, the hero is a brilliant magician who, after his brother exiles him to a desert island, masters many crafts considered unnatural for the 1600s:
I have bedimm'd
The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art.
The Tempest, Act V, Scene i, Lines 2063-
Like I discussed in my post on Shakespeare and Star Trek, Prospero’s magic is both benevolent and terrifying. He uses it to rescue himself and his daughter Miranda from the island, and he creates beautiful visions of gods and angelic music for Miranda and her young lover Sebastian, but he also creates nightmarish visions to torment his enemies:
Both Afton and Prospero are motivated by revenge against the men who betrayed them. In Afton’s case it’s his rival/ partner Henry Emily who bankrupted his business and later got him fired from his own company. Afton torments Henry by murdering his daughter and ruining his business by luring kids to their death inside the pizzeria, disguised as one of the animatronic characters. Afton also figures out how to torment people using sound alone, like Prospero does to his slave Caliban:
Caliban. All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make him
By inch-meal a disease! His spirits hear me
And yet I needs must curse.
For every trifle are they set upon me;
Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me
And after bite me, then like hedgehogs which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount
Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I
All wound with adders who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness.
Here comes a spirit of his, and to torment me! The Tempest, Act II, Scene ii.
Prospero isn’t a killer, but like Afton, he has learned the secret to life after death, which makes him powerful and dangerous. Even more unsettling, both men are on an endless quest for revenge and torment men whom they saw as brothers. Other Shakespearean characters take their lust for revenge to the same dark place Afton did- the murder of children.
Part II: The Purple Killer
For the first four games, Afton isn’t directly part of the game- he’s merely mentioned in pieces of the lore. Frequently we see 8- bit re-enactments of his crimes in a series of mini-games, where he appears as a faceless, purple killer.
Why purple though? It’s true that purple is associated with royalty, and sometimes associated with villainy, (since it isn’t a color found much in nature). I think though, there might be a deeper, more macabre meaning to this color associated with this killer: It is a scientific fact that human blood, when it is shed and deprived of oxygen, actually turns purple:
The colors of arterial and venous blood are different. Oxygenated (arterial) blood is bright red, while dexoygenated (venous) blood is dark reddish-purplehttps://mriquestions.com/why-are-veins-blue.html
Shakespeare’s Purple Poetry
Shakespeare was very aware of this medical fact. He lived in an age where traitors’ heads were placed on spikes on London Bridge, and people would pay to watch wild dogs attack bears (the FNAF of his time). Shakespeare makes many gory references to murderers watching red blood turn purple:
I make as good use of it as manyHenry IV, Part I, Act III, Scene iii.
a man doth of a Death’s-head or a memento mori: I
never see thy face but I think upon hell-fire and
Dives that lived in purple;
Woe above woe! grief more than common grief!Henry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene v.
O that my death would stay these ruthful deeds!
O pity, pity, gentle heaven, pity!
The red rose and the white are on his face,
The fatal colours of our striving houses:
The one his purple blood right well resembles;
Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,Julius Caesar Act III, Scene i.
With purple falchion, painted to the hiltHenry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene v (Richard of Gloucester)
In blood of those that had encounter’d him:
This last quote is spoken by Richard of Gloucester, who, in the play that bears his name, becomes King Richard III, Shakespeare’s most irredeemable villain. Just like William Afton, he kills without remorse and dispatches anyone who gets in his way on the path to the crown. In addition, like many of Shakespeare’s villains, his turn to pure evil occurs right after he does the unthinkable- when he murders children.
Throughout the rest of the play, Richard kills a lot of his political and personal enemies and we go along with them because he’s the protagonist. But once he murders the princes, who have done nothing to harm him or anyone else, Richard crosses the line from anti-hero to monstrous villain. It is also at this part of the play when his victims begin to take their revenge… FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!
Part III: The ghostly revenge story
I’ve written before that in Shakespeare, ghosts are usually murder victims either out for revenge, or trying to convince a living person to avenge their death. Likewise, in the subsequent games, Affton’s victims possess the animatronics, seeking to kill their murderer!
One of the creepiest scenes in Shakespeare comes when Richard III is visited the night before his final battle by the ghosts of all the people he’s killed:
Similarly, when Macbeth murders his friend Banquo (and attempts to murder his young son Fleance), he is visited by Banquo’s ghost, during a party, no less! Even more ironic, look at the language Macbeth uses when he sees the ghost:
Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear,
The arm’d rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger;
Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble: or be alive again.
It’s truly ironic that, while in FNAF, the ghosts of Afton’s slaughtered children appear in the forms of angry animatronics, shaped like fearsome animals, Macbeth would rather see the fearsome animal, than the ghost of the man he murdered! Though Macbeth himself doesn’t fear bears, in both FNAF and Shakespeare, bears and other animals have long had a symbolism associated with wrath, anger, and taking bitter vengeance on the wicked.
Part IV: The Forrest of Beasts
Even the animals in FNAF have some significance that Shakespeare has touched on in some of his plays, especially bears. In many renaissance and medieval sources, bears are symbols of wrath, revenge, and fierce protectors of children. Both Shakespeare and FNAF exploit this symbolism, and both the game and Shakespearean plays create horrifying beastly images in stories of revenge.
