Was Security Breach quintessential FNAF?

Today. I find myself thinking about Security Breach and how tonally different it was from everything that came before, and yet how wonderfully connected to the core of Five Nights at Freddy’s it was.

I’ve heard people disagree but for me personally, one of the core themes of the series is consumer culture and capitalism. Scott created these games while trapped in the same machine that so many of his players now also find ourselves in, trapped in dead end jobs, feeling as if we missed some perfect golden window of time where we could put in hard work and really prosper. It was preceded by numerous games which – though invested with love and effort – just didn’t take off. In interviews Scott has previously discussed his frustrations with the retail jobs he found himself in as he worked towards his dream of game development, and I think either consciously or subconsciously something of that shines through in the design of his games.

“Did you know that last year I was working at Dollar General? I worked as a cashier. I had three bosses who were all still in high school. Before that I worked at Target in the backroom freezer, unloading frozen foods.”

Scott Cawthon – Steam Community letter to fans

It’s hilarious and wonderful to me that a game that presents a satire of mindless capitalism has spawned one of the most marketable franchises in modern gaming. But I think there’s a sympathy there that taps into the lives and sensibilities of his fans, and for me at least, that is one of my favourite parts.

However, returning to the point above, Security Breach was always a completely logical point in time for me, a glimpse at a modernised Fazbear Entertainment and how they might have brought their characters into the present day. Some people speculate that its set in the future, but for various reasons I’m more reserved about my dates, to me the Pizzaplex feels rooted in the present era with the embellishments we are used to with their technology (illusion discs in the 90s!) in full evidence. Steel Wool understood that the concept that all is not as it seems in a “perfect” or artificial setting was important.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a millennial, and therefore found myself growing up in the era FNAF is set in, and though I was born in the UK where we didn’t have the animatronics of Showbiz Pizza or Chuck E Cheese, we had our cheap non animatronic knock-offs (shout-out to Little Marcos) and their equivalents.

To my generation – or at least in my own personal experience – as a kid you went to small play areas and themed restaurants, but you really dreamed of the big Disney theme parks. Their status to those of us who never got to go was almost mythical, a place where fantasy became real. In many ways I think this idealisation of theme parks in our youth is why so many of us still linger in that fondness for what is ultimately a nightmarish megacorporation.

To me it made perfect sense that on a timeline beginning with themed restaurants, Fazbear Entertainment would progress to theme parks in the form of the Pizzaplex.

Steel Wool brought this all to life in the most vivid possible way. I could talk for a hundred years about all the wonderful little details and nods that they managed to build into the game, a game that still surprises me after years of wandering its twisting hallways. It immerses you, and when I’m there in some ways I get to visit a little sparkle of that fantastic world I dreamed of as a kid.

For me Security Breach really did bring to life that portrayal of a thriving theme park on the brink of slipping into its own dissolution. In the game the dream is beginning to fray, the corporate elements are stifling humanity, we are presented a world (or simulation) where people are gone, replaced by S.T.A.F.F bots, where we are completely alone in a liminal space inhabited only by machines.

I heard some people protest that Security Breach “wasn’t scary” and to this day that surprises me. As someone staring down the barrel of corporate capitalism, of timed bathroom breaks, AI intrusion and other rights restrictions, the Pizzaplex is terrifying on a whole other level than just run of the mill horror. But even setting this aside, the game to me was never meant to be a conventional horror game (with horror being completely subjective anyway), it was a setup, it was a world, it was something grand and beautiful, a labour of love by the developers and Scott. We could almost live there, we could understand a little better the siren song of the world they created.

The Glamrock animatronics ooze personality and their design is impeccable, anyone can tell you at a glance what kind of person Roxy is, who Freddy is and everyone I’ve met could choose a favourite from the crew if they were asked. That was the point in Security Breach in my opinion, it was to establish a world that we could watch decay before our eyes as we witnessed in RUIN and hopefully beyond.

The original FNAF games were founded on an existing societal understanding of Chuck E Cheese and turning the decay of this era and these characters into horror. It’s harder to do this with a conceptual Pizzaplex, it was important to establish this fantastical location to make us understand what was lost.

After all, you can’t destroy what you haven’t already built.

The withered animatronics are so impactful exactly because we know what the original band looked like, this pre-existing state is critical to really understanding the unsettling differences. Withered Bonnie would not be as spooky if we didn’t understand the face that he was missing. Other people might disagree with this, but I’m strongly of the opinion that we need to subconsciously understand the potential use of a liminal space for it to truly sink to that level of liminality.

The backrooms works because we have all experienced this kind of featureless, winding hallway, we can place it in a hundred different real life locations, and yet it is none of those places. The Pizzaplex is every huge interior arcade, every theme park, and yet it is none of them. Its rules need to be established in order to be broken in RUIN.

For me Security Breach absolutely understood what Scott was creating in ways that Steel Wool do not get nearly enough credit for. They took the established IP in their own direction without deviating from the heart of the franchise. The waters were muddied for some time by FNAF VHS and other more conventional re-imaginings of the series which blurred general perceptions of what FNAF really was. But for those of us who never cared for that sort of content to begin with, who cared only for the main line of games and literature, there was never any doubt that Security Breach understood what was being asked of it.

Was it without flaws? No. No game is without flaws. Scott’s games are also not flawless creations. Flaws do not negate the merit of a creative work, and Security Breach’s flaws did not even slightly dull its shine for me. RUIN took the concept and really explored what it meant to destroy and decay an existing location, but it also in some ways played everything a little bit safer.

I admired the ambition of Security Breach at its release, and I still do. It survived scope creep in its design, it survived release over-runs and planning errors, but to me none of these things came from a place of cynicism, they came from enthusiasm and joy, the excitement of a studio to really do justice to a series that they felt strongly about and to throw everything they could into making it something truly special.

This in turn was just like the same enthusiasm and joy Scott felt when he experimented with FNAF world. There’s the same spark of adventure in both games, and both unfortunately were met by the kneejerk outcry from the fandom. FNAF world these days is met with more kindly feelings as people became less shy about openly declaring that they enjoyed it, and it is my fervent hope that as time goes on, we see more people willing to own their affections for Security Breach. I’ve spent a long time trying to advocate for its merits on social media and foster places where people feel happy to say they enjoy it.

RUIN was received more favourably, and I was so glad, the studio deserved some celebration and joy in their work, I thought it was masterfully done and far safer and more bug free than the base game, with more interaction with the characters that we had already grown to know. I can absolutely understand why this was exactly what many fans wanted and I’m happy that more people can really enjoy the game and new players can even join in off the back of its publicity!

However, for me nothing will quite beat the freedom of that original game, with its unfinished secrets, layers of decision making that is written into every inch of its substance and the fact that it can still surprise me even now with finds that we didn’t think possible.

Post-RUIN and beyond, I will still be wandering back to Security Breach often for that same hit of nostalgia that has become so very addictive to so many of my peers. Mine is simply nostalgia for a time that never truly existed.