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So I spent the bulk of my evening watching Game Theory Live talk about Five Nights at Freddy’s last night, and enjoyed having my mind blown at a machine gun’s rate as new ideas came together, clues that even the theorists missed were brought to light, and Scott Cawthon himself started emailing hints to one of the show’s guests, and repeatedly updating his website. It was fun, but it also got me thinking, what madness has been made of a little mystery.
I’m not talking about coming up with a FNaF theory here; I don’t own and haven’t myself played any of the games, I get lost just watching Game Theory’s newer videos on the subject, and there are plenty of people on the internet who know a lot more than me about this. But that’s really what I’m talking about; the internet, and how it has changed mystery fiction.
FNaF isn’t the first example of this, but it’s by far the biggest. Higurashi (I’m sorry; I’ll shut up about it someday, but for now it’s actually relevant) hit its cult audience the same way in the early 2000s, and do you think suddenly having thousands, or in FNaF’s case millions of people getting involved and working together to solve the mystery does maybe change things a bit? Well, maybe not on its own. Let’s start with a brief history on mystery novels.
Mystery novels started being written in the early 1800s, large because of two massive social changes. First, there is the emergence of large, densely populated areas; cities, as opposed to smaller towns. While towns could manage with a police force of one guy, presumably with a funny hat and the pointiest stick around, cities required a more organised law enforcement system. Cases that, when managed by that one funny hat clad guy, used to be deemed unsolvable “perfect crimes” and dropped, now could be thought about by the whole police force, each bringing different perspectives and ideas to it, and even discussing it as a group. Through this, cases deemed “unsolvable” by one officer, could get solved by another. Thus, there were no more “perfect crimes”, but instead mysteries.
The second major social change occur is that, as people became more literate during the English Renaissance, they become better free thinkers. They were much more capable of, and interested in, reasoning individually. And, yes America, fine, people looked up to you for your freedom. There came a demand for mystery novels, and with it, people capable or writing them.
At the time, the act of reading a mystery novel was lonely, because people were out of sync. Some people would adopt a new author quickly, while others might not get to it until much later. Some readers were faster than others, or had more free time, and talking about the book would only spoil the ending for someone who hadn’t read it. And that’s the main difference between traditional mystery stories, and the FNaFs and Higurashis of the modern world. These new creations are heavily serialized, and consumed in mass.
Think about it; with traditional books, typically one book is released, different people read it at different times, and they all have their own individual theories and experience of it. But now, can you imagine if the whole, four game long series of Five Nights at Freddy’s had been released at once? Just, thrown all up on Steam on day. Would it have been the same experience? Would they even be the same games? No.
We can debate about whether Scott had all the content planned out from the beginning or not, and the answers is a definite “No!” but I’ll get to that later. For now, this is why I wanted to bring in Higurashi, because I believe Ryukishi07 knew all the answers to it from the very beginning. So how did Higurashi’s gradual release over four years and three days affect it?
In Higurashi’s case, it was wholly in the perception of the audience. For the first two years or so during the first release of the visual novel series, Higurashi was not very well know. It’s wasn’t until the Eye Opening arc, released late 2004, that the series started getting attention. As in, the kind of attention I’ve been giving it; people trying to understand it, pick up on the clues, analyze it, and solve the mystery. I mean, look at all this!
While this might not impress your FNaF theorists, for an amateur sound novel in 2005, this was nuts. And this is just the English fanbase’s reaction! Suddenly a mystery novel wasn’t something we each got around to at our own pace. Because it was published in parts, and later episodes, as the anime brought on a wave of new theorists, each of us could always be up to date.
Sure, maybe some people could read the sound novel (yes, read; “sound novel” doesn’t mean “audio book”) fast than others, but even the slowest readers would be done in time to comb the forums for a couple of months before the next book came out. And even the reading speed lag was gone once the 23-minute, no matter how fast you can read subtitles, episodes, one per week, of the anime started airing.
All Higurashi fans needed was an internet connection, and they could all put their heads together for one goal, figuring out the mystery. Isolating the clues and trying to figure out the ultimate secret behind June of 1887, in the small village of Hinamizawa. We, the mystery novel readers, were finally the detectives of the big cities, sitting around a table and solving the mystery.
Fast forward to what I saw last night during Game Theory Live. Was it similar to the Higurashi craze? Well, duh. Only about a million a thousand times bigger than any otaku forum from the mid-00s. That much is no different, or no surprise; FNaF has been an upscale Higurashi since the beginning, with each new game release bring with it a slew of completely new theories, that practically stomp in the face of the old ones. It’s to the point where last night I actually heard MatPat say “I think at this point it’s just a given that there’s some ghosts,” (or something to that effect) then a few hours later, (and I’m working off twenty hours old memory here, so forgive me if these aren’t exact quotes) “Maybe it can all be explained as the actions and delusions of humans. Maybe the suits aren’t haunted.” That sounds to me like the exact same type of turn-heel that I’ve made in my own Higurashi notes on this site.
So we’ve established some strong similarities between Higurshi ten years ago, and FNaF now, but what are a few differences? Well, first of all there’s the rate of release, with Higurashi taking a pretty unassuming year to six months between new chapters, and Five Nights at Freddy’s taking… hold on a second, Steam’s giving me some weird numbers, let me just check Wikipedia- nope it’s messed up too. These sources are telling me that there was less than a year between the releases of the first game and the fourth, but I can’t logically believe-
Okay! Okay! Wow, those release dates are insane! But, they play a big role in the development of the mystery in our collective psyche. By having the games come out rapid-fire like this, and even releasing them months ahead of schedule, Scott kept everyone on their toes. And he instilled mental fatigue around the series, without hurting the hype. It made it harder and harder for theorists to come up with the big new revelation, because they had to process the new while the old hadn’t quite settled, but, because of the internet community around the game, there was that much more pressure to get a theory out fast, before the new game came out. It made the mystery harder to solve at each stage, but so much more enticing.
But the release dates are only a small difference from Higurashi, and don’t fundamentally change the group mystery solving effort. No, there’s a much bigger change that FNaF has brought about, and last night, it came in spades. The puppet master, the game’s designer, Scott Cawthon himself got involved in a major way. Throughout the stream that changed mystery, he was communicating with theorists, updating his website with hints and Easter eggs, and he brought to light something that everyone missed. A toy Chika, depicted in an Atari graphics minigame, doesn’t have a beak.
I know, how did they miss it, right? Well, whatever this is supposed mean FNaF wise, it means a lot mystery wise. It’s the author communicating clues outside of the prescribed work. It’s the creator, in real time, peeking in on the group trying to solve the mystery, and dropping a note on the table. It’s crazy!
And as cool as last night way, it makes me wonder about what this means for mystery fiction in general. I mean, this isn’t new for Scott. He likes to mess with us. He’s announced things on his website just a little too coincidentally close to MatPat’s other streams, and even commented on his original FNaF 4 theory.
Was Scott ready for this from the beginning? When he released FNaF 4, did he plan to get this involved with the theorists, directing them, and telling them when they simply get it wrong? And if so, was the game made with that in mind; has he moved from the role of mere author, to puppet master as he pushes us here and there, perhaps initiating us for the release of the anticipated DLC; getting us in the exact right mindset, and leading us towards the theories he wants us to have.
Honestly, I sincerely doubt it. But hey, you never know.
Don’t Lose Your Way