Phil vs. the GRE: Five Nights at Freddy’s

Pictured: A Wallaby
Pictured: A Wallaby

“For a lot of people, taking a standardized test such as the GRE usually engenders a number of emotions.”

Exasperation. Self-disgust. Frustration.

Taking the GRE means I’ve failed. I’ve failed to escape the stereotypes of my major choice and I’ve failed to fully pursue my career ambitions. I was supposed to coast by on charisma alone, damn it.

“But you’re not that charismatic, Phil,” says my GRE tutor. For the purposes of this blog project, let’s portray him as a Giant Wallaby with glasses.

The giant wallaby twitches its nose at me. “Remember, Phil. The GRE provides a valid assessment of only one thing: The GRE assess how well you take the GRE.”

So why am I taking it?


Over the past few months I’ve started to build viral YouTube videos into my daily routine.

When I say “viral,” I mean in the sense that it’s a disease. I’m not sure if there’s really such a thing as high-art YouTube by 2016, but I’m picking the lowest-hanging fruit here. I’m watching teenagers play video games. I’m watching smug assholes barely older than me pick apart movies and then try to sell me their book. Every now and then, I watch those Fail Army videos, which somehow takes the concept of America’s Funniest Home Videos and makes it even more debasing. About the only thing I avoid are the BuzzFeed [Insert Color Here] videos. But I’m probably a few clicks away from incorporating those into my television couch-potato substitute routine.

Through this continuous slog of self-disrespect, I’ve come across this video game: Five Night’s at Freddy’s.


Five Nights is a video game that is only possible during certain periods of a creative industry’s evolution. Something like it may have been released during the 8-bit or 16-bit era, particularly when people were pumping money into stuff like ET: The Extraterrestrial, but the particular viral acclaim and the speed at which Freddy’s developed as a franchise seems only possible because of elements like YouTube and Twitch.

The game follows the misfortunes of a series of security guards (and eventually, a haunted child) who have to supervise a property related to the Fazbear Entertainment conglomerate of the 1980’s (we think). Essentially, imagine if you were the night guard at a Chuck E. Cheese and the animatronics were trying to kill you.

Were I an established blogger – a college student who knows the right amount of sleep and/or partying to sacrifice – or a professional who’s got it all together enough to hold down a fulltime job and still keep a faithful following informed – I’d go into the labyrinth of the Five Nights at Freddy’s saga here. But I’m not any of those things. I’m just a guy who’s not on Twitter right now.

So I’ll leave you with a couple of bits of information. There’s the wiki. But that’s boring.

The way I’ve followed this nightmare is through this YouTube series from a channel called The Game Theorists. I’ll include the first video here – but bear in mind – MatPat eventually abandons his initial postulation of Freddy’s relating to the real-life incident of a Chuck E. Cheese murder occurring in the early 90’s.

Oh, yeah, trigger warning – this video discusses true crime, murder, and disturbing real-life violence. It isn’t graphic. But it isn’t pleasant.

The beginning of the video is just MatPat screwing around and mocking his community for getting so involved in a simple point-and-click. The substantial analysis starts about two minutes in.

Honestly, The Game Theorists are probably the best curators of Five Nights at Freddy’s lore. For some reason I find myself drawn in to their seemingly unnecessary digging into questions that 90’s kids would have either shrugged off or felt completely alone obsessing over.

I’ve only played the first game and I haven’t gotten past Night 4. So it’s not the gaming that’s intriguing me. Maybe this is like my Worst Cooks in America addiction. In the course of a few months, I’ve watched the progression of one dude’s simple game explode into a viral phenomenon with more to come. A world eagerly explored by thousands of people.

I’ve said it before: I think I’m addicted to progress. But when you don’t put in the work to make progress happen in your own life, maybe people like me get addicted to watching other people progress through time.

When I was a kid, I really liked Chuck E. Cheese. I would nag my parents into taking me and didn’t quite understand why they were so reluctant. In retrospect, I was a pretty insufferable kid. I really resented my parents for not taking me to movies every week, or taking me to Chuck E. Cheese as a reward for simply going to school that day. The idea that these outings were expensive for an immigrant family was lost on me. It’s only now that I myself am stuck in Fairfax and dealing with its absurd cost of living that I sympathize with what my parents gave up each time they took me to pour money down an animatronic rat’s throat.

At some point as a preteen I became more interested in talking to girls on AIM than trying to blast a hole in an arcade dinosaur’s head. But then I actually started out hanging with friends in person and had people my age with whom to celebrate my fifteenth birthday. As a sort of foretelling of the terrible sense of self-deprecation that would grip my generation, we decided on an ironic visit to Chuck E. Cheese. I thought it would be a blast – playing arcade games, eating pizza, and watching the robots do their song and dance.

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It was terrible. The place was crawling with rabid children, aged 9 and under. It was humid. It smelled bad. It was loud. I couldn’t get near the Ninja Turtles game without getting in line behind a kid who was wetting his pants. Eventually my friends and I would end up at a Subway, chewing remorsefully at our food as we uncomfortably realized that the days of Chuck E. Cheese were forever behind us.

I never went back to Chuck E. Cheese again.

My larger point here – one that I don’t have the patience to segue to with finesse, given that I’ve been awake since 10:30 last night – is that it’s very easy to imagine Chuck E. Cheese as the inspiration for a hellish nightmare. In part, Freddy’s is unnerving because it takes an emblem of innocence and subverting it as a vicious, relentless force of assault. The same way I now see Chuck E. Cheese as a capitalistic corruption of a kid’s desire to play. A business that harnesses a child’s energy and uses it against its parents in a terrible fashion.

Nightmare, indeed.

“If you’re so addicted to progress,” my GRE tutor bristles at me. “Why don’t you get back to progressing on this GRE study?” The tutor (who I remind you is taking the form of a giant wallaby) twitches its nose in frustration. “Do you want ETS to take your $195 and give you absolutely nothing in return?” The Wallaby is so frustrated, it is shaking. Its top hat falls off of its head.

But I’m not listening.

I’m staring at something somebody made for me on my phone. My finger is hovering over an option.

“Phillip, are you listening?” the Wallaby Tutor screams at me.

I sigh. I press the space on the screen.


I’m not listening.


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