Just like the Fredbear singin’ show, Elizabethans liked to watch real bears perform onstage, sometimes as dancers, but also IN BLOODY FIGHTS TO THE DEATH. In the 1590s, there was a popular sport called “Bear baiting,” where bears would be chained, sometimes to a pole, and set on by vicious dogs. The ‘sport’ was watching to see who would prevail- the fierce and free dogs, or the powerful, bound bear.
As you can see from this close-up of Wenceslaus Hollar’s famous Panorama Of London (1647), we know that Shakespeare had to pass bear beating pits on his way to the Globe all the time, (you can see ‘Beer bayting’ or bear beating, written on the playhouse on the left, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater on the right). Not only that, Shakespeare writes about the bloody sport frequently in his plays. When Macbeth knows he’s losing the battle with Malcolm, he compares himself to a bear, tied to a stake, forced to fight until his last breath. It calls to mind the moment in the game when the ghosts shed their animatronic skins and attack William directly, while he’s trapped in the Springtrap suit.
It’s worth noting that when the ghosts kill Afton, he’s wearing his Golden Bonnie suit. As Mat Pat mentioned, yes it is the disguise he wore to commit his crimes, but it is also symbolic of who Afton has become- a beastly, inhuman creature who looks friendly on the outside, but inside is cold and robotic on the inside. This also calls to mind the beast symbolism in the aforementioned ghost scene from Richard III. The real King Richard III used a boar as his royal sigil, and Shakespeare exploits that beast imagery by comparing Richard to a bloody, rooting hog, grown fat on the blood of his victims. Richard doesn’t wear a pig suit, but he does wear his cruelty and bloodlust literally as a badge of honor!
In both the games and the plays, the ghosts become a manifestation of the murderer’s guilty conscience, and beast-like imagery is used to convey how cruel and beast-like the murderer has become. Macbeth and Richard don’t dress like beasts, but they do kill like them.
The beast imagery also extends to the concept of revenge. One big theme in Five Nights At Freddie’s is the concept that revenge, (whether justified or not), is blind and indiscriminately destructive. Even though the five ghosts that possess the animatronics are justifiably angry for being murdered, they don’t just try to kill Afton- they attack any poor soul who sticks around the pizzeria at night. Like Hamlet, who wants to avenge his father’s murder, but kills the wrong people, the five souls trapped in their metal cages have a noble goal- protect the children in the pizzeria, and destroy Afton, but they are full of beastlike rage and are unable to see friends from foes. This kind of blind rage reminds me of how real bears will fight off anyone whom they perceive as a threat. In medieval manuscripts, bears are tender to their cubs and literally form them out of little hairy lumps by licking them into shape. At the same time, they are powerful, deadly, and violent to anyone that threatens the cubs.
This kind of blind violence is something Shakespeare explores a lot in his history plays and his tragedies. Every time he talks about a society going wrong, he describes it as if it were populated with beasts, not humans. In Timon of Athens, the titular character, having left Athens to go live in the woods, laments to his frenemy, the cynical philosopher Apemantus, how his city has become like a collection of beasts:
- Timon. What wouldst thou do with the world,
Apemantus, if it lay in thy power?
- Apemantus. Give it the beasts, to be rid of the men.
- Timon. Wouldst thou have thyself fall in the confusion of2025
men, and remain a beast with the beasts?
- Apemantus. Ay, Timon.
- Timon. A beastly ambition, which the gods grant thee t’
attain to! If thou wert the lion, the fox would
beguile thee; if thou wert the lamb, the fox would
eat three: if thou wert the fox, the lion would
suspect thee, when peradventure thou wert accused by
the ass: if thou wert the wolf, thy
greediness would afflict thee, and oft thou shouldst
hazard thy life for thy dinner: wert
thou a bear, thou wouldst be killed by the horse:
What beast couldst thou be, that2045
were not subject to a beast? and what a beast art
thou already, that seest not thy loss in
- Apemantus. If thou couldst please me with speaking to me, thou
mightst have hit upon it here: the commonwealth of2050
Athens is become a forest of beasts.
- Timon. How has the ass broke the wall, that thou art out of the city? Timon Of Athens, Act IV, Scene iii.
In short, the history of horror, which Shakespeare helped shape in plays like Macbeth, Richard III, Hamlet, and others, has a lot of classic tropes and the Five Nights At Freddie’s games exploit them quite well; tropes like supernatural vengeance, the death of innocents, beast-like killers, and unquiet ghosts. What works the best about this franchise is that it tells its lore like a mystery, slowly revealing Afton’s gruesome crimes over multiple installments. I wonder if someone has ever applied this to Shakespeare…
Shameless plug: Romeo and Juliet Murder Mystery
I’m proud to announce that I’ve just been approved to present a fully online, fully immersive murder mystery-style game, where you play as a detective trying to solve the mysterious death of Juliet Capulet! This is a really cool mixture of Shakespeare and forensics science as you examine crime scenes, look for clues, interrogate suspects, and untangle the story of Romeo and Juliet, and it even takes place over the course of five nights! Classes start March 17th. Register now at www.outschool.com!
Would Shakespeare enjoy playing FNAF well, who knows, but I do like to think he would appreciate the lore, if not the jump scares……