Find pages, collect pages, avoid creepy stalker dude. That’s it, that’s the entire premise of Slender, the indie game phenomenon created by Parsec Productions that swept the internet back in June. It’s simple, it’s short and frankly, it’s cheaply made. It shouldn’t have been something that appealed to the mainstream gaming media, but it did.
But why did it? What exactly made Slender as popular as it is? Is it because it’s a good game, or is it just treated like a meme? Would people have paid for it? Is this an indication of changes to come in the horror genre? And more importantly, does urine stain jeans?
Slender uses a basic but scary premise. You’re lost in the woods looking for hidden pages, have no real tool of navigation and are under the constant stress of being watched, stalked and murdered by a creepy, mysterious figure. It’s really not that complex of a game and yet it’s massively popular, with the most popular playthrough video of it on YouTube amassing over 5 millions hits.
Well… I say playthrough, but in actuality it’s a viral reaction video, one that probably vastly increased the number of plays the game received. Is this why the game reached almost mainstream levels of attention – is it shared virally and to friends just to see if they can handle the quick scare? Is its success akin to that of ‘The Maze Game‘? Possibly, but I’d like to think there’s more to it than that and that it would’ve been successful without the attention brought to it from reaction videos.
On its own merit, the game is interesting, even with all of its simplicity. It may be ‘cool’ to suggest that Slender is in no way scary or creepy, but it’s just not true; lots of people find the game legitimately scary enough to feel frightened and plenty more find it eerie. Being lost in the woods with no direction and occasionally spotting your stalker following you is unnerving, but what really separates Slender from generic horror titles is the feeling of utter helplessness. Playing horror games like Resident Evil is all-well-and-good, but even when facing a terrifying enemy it’s difficult to feel too intimidated or scared when you’re only too aware that you can theoretically kill it. It’s why the most memorable part of Dead Space for me was encountering the Regenerator. Having it stalk you for the majority of the level without being able to permanently stop it is incredibly intimidating. The knowledge of having the potential to defeat the enemy prevents players from being capable of properly fearing it – after all, that makes it too dependent on your ammo count or skill as a player and the majority of gamers have confidence in their gaming abilities, believing that they’re good at gaming (even if they’re not particularly).
But with games like Slender, you are totally, entirely helpless. You can’t hunt the enemy, you can’t predict the enemy, you can’t kill the enemy and you can’t particularly escape the enemy. Feeling isolated and trapped with a creepy, unkillable enemy is what separates this game from other horror games. With this and games like Amnesia, we may see a growing trend in horror games that don’t supply you with a weapon. Horror games have already played with the ‘fight’ aspect of our fight-or-flight instinct, so perhaps it’s time for games to experiment with the other half.
That’s not even all Slender has going for it, being that it was obviously based off of the already popular creepy Slenderman meme and is short and simple enough for a quick pick-up-and-play. The experience of fear is something we can share with others, so this new-ish sort of horror is something that people want to share with each other.
So, would people pay for it? Maybe. What with all the Slender clones coming out (including at least two Slender-inspired Steam games) I suppose we’ll soon find out. If horror games do continue following this trend, I can’t imagine that Slender will stand up very well in five years time.
Oh, and yes – urine will wash out of your jeans, so go and enjoy this frankly great game if you’re in the minority of those that haven’t experienced it yet.