Slender: The Well-Dressed Eldritch Horror
Slender: The Eight Pages is a game that set a standard for short horror games that still persists today. A quest to collect 8 scattered items while an invincible, ever-looming threat pursues you.
Since the game’s rise to popularity and the subsequent flood of games that also used the Slender Man as the antagonist, the figure has become a bit of a joke to some. To others though, he remains a potent symbol of terror.
While video games remain the focus of this figure, it is worth taking a brief foray into where he actually came from as most of the story around the character was built there.
In 2009l, these pictures showed up on the Something Awful forum. The figure in the top center of the left picture and the left of the second picture became infamous. The mythos that was formed around these pictures was soon added to by the creations of series such as Marble Hornets and TribeTwelve.
3 years after the original post, a game simply called Slender was released.
The game opens with your unidentified character, armed with a flashlight and a camera, entering a fenced off area of a forest with a simple goal:
After some time journeying through the trees you find the first page. An image that doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence.
The second you grab the page, a steady pounding sound begins, like firing cannons or ceremonial drums. Not long after, the screen flashes with static and a blank featureless face, and a horrible screaming pierces the ambiance. It’s gone as soon as it appears.
You are no longer safe. From this point on, The Slender Man is a constant threat in multiple ways. The first is as an obstacle. As you find more pages, you more frequently turn around and are greeted with this:
The screaming and static from before return and you are faced with a snap decision. You must alter your course and find a new, safer way, while one still exists. This momentary spike in fear is one of the two ways Slenderman works his magic.
The second is as your time limit. As more pages are collected it becomes more aggressive, harder to avoid, and quicker to kill you. When you have 7 pages of 8, it’s a gamble whether or not you survive to find the last. It will catch you, it’s only a matter of time.
Inevitably, with an invincible enemy, unwavering in its unknowable purpose, you will be caught. Even if you collect all 8 pages, it still wins in the end. Your vision hazes with static, and whatever comes next is undocumented, filled only with the Slenderman’s visage.
Slender is a very simple game with a very simple antagonist. He is a faceless man with long gangling arms, wearing a suit. All in all, the actual model itself is not very impressive. But where Slender‘s horror comes from is not the model, it is everything around it.
A commonly used horror adage is “the less you see, the scarier it is.” This is a main principle of Slender’s horror.
You environment is pitch black; without the flashlight it’s impossible to see anything. Outside of the limited cone of light, visibility dies a quick death. You have the noises of wildlife in the very beginning, but the moment the threat becomes real, all you have is the noise of your steps, your breathing, and the ambiance that drones in your ear constantly, growing only more dire as you get further.
The Slender Man itself has no grand entrance. It simply begins to appear after the first page is collected.
The player is never allowed to see the way it operates. When your eyes are on it, it’s stationary, when you look away, it moves. There are times when it may disappear altogether, showing back up at random. The obvious solution is to keep your eyes on it. But you can’t for too long. Why?
When it does catch you, your camera becomes overcome with static, and you are never allowed to see what it does to your character. You have only its face, gazing at the player with nonexistent eyes.
Jumpscares are used only when they should be, when the atmosphere had properly set the tone and put the player on edge, guaranteeing the scare will be effective.
All of these elements work together to make an effective horror game despite the lack of an overtly threatening appearance for it’s protagonist. Granted, this is not a problem that its successor would have.
But that’s another topic entirely.