My son peeked curiously over my shoulder as I tried out a new mobile game. An animatronic chicken flashed onto the screen, screaming. I jumped and then giggled, my heart pounding from the jump scare.

“I wanna play.” My three-year-old son held out his grubby little fingers, coated in cracker dust and the sticky remnants of a sucker, demanding to try the game. He sat on the couch, unsure of what to do as he flipped through cameras and listened to the phone guy saying, “Hello, hello.” He quickly burned through the power and, as “Toreador’s March” played, the glowing eyes of Freddy Fazbear came into view and the screen went dark. Confused, my son poked at the screen until the bear lunged, appearing to come at him through the screen screaming. He threw the phone and both cried and laughed as fear and exhilaration battled inside of him.

That was all it took; he was obsessed. Hours later, he hid under a blanket next to me, afraid to look but begging me to keep playing. It took a few days to lose the blanket. He was willing to watch me play, but he didn’t want me to do anything else; he wanted me to play 24/7, which became problematic.

The 2014 release of Five Nights at Freddy’s, an indie point-and-click survival horror, ignited a love of the horror genre in my son, Saiben. Back then, I had no idea that this fun little mobile game was going to become such a significant part of my life over the next 10 years. I have been asked countless times, “Doesn’t he get nightmares?” and received several a strong, “I don’t let my child play those types of things.” I feel like video games already have a bit of a bad rap but horror games… my goodness. You’d think I was scarring him for life and giving him more than his fair share of trauma to talk to his therapist about when he gets older.

A screenshot from Five Nights at Freddy's. Several animatronic characters (a purple rabbit, a brown bear, and a yellow bird with teeth) pose as a band.

Saiben has always been a well-spoken young fella so, as he eloquently told people about the lore of FNAF, I’d frequently be asked how old he was by adults with wide eyes. Having a four-year-old elaborately explain the logistics of being shoved into a metal exoskeleton was off-putting to some. His enthusiasm and love for the game has always shone through, and his fascination continued to grow along with the series. There are 20 FNAF video games in total: consisting of 10 main games, 6 spin-offs, and 4 troll games. Additionally, there are 48 books, including 3 novels, 21 anthology books, 8 graphic novels, and 5 guidebooks. There is also a movie that was released in 2023.

Saiben and I made up stories together about the characters, and we played FNAF in real life. We’d turn out all the lights and I’d hide in the room at the end of the hallway pretending to be Foxy. I’d make scratching sounds and screams until he got close enough to the door, then I’d burst through and chase him down the hall. He was surprisingly fearless when it came to playing in the dark at night, yet remained unwilling to play the video game on his own. As much as I enjoyed playing FNAF—and even more, seeing the joy it brought Saiben—I did not want to play it constantly… nor was I able to, as I had to do the things to keep us alive, like cooking and going to work. But always an adorable voice asked, “Pwease pway more Fweddy’s?” What was I to do other than get really good at the game? He was still too scared to play himself.

Finally, on an especially busy day, I thought I’d find Saiben a Let’s Play on YouTube, which led us first to Markiplier. We both instantly loved him, and were even able to branch out a little from FNAF with things like the Henry Stickman series, a comical point-and-click flash adventure. Saiben loved FNAF theory videos, and while we watched quite a few different YouTubers, MatPat’s channel Game Theory was the only one we kept going back to.

A screenshot from a Markiplier let's play of Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach. Markiplier's face cam is in the upper left corner. The game screen shows a retrofuturist robot with eerily glowing eyes dominating a dimly lit, abandoned entertainment hall.

MatPat felt, to me, like someone who was just fun to hang out with. While I didn’t always go along with his theories, they always gave us something to laugh and think about. I would often scoff at his claims, and tell Saiben that I thought they were quite far-fetched. Saiben always defended MatPat. Then, seven years ago, Scott Cawthon (the creator of FNAF) posted a reddit comment under the username animdude in which he addressed MatPat’s video on the FNAF timeline: “Some of these issues were simple misunderstandings with the story, others were maybe just things I didn’t leave enough clues about. They became things that I felt I needed to answer with a new game, but now some of those things have been… answered(!), by MatPat! Obviously, it’s not 100%, but he really came through for this community I think, during a time when everyone needed him.” This comment alone made me take MatPat more seriously, and gave Saiben a long-awaited “in-your-face” moment.

As Saiben has grown older, his taste has changed. We no longer always agree on what to watch or play. One thing that still connects us, though, is our favorite old YouTube channels. When we do sit down to watch something together, it’s still usually Markiplier, Jacksepticeye, or any of MatPat’s channels. Gaming YouTube has become a fundamental way for the two of us to connect and spend quality time together.

