5 Nights at Freddy’s is a video game that is quite popular with kids these days. From what I have heard, elementary aged kids and up have been really into this video game. But, many are having severe nightmares or sleep anxiety from playing it. I had never heard of it until today. In the past, I have weighed in on other popular things like Music.ly and 13 Reasons Why so it made sense to check out this one too.
Common Sense Media also has a review that says it’s okay for kids 12 and up. You can read what parents are saying about this game here.
Here’s the 411.
Wikipedia explains the basics of the 5 Nights at Freddy’s game well enough here.
You can think of it like this: take Chuck E Cheese type characters that come to life at night and are scary, mean, and awful killers that require constant supervision to keep them from killing you and combine that with imagery that looks like the Saw movie trailers…well, that’s pretty much the jist of it.
According to Wikipedia,
Five Nights at Freddy’s (often abbreviated to FNaF) is a media franchise based around an indie video game series created, designed, developed, and published by Scott Cawthon for Microsoft Windows, iOS, and Android.
The series is centered on the story of a fictional restaurant named Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a pastiche of restaurants like Chuck E. Cheese’s and ShowBiz Pizza Place. The first three games involve the player working as a nighttime security guard, in which they must utilize several tools, most notably checking security cameras, to survive against animatronic characters, which become mobile and homicidal after-hours. The fourth game, which uses different gameplay mechanics from its predecessors, takes place in the house of a child who must defend against nightmarish versions of the animatronics by closing doors and fleeing on foot. The fifth game takes place in a maintenance facility owned by a sister company of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. In this game, the player character is a technician instead of a night guard, who must do different tasks each night as told by an AI voice heard in the game.
TRIGGER WARNING: The video image may be disturbing and should not be viewed around very young children (or any children that have not already been exposed). I think it is important to actually SEE what this game looks like.
However, if you have a history of trauma or anxiety or typically respond negatively to horror movies or horror based video games , then you may not want to view this.
There is an ad that plays before it starts, but this video shows an adult playing the game from the beginning so you can see what it’s like without having to download it. You may find his commentary helpful or you may find it slightly annoying, but it has 62 million views so it seemed like a good place to start.
(Also, note, this video has some profanity.)
You’ve been warned. Proceed at your own discretion.
So, after watching that short clip, the question becomes “Should children be allowed to play this game?”
Maybe. But I can’t see any good reason to allow it.
I will say that after watching the initial clips, I was bored. As a grown up, I didn’t find the images overly scary (which is not to say that I loved looking at them either), and I was expecting more Jack-in-the-box moments where stuff popped out at you with some crazy music. Night 1 was pretty lame. Night 2 started to have more things popping up at you. After Night 2…I had enough.
I would say not to play this game because it’s boring and doesn’t really have a point (in my humble opinion). But that is my ADULT opinion.
I would not allow my children (at any age) to play it. At best, I would not allow them to play it unsupervised.
There are a few things that I don’t like about it:
For young children, visual images leave big impressions. The dark, creepiness of the rooms combined with the sinister looking animatronic characters is just unpleasant to look at. I can see where it will ruin the fun of an actual pizza and characters experience for many children and increase general fears of the dark. Not to mention, the flickering and the constant camera switching just hurt my eyes.
Like any horror movie, there are those moments with the ear screeching sounds (that go along with things that pop out at you). Again, they are unpleasant. For kids with any type of sensory processing disorder (sensitivity to lights, sounds, etc), this is just not worth it.
My biggest concern though really is with the constant checking of everything for safety. In therapy, we call this HYPER-VIGILANCE.
Hyper-vigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect activity.
(aka CONSTANT CHECKING)
Hyper-vigilance is an extremely common response to traumatic events.
For example, if you live in a “safe neighborhood” you may not always lock the doors to your house. You probably do. But if you forget, you might not panic and you might leave for work in the morning and not consciously think about whether you are in danger.
But, if you came home from work and found a burglar inside your home who then tied you up or otherwise threatened or harmed you and you feared for your life or safety, then you might develop a hyper-vigilance in the future. You might check and double check that the doors were locked, you might install extra security cameras and then test and re-test them to make sure they were working. Even with those safeguards, you might still feel unprotected and anxious. Your heart might be fast, you might have difficulty falling asleep or being alone. You would constantly check your environment for safety.
