I recently had the privilege of corresponding with Christian indie game developer Scott Cawthon. He’s garnished attention for his recent horror game Five Nights at Freddy’s and the recently announced Five Nights at Freddy’s 2, but as you’ll see from the interview below, Scott has been involved with far more. Even more important than his game development experience, Scott has shared with us his faith, his struggles, and how God has worked in his life.
In Relation To faith and being a game developer:
GUG: Is game development your day job or a passion you pursue on the side? How long have you been developing games?
SC: My mom bought me a program called Klik & Play when I was 13 and I’ve been making games ever since. During my adult life I’ve worked at a variety of places but game design was always my passion.
GUG: What sort of struggles do you face as an independent game developer?
SC: I would recommend a career in game design to anyone BUT I would advise getting a degree and getting a job at an actual game company. Having a solid job and gaining work experience is much more stable than trying to make it as an independent developer.
GUG: How has God helped you through those?
SC: My relationship with God through the years has been absolutely essential, and only now can I look back and see what He has done. For about twelve years I dedicated my free time to creating Christian movies and later Christian video games. It didn’t go well, but I had faith that God wanted me to create those things anyway.
Despite good reviews, my Christian projects were all financial failures. I came to a point where I was very disillusioned and frustrated with God…actually it was more like a broken heart. I felt like I’d squandered so many years of my life, years that could have been spent going back to college but were instead spent working on Christian projects that went nowhere. I came to the conclusion that I could not have failed so miserably unless God himself had been holding me down. Either God didn’t exist, or God hated me. I didn’t know which was worse.
I decided to change careers, at times pursuing web design, then computer programming, even truck driving, but I always felt drawn back to games.
A pivotal moment came for me when my life insurance policy was cancelled. The insurance company had caught wind that I’d mentioned suicidal thoughts to my doctor. It was at that point I realized that not only did my life have no value but now even my death had no value. I went before God again, and it was the first time that I truly went before him with nothing. I had nothing to offer him. I told him to use me somehow. Although at that moment I had no idea what he could possibly use me for.
I felt drawn back to games again, but not Christian games anymore. It’s not that I wanted to leave the Christian market, I just didn’t feel “led” to make another Christian game. Instead, the events of my life led me to a great idea for a horror game- Five Nights at Freddy’s.
I don’t regret a single moment that I spent working on those Christian projects. I feel like God had commissioned me to make them, and I had an absolute duty to make them, even at the cost of my job and a comfortable life (which it cost me).
Success comes on God’s terms, in His time, and in His way. God only allowed me to have success after I’d been broken, after I’d stopped seeking success for myself, and after I’d come to terms with the idea that my labors for God might not ever bring me a penny. It was only after I’d lost everything that God was able to get my heart right to the point where He could trust me with success.
I guess the point of all of that would be this: Don’t strive for success and money. Doing that just means God is going to have to work even harder to break you. Focus on Him and do what’s right. If you get your heart right and live an honest life, God will grant you success, though it will come in different forms and in different ways. If you humble yourself before Him, He will take care of you. Don’t be like me and force Him to spend twenty years trying to get your heart right first.
GUG: How does your faith affect your approach to game development?
SC: At first I took a very strict approach, thinking that being a Christian gamemaker means you have to make only Christian games. I think God granted me some wisdom in realizing that it’s not your work but you yourself that makes the difference. That being said though, you have to still make sure your work doesn’t go against His purpose. There are a lot of games out there that are full of hate and gruesome imagery. If you feel drawn to make or play that sort of thing then you need to spend some time getting your heart right with God.
GUG: How has your faith helped you, whether directly developing a game or regarding post-development?
SC: It has given me a sense of purpose. Without that I would have given up years ago. If money is what drives you then you’ll most likely fail, and even if you succeed it will be for nothing.
GUG: Do you do everything for your games solo, art and sound design included?
SC: Yes I work alone, although I purchase rights to music and sounds from 3rd party companies.
GUG: Your most recent game, Five Nights at Freddy’s, has garnished quite a bit of attention but it’s not your only game. What would you say to folks regarding your other work?
SC: I’d say go check out the other games on my site too. The Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic Christian novel that not many people know about anymore. I tried to keep the game as faithful to it as I could.
The Desolate Hope has only recently been getting more attention because of the popularity of Five Nights at Freddy’s, but has come under fire for having a pro-life message. The game itself was not designed with abortion specifically in mind (the word is never mentioned.) However, the game’s story focuses on the protagonist’s quest to save a human fetus that was intended as a scientific specimen. The game places a very high value on human life, even at it’s smallest, and that draws a lot of anger from some people.
GUG: What is your favorite bible verse?
SC: Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
In relation to Five Nights at Freddy’s
GUG: What inspired you to create a horror-themed game?
SC: I had made a family friendly game about a beaver before this but it was criticized online; people said the main character looked like a scary animatronic. I went into a pretty deep depression and was ready to give up game-making. Then something in me snapped and I thought to myself that I bet I could make something a lot scarier than that!
GUG: Were you scared of animatronic animals as a child? What was your inspiration for making Five Nights at Freddy’s?
SC: My inspiration for the game was the fact that EVERY kid was scared of those things! There were a few brave ones, sure, but nearly everyone my age looks back and realizes that those things were terrifying.
GUG: How did your Christianity translate into Five Nights At Freddy’s? Are there any hidden Christian messages? For example, do the animals represent a vice or struggle?
SC: No, Five Nights at Freddy’s is just a simple horror game, although I did try to keep it relatively clean with no blood or guts.
GUG: What’s the story behind Golden Freddy?
SC: Sometimes things just “happen” during the game making process. I can’t explain Golden Freddy.
I want to once again personally thank Scott for taking the time and effort to thoughtfully and openly share so much with us regarding game development and, more importantly, his faith, struggle, and relationship with God.
If you want to check out Scott Cawthon and his work, be sure to visit the links below: