By ahoodedfigure 8 Comments
Slender is an exercise in terror (not so much horror as I've often seen people say) using the Unity engine. If you're curious, get it here. Otherwise, or afterward, I'll talk about it below.
Rather than go into Slender itself, which is pretty simple in its setup, I'll mention a particular state I entered into while playing it.
Most cultures have monsters, but none come to mind that don't have warnings about them, observations on behavior, or methods to defeat them. What is hidden behind this seemingly completely irrational tendency for us to anthropomorphize the unknown is our ability to find patterns in it, and thus find weaknesses.
If anyone wonders why human beings have managed to extend the average lifespan, and come up with complicated machines that help make life easier (and end life quicker), you might look at how we beat the small monsters through the use of holy symbols, prayers, silver bullets. We tell ourselves there has to be a way, and in fiction there inevitably can be. We use fiction as a practice run in protecting ourselves, and outrunning death, that undeniable real-world monster, just a little longer.
In fiction, though, you can also simulate hopelessness. You can tell the reader the rules, then imply that there is no hope no matter how hard they try. As pat as it is to have the good guys win, and while the specific definition of what a good guy is is arguable, it is important not to lean on this hopelessness style too much. I believe we learn real-world skills even through made-up worlds, and it's strange in light of this to teach us to give up.
Still, we have all sorts of entertainment that simulates this freefall into death. Roller coasters come to mind. We plummet, scream, but smile while we're doing it because we know, most of the time, the cart won't crash into the ground (unless you live in the universe of Roller Coaster Tycoon).
While playing Slender I found that I was trying to ask the game, through gameplay, if there was any hope, or if things were just going to get worse and worse the more crayon drawings I picked up. It's easy enough to plop you with a dimming, narrow-beam flashlight in the middle of a pitch black forest, and zing you with orchestrated jump scares even though you know you're not exactly in this situation and can quit at any time. But as I played I felt as though what the game was trying to do was to see how far I'd go, what I'd be willing to put myself through, despite the story context being so minimal that I began to scrutinize the graphics, wonder why I couldn't scale the fence, wonder where this game I was interacting with was intending to take me.
I tried to see if there were methods for evading, ways to clip through walls and try to get around boundaries and then, 4 pages in, I decided to beat the game. While running from my pursuer I found that the truck I'd found early on counted as an obstacle that would prevent me from being affected by my pursuer's gaze. The glass of its windows counted as a solid object, so I was safe to look. I did, using the game's strange zoom function to get a closeup of the creature's boxy, pinched face. It stood there, dumbly, waiting for my screen to be filled with static, not knowing I wasn't affected, but unwilling to move because I was facing it.
Then, I quit. In this case, as the machine said, "the only winning move is not to play."