It was surprisingly difficult to choose a top horror game, or horror moment. The first that came to mind was ‘of course, Fatal Frame!’. The game is generally very eerie; the ambience is effective; of a breeze drifting through the wooden, creaking abandoned manor would set me on edge every time I played. But I couldn’t think of one specific moment that really stood out. I haven’t played enough of Outlast to choose a certain incident, and I’ve already written about Anna. Suddenly I realised…Slender. Of course, the one game I played with my friend, where we recorded ourselves screaming.
Slender: The Eight Pages is a freely available 2012 first-person survival horror PC game by Parsec Productions. In the middle of the night (and in first person mode), the player has to collect eight pages scattered around a forest, while avoiding Slender Man, a tall, skinny, suited man who kidnaps children. You have a torch with limited battery, and can jog, with limited energy.
The eight pages can be found in ten locations. Once the first page is sound, a stomping sound plays, signalling that Slender is now chasing the player. Slender becomes faster as more pages are found, heralded by this noise throughout the game. Other sounds play when pages are found – a low droning on pages three and four, a loud wind on five and six, and a beeping at page seven. When all are found, there is only silence. (This is taken from Wikipedia because I was so traumatised during the game that I just got more freaked out with every sound, regardless of what it was. Including my chair squeaking). The game ends if you take too long to find a page, you look at Slender for too long, or you come into contact with him. When that happens, his face appears on the screen and static overtakes you. Oh, and while you are avoiding all of this happening, as you collect pages Slender speeds up, gets closer to you, and the fog in the forest gets worse.
What’s really fascinating about this game is the culture that surrounds it. Originally a meme on the Something Awful Forums, it has grown into a multifaceted culture icon- a history has been established, there is a myriad of Youtube series, creepypasta, short films, and books. There's a whole wiki dedicated to the Slender mythos, and a sequel game; Slender: The Arrival, by Blue Isle Studios, and an inspired game called Haunted Memories by ParanormalDev. What is it about this faceless, tall, skinny, suited man that makes him so creepy? Take a look at him. He is out of proportion, and faceless. He is uncanny.
What is uncanny? Tinwell et al, in their paper The Uncanny Wall, examined the origins of ‘uncanny’ and what it means. Uncanny tends to be related to life and death– in 1906, Jentsch claimed it was the result of being unable to tell if something was alive or dead, or animate or inanimate. In 1919, Freud’s doppelganger is similar, as a replica of a human, and implies the inevitability of one’s death (Tinwell 2012, p. 5). Lastly, ‘uncanny’ has been a contentious topic in robotics – in 1970, Mori found that as robots appear to be more human-like, it is familiar, but too much familiarity is eerie, and has a negative effect. After a certain point, the robot is viewed as more strange and eerie than familiar; hence, uncanny valley (Tinwell 2012, p. 6). Slender’s lack of a face means we can’t tell if he is alive or dead, let alone what his intentions are – there is no emotion, no body language, significantly contributing to his uncanniness. He is human-like, but not really human. Kang claims that the uncanny also depends upon a perceived threat; the presence of the uncanny ‘threatens our understanding of the world and the human species, a disruption of our worldview’ (Tinwell 2012, p. 7).
Unfortunately, knowing why I’m creeped out by Slender doesn’t make the game less scary. Take a look at some of the page locations, keeping in mind: you can’t look behind you.
The worst was the rusted tankers. My friend was playing, and I know I saw Slender’s legs poking out from under one of the tanks. My friend didn’t see him though, so we ended up with me screaming incoherently while she ran right at him. Most of the locations force you to move around objects to find the page- a tanker, tree, cross-shaped walls, bathroom complex, silo. Which means that you need to figure out how to approach the object – slow, so Slender is still behind you, but catching up? Or fast, to outrun him but with the risk of him appearing in front of you? Such simple options produce ‘an intense sense of pressure based on overwhelming odds’ (Habel & Kooyman 2014, p. 1).
Other top moments include slowly easing around a tree only to come face-to-face with Slender, screaming, and whirling around to only have him appear even closer. Jumping out of our skins when the moon, or a white shine in the distance looks like his faceless head. For its simplicity and tight budget, the game is very effective. If you haven’t played it, I definitely recommend having a go – it’s free, and for such a low-budget game, impressively scary. The experience has lasted with me...and will haunt me as I play The Arrival.