In the playground of the Slender Man
If the survival horror genre were water, I would be a very thirsty man. Where once they flourished, now they seem to grow withered and unrefined. Resident Evil no longer wants to be scary. Silent Hill doesn’t remember how. The only method attempting to discover scares in a big budget title is to equip a plasma cutter and fight off the necromorphs of the Dead Space series, which are tense and atmospheric, no doubt. Not scary.
So it’s in the pursuit of decent horror that I discovered the free to play game Slender. In this little title you are thrust into a dark, wooded area in search of pages. Find all eight pages before the antagonist, the Slender Man, lays his slim fingers upon you. Trick is, if you look at the Slender Man for too long, or if the Slender Man gets too close, you lose. I was told this would be scary, so I had to try.
For the uninitiated, the Slender Man is a creation born in the hallowed forums of Something Awful. It began with old time photographs, photo-shopped to contain a thin, tall man in the background. The man wore a suit and had no face. Parsec Productions went ahead and adapted the cyber myth as a video game.
Half of playing any genre title like this is to in your surroundings. The environment can be just as vital towards creating suspense as the content in the game itself. If you’re the kind of person that plays scary games in daylight, with people available and nearby, you’re doing it wrong. For maximum effect I waited until dark. I shut off all of the lights. I put on a pair of headphones and I was ready to go.
The game proper does not begin until you find the first of the eight pages. Until then you’re either walking very slowly through the woods, or jogging with your flashlight beam pointed at the dirt. Pick up that first page and an eerie thumping noise masks the sounds of the forest. It’s an unnerving announcement that the Slender Man has been set loose.
And it was while I was searching for the second page that the Slender Man appeared, seemingly out of no where, from behind a rock. I turned a corner focusing on finding pages when suddenly he was there and I nearly jumped out of my seat. I made a sound. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was probably something like…”Blaaah!” and then I circled around the rock. I checked back to see if he was still watching me, and when I confirmed that he was, sprinted off into the woods.
My second confrontation with the Slender Man was much quieter. While exploring a building that contained tiled rooms and chairs that seemed to be knocked over for no good reason, I turn a corner and he’s there. My reaction this time was more like, “It’s the Slender Man. Back away.” And so I did. Not so scary the second time around. After I found two more pages the screen slowly filled up with static, and the game was over.
The Slender Man isn’t exactly threatening. Most of the time he’s only seen standing perfectly still. The reason he was scary was not because he is scary, but because I was more focused on finding the pages. Because my attention was so attached to the action of searching out for pages, all it took was the appearance of the Slender Man to be scary.
This is something I’ve had experience with in life. Now, I have tried scaring my co-workers. Sometimes I’m successful, most of the time I’m not. But sometimes, when I’m not even trying, I’ll happen upon someone as they’re focused on whatever they’re doing, and say something harmless. “Hello!” And then I’m immediately greeted by, “AHHH! Jesus, Nick, where the Hell did you come from?” And I’m not scary. Or at least I’m less scary than the Slender Man. I have a face.
My question is what can the industry learn from a game like Slender? Let’s take the F.E.A.R. series for example. Within the games they blend action and horror, but they combine as effectively as oil and water. The action scenes and the horror scenes run separate, and it’s very clear whether you’re entering one or the other. Imagine this: you’re in a gunfight with several dudes. Let’s say…seven. You’ve killed off four. The other three break off and retreat down a nearby hallway. You, in turn, chase after them, turn blind around the corner and then bam! Alma appears right in front of you. Already scarier than all of F.E.A.R. 3.