On Halloween, a small band of us got together with our flashlights & binkies & played Slender: The Eight Pages. I’d wanted to try it out for a few weeks, & for some reason, it seemed like a fun group game to me.
If you’re not familiar with the game, you begin the game with the admonition, “Collect all 8 pages.” You’re armed with a flashlight that you need to conserve, & you can walk or run through the map in the dark, which consists mostly of forest & several landmarks & clearings where the pages can be. You can’t fight or speak. Once you pick up a page (or enough time has passed), Slenderman will begin to chase you, & with each successive page you collect, his chase will grow more intense. If he catches you or you look at him too long, you’ll go insane, & it’s game over. Sounds like the perfect Halloween game for getting scared, right?
OGT & Pontifus played with us long distance through Skype & played through a couple of lives apiece; Pontifus even got up to five pages.
Cuchlann & I played together; I had the keyboard, & he had the mouse. Remarkably, the mechanics of this worked out quite well, once we fussed with mouse sensitivity. One of the things that didn’t work is that we traveled very slowly—so slowly, in fact, that we only played one life. We managed to find three pages over the course of our time…& after that, the flashlight died. & with that died Cuchlann’s willingness to go any farther, indicated by a repeated, “Nope,” until we closed the game & he deleted it from his computer.
The curious note, though, is that while I certainly found the structure of the game to be unsettling, I also found it to be rather funny, which I don’t think Cuchlann appreciated as we wandered through the darkness with me grinning & hunched over the keyboard. I giggled every time we found a page & scampered away with static & Slenderman following us.
It’s not necessarily my typical reaction to horror to laugh at it; I find nothing to chuckle at in “The Screwfly Solution” or in Resident Evil 5, which I joined Cuchlann in partway with nothing but a PISTOL.
So why would Slender be any different? All three of these actually rely on similar scare & horror styles, I would argue. All three depend on building an atmosphere, visually or textually, of steady, stressful buildup. We could say that the pages of Slender are reminiscent of the epistolary style of “The Screwfly Solution.” & certainly the hard BOO scares (more on this in just a minute) of RE 5 & Slender are the same, & depending on the person, this style of scare is either a little dull or piss-inducing. However, there’s something very different about how Slender feels to me, & I think it’s because for me, it feels less like a game or story or movie, & feels more like a haunted house.
Now, perhaps my own experience behind the scenes of scares has biased me a little. I worked in a haunted house for three seasons, & I would do it again in a heartbeat. But allow me to elaborate for a moment.
Well put-together haunted houses are strange places for many reasons. The good ones have invested well in the atmosphere, not just walls & furniture & decor, but also in sound & smell. Each room (or set of rooms) should have its own smell, & there are scents sold accordingly (dead leaves, rotting wood). Even when not scaring patrons, actors are often advised to make noise (screaming, knocking on the walls). We’re also advised to watch patrons before we scare them & gauge what style of scare will be most effective for the group. Suffice it to say, when going for a scare, we can boil down scare styles into “soft”& “hard.” Soft scares, we can say, would involve simply walking/stumbling/crawling out & whispering or hissing, or staring at people. Hard scares are the big BOO—popping out for a fast reaction. Both styles could result in screams, pee, &/or poop (yes, bowel control was an issue). Ultimately, there are three reasons actors scare the patrons: 1) the patrons want to be scared; 2) the actors need to move the patrons forward, & the scare is usually the quickest way to achieve that end; & 3) scaring patrons is freaking hilarious.
& whenever you are in a haunted house, you are being watched. You’re being watched by any nearby actors. You’re probably also being watched by security, because you might be surprised by the number of people who come in soused or high out of their minds & think trying to punch someone is a good idea.
I think Slender operates on a similar level. Slenderman watches the player. His soft scares are the static he creates when he’s near the player. He stands around corners waiting for you to see him, because he knows that just the sight of him is frightening, & he wants to move you around the map his way. He chases after you when you reach certain points of the “house”—ie, picking up pages—to get you to move faster forward.
In addition to that, it seems like Slender is more than just playing the game. It’s also about watching the player(s) play the game. Many videos don’t just show the game footage of Slender; they also show reactions of the players. In a way, viewing the video forces the viewer into the position of the actor/Slenderman in observing the scare/reaction.
I think because of this, I somehow wind up connecting with Slenderman more than I do the character I play as. I imagine myself again scaring people, darting back behind the curtain, & stifling my laughter as they scream. I get to see the reactions of other people as they play, like they were going through my area in the house.
Of course, maybe this is all merely because I’m a psychopath.
Slender: The Eight Pages is free to play & available from Parsec Productions.