This journal is prompted partly by the surge in popularity of a new horror game, Five Nights at Freddy's, and how there are supposedly some good Creepy Pasta (read: nightmare fuel) fanfictions coming up surrounding it.
Is the game simple?
Does it feature some new quirky mechanics?
Does it freak you the fuck out?
Having seen someone play the first night of this game, I can testify that it does a great job at keeping you on edge while you're playing. So, let's talk about what makes the game good. Warning, spoilers.
Unlike most horror games, where your character is dumped into the scenario without any prior knowledge of what's going on and has to just hope they work things out, you know precisely what you're doing. You're a security guard at one of those American-style food places for kids with a band made out of automaton animals. Here's the twist: The animals are semi-sentient, and just a little unstable. This is no secret, and you're even left a recording by the owner of the place warning you that after-hours, the animals sometimes view people as metal skeletons without shells, or rather, naked versions of themselves. They try to get their hands on people and then stuff them into empty casings, and the guy running the place this is rather obviously quite deadly. You're working the night-shift, so everything's peachy boyo.
So, the premise of the story is, let's face it, different but nothing amazing. However, the thought of being stuffed into a wooden shell full of wire and sharp metal is not the most appealing thought, so you've definitely got a reason to try and avoid that outcome.
This is where it gets interesting; this isn't just some SCP: Containment Breach, or Slender: The Arrival ripoff. Unlike the former the game is actually complete, and unlike the latter, you actually have a chance of walking away with your life...though maybe not clean underwear. The biggest thing that separates this game from the others is that you cannot move. You can look left and right a little in the security booth, and you can check the cameras. Furthermore you can briefly activate the lights in either corridor outside the booth, and close the doors in a similar fashion. In a similar fashion to Slender: The Arrival on hard mode, you do have a limited battery life for your abilities each night, and once this runs out you have to get lucky or prepare to spend the rest of your life with bits of metal protruding through your brain-pan. What makes this even better is the way the dolls move; there are four in total, and the main three you see a lot seem to act like the Weeping Angels. You look, you're fine. You don't, you're dead. They disrupt the cameras just while they move, so any number of them could have...relocated, in the brief delay before you can see again. The fourth is technically out of order, but if you're lucky(?) you can see him scurrying down the corridor towards you and close the door before he makes his grand and messy entrance into your abdomen. You can't move, and these things are all out to get you. Good luck.
The Uncanny Valley
Any media students or frequenters of TV Tropes will understand this; the state in which something can be where it looks almost human, but is subtly different to the point where it just looks wrong. That is certainly the case with the animals in this, very clearly exaggerated wooden dolls but blessed with thick teeth and glaring eyes that look just a bit too intelligent, like they know you're there. When you see one of these things in the corridor, it's looking at you, and you just have to hope you have enough power to ride out the storm with the door closed. The Uncanny Valley is almost a quintessential element to good horror games, and this one pulls it off very well.
So, now I've been over the things that - at least I think - make this game a really effective piece of the horror genre, I need to talk about the related tie-in of Creepy-Pastas, those stories that come in droves with every new horror game that gets a few players. A Creepy-Pasta relies on taking the key elements of a horror game, usually the characters, setting, or even going for the self-referential route and using the game itself as the horror for someone in pseudo-reality. It then constructs a 'scary' story based on this, and usually is unfortunately really quite awful.
So, why is this?
It's due to a fundamental difference between game storytelling and traditional storytelling. From personal experience I can draw the comparison. When you read a book, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is one series of events that lasts the entire thing, and then it comes to a conclusion. Horror books rely on slow, creeping psychological terror, and the reader not knowing what's coming next because they haven't read the book unless they're the killjoy that reads the last page first.
While conventional storytelling can put its faith in a single series of events, many modern games have shown that an interactive story can have any number of beginnings, middles, and ends, with any frequency of them all making an appearance. Number generators and complex algorithms are used to make things more random and realistic, allowing a player to go over a game time and time again theoretically without ever quite knowing what to expect. It allows the fear to be a lot faster-paced because it doesn't need to avoid predictability by being inherently unpredictable and then immersing you in the action so you are disallowed from distancing yourself. You can step back from a book, but not when you're the main character.