The other day, Saiben was asking me about nostalgia. I explained that someday all the memes he knows and loves will be dead, and he’ll be looking at reels on Futuregram and a video reminiscing about the 2010s will pop up, and it will feel like being pierced through the chest. A deep yearning for a different and simpler time will permeate his emotions, tinged with grief that he’ll never truly get to have it back. I experience this myself a lot.

I have a lot of sentiment for bygone media, as I rely on it heavily for comfort. Many shows and game series from my childhood are still going, such as Dragon Ball, The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy. I can’t help but think that these shows can only run so long because others like me are holding on to characters and stories from our childhood. They’re comforting. I knew that I’d have childhood nostalgia, but I wasn’t prepared for this new wave of young adult nostalgia. I expected to miss my own childhood; I was not prepared to miss my child’s.

I’ve recently gone through a grieving process for Saiben’s childhood. I’ve had moments of deep mourning. It’s not that I don’t love who he is now—I do. We have a great relationship, and we continue to make lovely memories together. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to let go of what we used to have. I no longer have the tiny boy that was attached to my hip. I never get to have that little boy back and, while I look forward to the person he’s growing into, it’s hard to let go. We used to spend hours playing games together. He would sit with me on my recliner (there is no way we would both fit anymore) and play through games. Even after the game was turned off, we’d continue to imagine those worlds. One of his favorite games was for me to hold a controller and he’d pretend to be either Megaman or Samus shooting enemies and dodging terrain as I called out directions. He’s turning 13 this year, and there have been changes. He’s no longer the tiny boy asking for me to play FNAF or any of the other games we used to play. If I bring up an imagination game from the past I’m immediately shot down. Not that I blame him. Sure, he’ll still sit and watch me play through a new Resident Evil game, now taking the controller himself for his share, but it’s not the same. I think this type of nostalgia is much more painful. The difference is that when I was young, all I did was dream about the future, and while Saiben was a baby, all I did was try to cherish each moment knowing that it wasn’t going to last forever.

On January 9th, my phone lit up with a notification: Jacksepticeye had tweeted, “MatPat has done so much for youtube and youtubers over the years! Hard to believe he won’t be around like always anymore. Thanks for everything Mat! Can’t wait to see what you do next ❤️” My heart skipped a beat. I was scared that MatPat had died! I jumped on YouTube and yelled for Saiben. Tears blurred my vision as MatPat announced his retirement. My heart was breaking. For me, it’s another sign that Saiben is grown up. MatPat was a staple of his childhood, and he’ll no longer be there for us. Saiben was just as broken up about it. I hated having to watch him struggle. As a mom, I wished so much that I could reassure him that things stay the same and that it was all going to work itself out. Impermanence is such a bitch.

Since the announcement, we’ve been reimmersing ourselves in FNAF content—playing the games and rewatching all of MatPat’s FNAF videos, of which there are over 70. One thing that’s really cool about video games is that you can go back to them over and over. While they’ll never be what they were 10 years ago, video games don’t disappear in the same way that other media does.

I know there is going to be an empty space in our hearts. Every time we finished a lore-filled game like Hollow Knight or completed an obscure show or YouTube series like Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, we would go see what MatPat had to say about it. How long will we continue to shout, “That’s just a Theory!,” MatPat’s catchphrase? I know the theorizing will continue, with other YouTubers taking the reins of MatPat’s spread of channels (Game Theory, Film Theory, Food Theory, and Style Theory) but I don’t want to watch those guys. It won’t ever be the same. I think that the special thing about my relationship with MatPat was that I wasn’t playing a video game alone anymore. I wasn’t experiencing these franchises alone. After playing the 2021 sequel Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach, Saiben and I watched Markiplier play it. Whenever he’d find something “golden,” a reference to the theory that anything gold in color meant that it was part of the hidden lore of the franchise, Markiplier, Saiben, and I would yell, “The lore!,” referencing MatPat. These channels and franchises have become interconnected, and the communities are enthusiastic and welcoming. Playing these games has become such a communal experience, and letting one of the community go feels like losing a dear friend.

The biggest part of my sadness is feeling like I’m losing the thing that MatPat is leaving for: he’s retiring to be able to hang out with his son. I can’t blame him for that. So while the internet mourns, I understand his reasons and wish him the best and for him to make so many great memories with his own son. Thank you MatPat, for all the memories you helped me make with mine.