Slender Reflection

Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

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."

#1 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

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."

#2 Posted by von_wemberg (163 posts) -

I've played a decent amount of horror games and watched some movies... but this game (at least the amount I played it) managed to make me feel something that no other game or any type of fiction has made me feel. Not even close. I got to five pages on my second playthrough, kinda figuring out the mechanics of the game and also deciding to finish it. But didn't. When it caught me I felt the same kind of hopelessness and anxiety as with my first playthrough. I guess Amnesia would be the type of game that would evoke the same kind of emotions from me.

I feel kind of dumb for only saying this and nothing else, but... this is a really great read. Really knowledgeable and enjoyable!

#3 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@enpopica: Thanks for reading, appreciate your thoughts.

I didn't say above but I gave up and actually turned the light on at one point. The jump scare it gave was cheap, but it managed to get a gasp out of me, which was a bit unexpected. Like I try to imply, it's not actually hard for this game to pull these sorts of scares off with the tools it uses. But it's still remarkable to me that you can tell someone about a fear-inducing experience and have them just blow it off, but when you're actually in the middle of it, playing the role, there's something about that complicit behavior that involves you deeper.

I don't think this is the most freaky thing I've ever involved myself in (one of the scariest was when I tried to write a horror story and managed to channel a bit of the fear I was trying to write down into my own head, I guess), but it's decent. I think it would have benefited slightly from making the monster a bit less obviously a 3D model... like a more matte black body would have been awesome, and a vaguer face.

But yeah... I guess this is me admitting I was affected. :)

#4 Posted by von_wemberg (163 posts) -

@ahoodedfigure: The first time I played I managed to get 2 pieces, then noticing the static. My "feet" didn't move, looked around a bit and sure enough, Slenderman was a few feet away. I guess the sounds actually freaked me out more than the visual image of the monster. The first time I played and when I picked up the first piece of paper, the drum started beating at regular intervals. At that moment I asked myself why I was even playing it... The music and sound effects are a bit cheap, but they come across as really terrifying.

I guess the environment is interestingly designed, but yeah the monster should have been a bit different. Maybe they should have taken the time and perhaps studied more the art that has come up over the years. If they had made something that is in those pictures, that would have been more effective. There's this sort of less is more aspect of the design of the whole monster that reminded me of Lovecrafts "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" and the monster designs of Silent Hill. Mostly the second one. (And of course the movie, which takes the designs from the game...)

But then again... maybe the fact I was playing this game at about one or two in the morning might have had a more deeper impact on me than usual... :P

#5 Posted by ZombiePie (5662 posts) -

As someone who remembers reading over the original creepypasta on the SomethingAwful forums that created Slenderman and first responded to said thread "that's sounds stupid, no one would ever find this scary," I can honestly say that this game doesn't work for me nor ever will.

Moderator
#6 Posted by EquitasInvictus (2029 posts) -

I came into Slender unaware of the lore behind the Slender Man in advance, so going through the first few manuscripts definitely did a good job in building the tension for me. All I knew in advance was to never look behind me but what ended up happening was that I got a little more than halfway through (5th manuscript) and as I was staring at it and trying to read into it I lost control of the heroine(?) and she suddenly turned around to reveal the Slender Man and with a high pitch screech, fade out into static, and one final close up of the Slender Man I was booted to desktop.

I never realized the Slender Man had already gotten behind me at that point and I didn't even see him prior in my first playthrough, so the game succeeded in nearly traumatizing me in shock. I've never had a playthrough as intense as the first (but a few that were really close), but I definitely appreciated Slender.

It sounds even more intense how you ended up in a stalemate/stare-down with the Slender Man across a truck, though! Good rationale for quitting at the stalemate, however, considering that even if you find all the manuscripts, the Slender Man still gets you, so the closing quote was definitely appropriate.

#7 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@ZombiePie: I didn't really know about the back story until after I'd played. I find the idea of creating a monster of sorts and having it have a life of its own intellectually fascinating, but I don't think it would have added to the experience at all. Makes me wonder if folkloric myths are a reflection of the earliest kinds of memes, where something just resonated and spread organically between people.

@EquitasInvictus: One thing that I felt absolutely didn't work for me was the scrawled pages themselves. The creature and my relationship (running, mostly) with that character was central to the experience, but the pages felt... well, they're really hard to do right. I've seen so many of these "diary of the dude that got eaten"s over the years and they're so often blatantly expository as to sort of kill it for me. It's an interesting challenge to come up with something that acts as a portent of things to come, yet doesn't seem like the writer is trying to spook the player directly.

And since I was in the same boat as you I don't know what knowing about the Slender Man beforehand would have done for me. I'm willing to bet, given my reaction to the game, I would have been quicker to put the whole thing in context, like "OK, this is a specific monster they're trying to depict" and it would have taken a bit of the sting out of the Unknown behind it. The sneaky angel premise would probably be as effective no matter if it was connected to modern folklore or not... at least until I got used to it as a game-ish mechanic.

#8 Posted by Zrais (144 posts) -

"Then, I quit"

I also did this..wondering if I'll make it back.

#9 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -

Too Slender for Me

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