It is this sad flaw that means that most Creepy-Pasta fiction falls flat on its face and jiggles a bit to try and get some attention. You're making a transition from interactive storytelling to traditional storytelling, and most people trip over the steps and just end up trying to tell interactive as traditional. In some cases the failing comes form the self-referential method trying to suspend the reader's disbelief and accidentally hanging it, in such cases as the now-infamous Ben Drowned, or the almost universally-reviled character, the Tails Doll. Both Ben and the Tails Doll have, in their stories, crossed the wall between fiction and reality, and thereby kicked in the teeth of any disbelieving audiences because that's just too stupid when such characters are completely out of place in the real world. Because automaton-bands still exist, Five Nights at Freddy's doesn't necessarily run this risk - unless narrated by the most inept of writers -and so I expect many stories that come out about it will be hit by their failure to convert across the two types of storytelling.
Now, all that told, I want to try my hand at this very thing - a Creepy-Pasta based on Five Nights at Freddy's - thought up on the spot as I went along, from the perspective of a guy working those five nights (bonus ignored). To help you all differentiate between what's written as part of the story and the rest of this journal, I'll be putting a big bar of asterisks before and after the story. Here goes a train-wreck:
Alright, so, an advert in the paper told me about this pretty easy-sounding job, just a night-watchman for one of those quirky kid's food places. Make a bit of extra money when I'm down on my luck a little, so I took it and got accepted pretty much right off the bat. When he was talking me through the job, the manager just said it was pretty much just keeping an eye on the place for insurance purposes, so proper security training wasn't needed as long as I could use a tablet. Hey, I was fine with that. I did ask it was only a five-night thing though, and he summed it up with something about trying to give people equal opportunity just to make some extra money, and so they wouldn't have to be spending all their nights with the freaky robot-animals. So, the job sounded pretty decent for what it was paying, and it was only when I actually got into the place after hours that it really did twig as wrong.
Well, not so much that as the guy telling me, by way of a recording he left in the security booth, that the place got a bit surreal when the doors closed. Imagine Night at the Museum without the cowboys and you get a little closer to understanding what was going on. So, he tells me that the animals are a bit more animated than he usually lets on, and that they might try to get into the booth during the night and, well, kill me. Stuff me into one of the wooden suits like the things they're made of, because apparently some genius thought it'd be a good idea to make them think humans at night were naked versions of them. Seriously? I don't buy that sort of thing completely but I will admit it did make me shut myself in the booth. I guess it was a little more worrying than I thought. The first night, it was all good - after six am came I went round and checked everything and it turned out one of the things had collapsed in the hallway near the storeroom. Seemed like nothing more than a ghost in the machine so I propped it up next to the doorway told myself to talk to the manager about it when he showed up, since I had to have a chat with him anyway.
He came round a little later and I brought up the question about the batteries - all the cameras and the booth doors and lights were all running off this dinky little generator chugging along in there with me, and it just seemed nonsensical to give the security guard so little power to do his job. Even using the lights snuffed that thing way too fast for comfort when there aren't many windows. I brought it up with him, and his response was something along the lines of a faulty power grid. The cameras wouldn't work properly when anything electronic was working near them, hence the need for the tiny generator and keeping everything in darkness except for the booth. As for the critter going walkabout, he told me not to worry about it so long as they weren't wandering too far from storage. That creeped me out a bit, but it seemed like just his funny way of saying if this happened, unless it was serious I shouldn't take too much notice. That calmed me down a lot - suddenly everything was a whole lot normal, and going back for the next few nights didn't seem so bad.
The second night showed and I brought a book to give me something to do, with everything being pretty much dull otherwise. Set up the tablet next to me and got to reading, until about...maybe four in the morning? The screen on the tablet flickers and when I look, every single one of the cameras is just dead, with nothing showing. I didn't do much more than shrug and chalk it up to one of the animals glitching again, with how old they were. Sure enough, a little later it came back, and one of the things was parked in the middle of the corridor just near the main party room. That was only a dozen feet or so from storage to keep things quick, so let's face it, that wasn't anything to worry about. I kept checking for every five minutes after that, just to make sure he didn't trundle off again without me noticing, and sure enough he didn't. No unexpected camera failures, except the one in the kitchen that hadn't worked for the previous night either. I think they had a electronically-managed boiler in there which had to keep going overnight or it wouldn't be warm enough the next day, so they never got any visual from it.