And hyper-vigilance creates undue anxiety and even obsessive compulsive behaviors. It can be a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The very practical need to check for you own safety can become so intense that it becomes irrational or disruptive to your daily functioning.
So, our brain and the rest of our body is designed to detect danger. And designed to err on the side of caution.
Better to be safe than sorry would be the brain’s response to danger.
So, our bodies are wired to respond to real danger and virtual danger in the same way. And our adrenal glands are actually responsible for producing the energy needed to respond to a threat. Basically, giving you the power to do hard things that you couldn’t ordinarily do to keep you alive!
Now, the intensity of the stress response may vary (a HUGE one for a home invader and a smaller one for the little bunny that pops up in this video game), but OVER TIME, those smaller responses still wear out your adrenal glands.
For those of you who want to learn more about the adrenal glands and how they fit in, this article explains it very well.
Some children find it fun and entertaining and don’t seem to be very bothered by it. (Key word: SEEM) It’s unclear if they are not bothered because they are so desensitized to violent video games, or because they have very excellent coping skills or if they are just not telling us that it’s actually bothering them.
But don’t be surprised if your child that usually knows the difference between real and pretend actually starts to feel like the dangers from this video game are real.
I’ve heard of children developing extreme sleep anxiety. They are afraid to go to bed because they have been practicing staying up all night and constantly scanning the environment for danger. Or, they are having nightmares that wake them up or make them afraid to go back to bed.
This is not the first scary thing and it certainly won’t be the last. But, I would definitely put this game on the SKIP IT list.
If your child has already played it and is having any anxiety or fear response, try some of these things:
Explain that stuff about how your body responds to danger and how it is designed to keep you safe, but can sometimes get confused and starts thinking everything is dangerous. Normalize that their response is proof that their brains and bodies are doing their job.
It’s always good to teach children mindfulness techniques. Basically, noticing WHERE in your body the feeling is showing up (my arms are shaking, my heart is beating fast, etc) and identifying it and then breathing and noticing it and noticing when the feeling changes (because it will!). Then you can start teaching about how to do that more often.
Barefoot Books just released this really cool set of mindfulness cards that can help you teach these skills and practice effective ways to connect with your body. You can check them with my link here (and use code WELCOME to save 20%).
You can create a safety plan for a virtual threat just like you would for a tornado or hurricane or fire. Basically, “What we do to stay safe if this actually happened?
I like to talk about how pets will usually detect these threats well before us and help keep us safe, but you can also talk about your home security system, the adults that live there that will be protectors, etc.
If your child doesn’t find your run of the mill safety plan very reassuring, then…
Typically, I recommend to find a superpower that your child can identify with that will help protect them from the imagined threat. This might be a foam sword, monster spray, or some other special power that they can create and hold that will give them the feeling of strength. You can practice (in the day time) using this superpower against an imagined threat. Like Jedi training.
The other option is to find the weakness of the perceived threat. The thing that kills them or scares them off. Think garlic, kryptonite, or some other item that makes villains weak and powerless. Again, you can practice using this element to fight off the evil villains and give the child a sense of power and safety.
You may find that printed pictures of the characters (or plush dolls or plastic figurines) can be helpful in your efforts. You can use them to practice your superpowers or use the weaknesses against them. You can practice seeing the scary thing and noticing the feeling and then switching to a pleasant/happy object and noticing the change. You can slowly make them less threatening.
I had a difficult time finding specific things that you can do to stay safe in this game. Door lights, increased security cameras, day light came up. Nothing too special.
If you find something that is a great tip, share it with me.
If you’re unsure, then I always suggest creating a special “cheat code” as kids are familiar with cheat codes that are used to do special things in games. Create a cheat code or cheat superpower that serves as a rescue device (a button that creates an automatic rocket ship that gets you out of there or a word that triggers a gas that puts everything to sleep or something like that).
Read the parent reviews from Common Sense media (here they are again). I will say once again, that I personally found the game boring and not scary. However, for young children or anyone with a history of trauma, sensory processing disorders, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive personalities, I recommend finding something else to do.
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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