Digital Digressions: Slender

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Nathan: How long would you guesstimate this “Slender Man” thing has been a…thing?

Paul: Three years or so. I believe it was created back in 2009 in the Something Awful forums. It’s really only been somewhat recently that the idea of the Slender Man has really picked up traction and become somewhat of a paranormal internet phenomenon though.

Nathan: Okay, so I’m still out of touch but not SUPER out of touch. Good to know. Anyway, there’s a video game now. It’s…intense?

Paul: Intense is probably the right word to describe it… at least at first. After playing it a bit though, while still stressful it loses some of its immediate intensity.  All around still kind of uncomfortable to play though.

Nathan: Yeah, I admire how stripped down it is. Very stress-inducing, but really bare bones in terms of what’s actually going on. Essentially, pick up 8 things, but there is a bad thing following you around and it gets more and more devious the better you do. It’s extremely effective, even if that initial horror turns to some form of frustration after awhile. Not in a bad way though, if that makes sense. It’s a nice little nightmare simulator.

Paul: A lot of the charm is in how simple it is; literally anyone can pick it up, learn the controls within the first minute and enjoy their worst nightmares come to life in a video game.  A lot of the devious little things that the game does to work against you are all nice little touches but in the end it’s the feeling of complete helplessness against a supernatural force that starts wearing you down. And dude, fuck that bathroom…

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Nathan: Well, tiled…maze thing. I’d hardly call it a bathroom as there is nary a toilet in sight. Really, no idea who built these weird little areas in this forest. Bunch of poles, a four-point wall, a tunnel to nowhere. It doesn’t really make much sense when you think about it, but in a “David Lynch dream logic” kinda way, it still plays. For some reason Lynch is what I keep coming back to, moments from Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire in particular. Which is a kind of horror I haven`t seen much of in the video-game medium, so I`m pretty pleased.

Paul: What the landmarks in which the 8 pages are found lack in logic they make up for as objects to perpetuate terror. There are few scarier things in the game than knowing the Slender Man is behind you and having to systematically follow a cylindrical object ALL THE WAY AROUND in a 360º manner, or walking around 4 corners in a maze only to find out there was nothing there and thus must trek back the one-way hall to check the other corners out.  Really some genius tactics put to work in the world design in that regard.

Nathan: Despite being very minimal, yeah, they do a lot with very little. The stamina meter, that garbage flashlight  and the increased abilities the Slender Man gains at certain page milestones. Should we explain exactly how it plays or is it best to just share that it`s simple, it`s scary and it`s worth looking at because it costs nothing and will likely run on more or less anything, or should we walk through some of our experiences in more detail?

Paul: Technically our experiences were in the same night, so we can run some of those down I guess.  A big thing I liked was turning the flashlight off to freak out those of you watching but then realized that was the worst idea ever because it lulled me into a sort of complacency and safety in the darkness and I had a hard time turning the light back on to move around because I knew if I did I would see the Slender Man standing there right in front of me and would never sleep in the dark again.  Other than that, I really didn’t get to enjoy many of the better scares and frights we had that night first hand, as that is what you got…

Nathan: What, the moment where I walked around the tree and OH FUCK, there he was?

Paul: Yeah, that was one of the finest “horror” moments I’ve ever seen.  Everything about that situation was perfect down to the jerky camera/flashlight movement.

Nathan: Indeed, it’s kind of sandboxy in a way with that stuff. You know the rules of how things are going to go down, but the specifics of how it plays out vary just enough to where you can’t get too comfortable. I will always be extra apprehensive around the tanks, for example, as I met my end there most unpleasantly on some of my best runs. I guess there are ways of gaming the system to some extent, but I encourage just jumping in not completely sure of what is going on and figuring it out as it goes along. And I think it plays well with spectators, have yet to try playing it by myself at home, but I suspect it would lose some of its charm.

Paul: There definitely is a point as well where the Slender Man takes a turn in the player’s mind from a scary supernatural being to be feared to a somewhat annoying obstacle standing in the way of progression.  There was at least twice from what I remember that he was literally standing in front of one of the pages we required and we just couldn’t seem to get him to get away.  It’s probably just one of the design flaws of such a low (see also, no) budget game but was still breaking the intensity a little bit.

Nathan: I suppose, though I still think that intensity could be restored with a “Judge Doom” or “Pennywise the Clown” mod. We all float down here Paul.

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Paul: You’re a terrible person for putting those images in my mind and bringing out the terrified child in me. Other than that, you’re totally right.  I think the ability to mod a few aspects of the game would really help reinvigorate the terror that might be lost on our generation as we were already somewhat past the whole “being scared of paranormal activities” part of our lives when the idea of the Slender Man was invented.  Maybe a Bloody Mary game?…

Nathan: I suppose, though I guess it taps into that whole “Shadow Men” thing many kids seem to have memories or fears about. I think the core gameplay notion of having something or someone stalking you is what’s impressive here. It doesn’t really matter what it is, it is the stress induced by knowing it is coming up behind you at all times and could be around any corner. In video game history, I was thinking about the Boos from the Mario Bros series and Jason from that purportedly terrible Friday the 13th NES game. Yes, he is a blurry bunch of pixels, but that bunch of pixels can end your life so you want to stay away from that guy. This does a similar thing, but with a faceless guy in a suit. Still, admire the purity of design. Curious if it could sustain a larger game or if it can only work in a small-scale experiment like this.

Paul: Well, to be completely honest the game is essentially just a game of Cat-and-Mouse if the cat was the Boo from the Mario Bros. games and could kill you by looking at him for too long.  Actually… yeah that’s still a terrifying notion for a game.  I think that the idea would lose something in a larger translation as even though the map you play Slender in is relatively big, there is still a claustrophobic feeling that helps with the intensity since you know you’re stuck in this one level the whole time.

Nathan: I guess briefly, how does this compare to the other indie horror games you’ve been tinkering with? I guess this is kind of becoming a unique and interesting sub-genre, one I plan to investigate further in light of how good a time I had with this one.

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Paul: Yeah, I mean being a fan of horror in general definitely helps but there is something to the purity of one or two twisted minds coming together to craft an interactive experience dealing with something they very well may have had nightmares about that makes it much more interesting a sub-genre to investigate.  That being said, I still think there is a place for more polished indie horror games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent to really gain an audience and maybe even make some money off of.  Either way, Slender is a great time for anyone who wants to get a bit frightened for free.

Nathan: I guess the sequel to Amnesia is fast approaching. I should probably just nut up and finish that first one, huh? Piece o’ cake. Anyway, more on that as it happens. Horror games. They’re very real and worth your consideration.