After six I went out and put the guy back in storage, just like I had been told, and went back to get some sleep when the boss came over to unlock the place for the day. A much smoother night all told, and nothing really happened involving the place until the third night, so I'll just get right onto that. Started out same as the second night, and things did go pretty smoothly for most of it. At about the same time as before, just after three, the cameras buzzed and the teddy guy was gone from storage. The other two were chilling there just fine, but I couldn't find teddy at all. None of the cameras at all, so out of paranoia I glanced out the windows to the sight of empty corridors. So, I figured he might have ended up in the kitchen somehow. I didn't want to go and check, since I thought that a distance like that might count as serious and by this point I didn't want to run the risk of the whole 'kill me' thing being true. Call me superstitious.
At five-thirty...now that made me jump. Another flicker, so I looked down at the pad. When I looked up again, the bear was just right there staring at the door to the booth and I almost fell off my seat. Instinctively I whacked the shutters and the door slammed down, and I pretty much ticked over like that for the final few minutes. I give praise that there was enough power to keep it closed the entire time until the boss showed up and opened the doors again. The bear was back in storage and he hadn't even seen a thing, so I told him what had gone down. Apparently I'd done the right thing; close the doors for ten or twenty seconds and they'd bugger off for a while or head back to 'home base' if it was near opening times. Not gonna lie, it freaked me out, almost enough to stop me going back, but I gave myself a pep-talk before the fourth night about me just being paranoid and how I wanted to get paid on Friday. The manager was a decent sport about it, and left a pack of polos on the desk with a note saying I could act like they were diazepam if I was feeling edgy about things. I think it worked for a little while, and made me feel better with how well he was reacting to it.
I'm not going to beat around the bush though - I was practically shitting myself for the fourth night. I think the autos were warming up to me or something, since about forty minutes into the watch, the cameras buzzed and all three of them just fucked off from storage. With the prospect of having to share a room with those things for the night I had to almost tie myself down to stop pressing the shutters. They automatically opened when power ran out so a person couldn't trap themselves, with the unfortunate disadvantage of therefore burning through power like nobody's business when they were on. I flicked through the cameras and just about managed to pick them all up, in the party room, backstage and the hall near the kitchen, before they blacked everything out again and I lost them completely. I had the eeriest feeling that they were all just chilling in the kitchen where I couldn't see, but by that point all I cared about was the doors, so I spent the entire night just watching the hallways, hands pretty much hovering over the door buttons in case something showed up. It was almost enough to stop me going back the fifth night, yet I was so close to getting paid that I didn't want to just give up so late, and I suppose the last night made up for the terrifying stuff that went on before.
So, the fifth night, I got really confused. I had figured there were just the three toys - the bird, the teddy, and the rabbit, and they were all in storage as usual. What caught me out was the fourth guy, and the one I'd never seen before. Freddy's had this special 'pirate' area thing, for the really special (read: expensive) parties, and it turns out there was some 'Pirate Pete' character in the curtains behind it. I hadn't paid much attention before, since it was out of order, and only saw what was going on after I got fixated on the cameras courtesy of the previous night. Something fuzzy slipped out before I could see it, and it only registered with me when I caught movement, fuzzy and indistinct, on the camera in the hall outside the booth. I think I'd gotten used to static images with the blackouts between, since I didn't see it until I looked up and saw the fucker outside the window. He was dressed up as this proper pirate thing, only half of his face was just bits of metal and wire, like something had hit him really hard and torn it off. Out of Order, of course. I got a glimpse of this messed up face before he was in the booth, glaring at me...as much as a piss-faced pirate robot can be. I froze up when he got inside, but what he did was just so damn cool.
Just humming this odd, shanty-esque tune, he pulled out a deck of rough cards from one of the various pockets he had, maybe for magic tricks he did for the kids, and just...started dealing, like it was the most normal thing in the world to have a robot pirate playing poker or something with a guy who was meant to stop him from running around. I mean, I don't know what I was meant to expect at all, with what the previous few nights had done, but you know.
Come on, people, there is a lot wrong with that piece. Enjoy picking it apart.
Listening to: Linkin Park - Breaking the Habit
Reading: Warrior Class - (can't remember who by)
Eating: Eating is for mortals!
Drinking: See above.