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SYFY WIRE Five Nights at Freddy's

Video Game Streamer Markiplier’s Connection to Five Nights at Freddy’s Explained

On the internet, everyone can hear you scream.

By Benjamin Bullard

Back in the days before live streaming reigned supreme as the internet’s favorite way to watch video games (we’re talking the ancient, raggedy past of 2014 or so), "Let’s Play" videos were all the rage. Pre-recorded and curated to highlight the way a game looks and feels from start to finish, the Let’s Play phenomenon caught fire with fans for the way it conveyed a real person’s response to a game’s most compelling elements. And in the case of YouTube streamer Markiplier and his obsession with the Five Nights at Freddy’s gaming franchise, that response induced a whole lot of delightfully horrified screaming.

Markiplier (aka Mark Fischbach) actually had a big early hand in making Let’s Play videos into a larger online sensation. To be fair, though, so did his chosen horror-story subject matter: From the time he posted his very first playthrough clip of the original Five Nights at Freddy’s (Aug. 12 of 2014), the satisfyingly shocking feedback loop between Markiplier’s jumpy angst and the actual jump scares of the game itself lured in viewers not by the hundreds or the thousands, but by the millions. As of right this minute, Markiplier’s first Five Nights YouTube video has now been viewed almost 114 million times.

RELATED: From Farscape to Five Nights at Freddy's? The Connection Between the SYFY Classic & Horror Hit

Markiplier as the "King" of FNaF: Catching Horror-Game Lightning in a Bottle

Right from the outset, Five Nights game creator Scott Cawthon imbued his low-budget scare franchise with all the ingredients needed to make an interactive terror tale feel just the right amount of scary to be addictive. But it was Markiplier’s Let’s Play clips that helped lift the indie title out of early anonymity and into the gaming mainstream, thanks in no small part to his gift for putting a smart and accessible human face to the whole experience. Fans who watched one of his FNaF videos didn’t just come away well-informed about what the games had in store; they actually wanted to experience it for themselves. Hey, it scared the very devil straight outta that guy… so fright fans naturally wanted some of whatever he was having.

“WARNING: SCARIEST GAME IN YEARS” reads the title of Markiplier’s first Five Nights at Freddy’s clip, alongside a longer description that sells the creepy creation in a way that no amount of marketing money could ever buy: “No other game has given me a greater feeling of dread than this one. Five Nights at Freddy's is incredibly unique and takes an approach to horror that I've never experienced before,” his YouTube setup reads. “If you're a fan of scary games you MUST check this game out!”

Thus began a seismically productive chicken-and-egg relationship: Cawthon would release a new Five Nights game, and Markiplier would amplify the daylights out of it on YouTube. Fans will forever debate which was the greater contributor to the other’s fame (seriously — hit up a search engine and type “Is Markiplier responsible for Five Nights at Freddy’s' success?” and “Is Five Nights at Freddy's responsible for Markiplier’s success?” — and see how the results tend to mirror each other.) But however you slice it, it was internet horror-lightning in a bottle, and there’s a strange symbiosis between Markiplier’s own rise to online stardom and the meteoric rise of the FNaF series itself.

RELATED: The Biggest Change the Five Nights at Freddy's Movie Made From the Games

Along with MatPat (aka Mathew Patrick), the YouTuber whom even Cawthon himself has credited with figuring out some of Five Nights’ more esoteric lore points, Markiplier — colloquially known throughout online-land as the “King of FNaF” — will forever remain synonymous with Five Nights at Freddy’s and its avid fan culture. He’s even had to let fans down easy as the movie approaches its Halloween-season premiere, answering the massive demand that he actually appear in the film by explaining that he simply wasn’t able to break free from his own upcoming film (Iron Lung) long enough to put in the necessary Five Nights set time.

Cawthon (who co-wrote the new movie’s screenplay and serves alongside Jason Blum as producer) obviously values the overall role that online gaming culture has played in helping to lift Freddy Fazbear and his freaky animatronic pals into the wider pop culture mainstream.

With or without a cameo from Markiplier himself, Five Nights at Freddy’s trailers already have teased oodles of fun shoutouts to the gaming series’ bevy of streaming influencers. A list of popular YouTubers flash by on the pizzeria's "Employee of the Month" poster, while a bigger cab-driving appearance comes from horror-comedy creator CoryxKenshin (aka Cory Williams), seen in front of the restaurant to pick up Abby (Piper Rubio) — kid sister to Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), the franchise’s eternally-terrorized pizzeria security guard.

Part of the payoff for longtime Five Nights fans is the chance to watch (with eyes peeled, of course) for Easter eggs like those to appear in the movie. Thankfully for the rest of us, you don’t need to be steeped in the full FNaF gaming lore-verse to get a kick out of the film’s wild nighttime ride through the horrifying, hollowed-out husk of a creepy pizza place that’s infested with demented animal automatons.

But then again, in a labor-of-love movie like this one, a little geeky fan knowledge is all but certain to be rewarded. Steel those night-shift nerves and abandon your appetite now: Five Nights at Freddy’s is set to debut in theaters and on Peacock beginning Friday, Oct. 27.