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Five Nights at Freddy's is the ideal starter kit for a kid wanting to get into horror

Never mind the murdered children; this is Scooby-Doo for 2023

Five Nights at Freddy's
Image credit: Blumhouse

I’ll admit, when my kid first tried to explain the mythology behind Five Nights at Freddy’s — the origins behind the killer robots, and what animates them to be so spooky in the first place — I had this instinctive urge to overreact. At the time, he was… six? Seven? Something like that, and watching his glee in sharing stories of murdered children whose souls cried out for vengeance felt wrong, somehow. Wasn’t this a little old for him, I thought to myself. Wasn’t this a little too scary?

He clearly didn’t think so; he didn’t just play the video games, he collected the toys, read the graphic novels, had plushies of Freddy, Chica, and the entire murderous animatronic gang. He was indisputably a fan of FNAF — an acronym spoken like a word, “f’naff,” that I was assured was what all the fans called it — and would eagerly share facts from the lore of the franchise, or about its creation. (Scott Cawthorn, the man who created Five Nights at Freddy’s, is referred to as “Scott,” like he’s a family friend, in our house, he’s talked about so much.) His own imagination was fueled by the whole thing: he’d draw not just the FNAF characters, but his own similar withered animatronics, or come up with new variations on the core cast. Something in there spoke to him on a deep, deep level, as much as I was creeped out at the time. Why couldn’t he just be a big superhero nerd like me?

Why Five Nights at Freddy's is for kids

Five Nights at Freddy's
Image credit: Blumhouse

Looking at Five Nights at Freddy’s objectively, it’s clear to see why it resonates so much with kids: the core cast of horrors — Freddy Fazbear, Chica, Foxy, and Bonnie — are, despite their deadly intent, intentionally cute and colorful because they’re meant to have their roots in kids’ characters (They are, after all, fast food mascots gone wrong.) Visually, they’re not that far removed from designs used for younger kids, as if Paw Patrol took a very wrong turn at some point, giving them an illicit thrill for tweens and those in the immediate vicinity: they’re familiar, but taken a dark turn, which inherently makes them cooler and more exciting to that audience. What kid doesn’t like scary stories or the appeal of something that they probably shouldn’t be allowed to play/watch/read, after all…?

The games themselves feel similarly tooled to a younger audience: the actual game mechanics are remarkably simple, based as much as anything on repetition, while the lore and in-game story only grows more and more arcane and overstuffed with each outing as if to make up for that — something else that feels as if it’s perfectly geared for detail-oriented kids who just want to know more and more and more at all times.

How the Five Nights at Freddy's lore is perfect for children

Four of the animatronic monsters from Five Nights at Freddy's
Image credit: Universal Pictures

And that lore…! As much as I initially tut-tutted about the mythology of a kids’ horror franchise being rooted in kid murders, two things are worth bearing in mind: (a) This is a horror franchise, and (b) my 1970s and ‘80s Scooby-Doo-watching kid self who was got mad that the monsters were unmasked at the end of each episode and wished they had actually been real instead would have loved something like FNAF if I’d had the opportunity to enjoy it. If any puritanical concerns remained, it’s always worth remembering that the animatronics are both the bad guys and the victims of the story, ultimately, and there’s something worthwhile in that in terms of teaching kids empathy and and the value of a good storytelling engine.

Five Nights at Frddy's as many children's first horror franchise

Five Nights at Freddy's
Image credit: Universal Pictures

At heart, Five Nights at Freddy’s is perfectly placed to be the ultimate kids’ first horror franchise — something that it is clearly designed to act as. In that respect, it’s something that we should all appreciate, and learn to be fans of ourselves, at least at a remove and in the abstract. When the first trailer for the movie dropped, my kid — now 11 — watched it excitedly, thrilled to see his favorite characters make the leap to movies. When the trailer was done, he said in a tone of voice simultaneously nervous and giddy with excitement, “it almost looks too scary as a movie!” It’s hard to think of a more perfect reaction — and a sign that the movie, and the franchise as a whole, is continuing to do exactly what it’s meant to.

The Five Nights at Freddy's phenomenon is lasting longer than five nights. Get up to speed, with how to stream the movie, details on the characters and lore, getting to know the FNAF animatronics, how it fits in the canon of the games, talks of sequels, how Chuck E. Cheese is responding, and even a guide to how to play all the FNAF games.


Can't get enough? We have have recommendations for five movies to watch after Five Nights at Freddy's.

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Graeme McMillan avatar

Graeme McMillan

Staff Writer

Popverse staff writer Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.