GameCrank: Horror-rific Part 2: A Walk in the Woods and Nothing Else

Patrick

Part two of a two-part piece by Patrick Pontes.

Welcome back. Modern horror games are suffering because they’re letting go of the atmospheric, tension-building aspects of their design and instead focusing on action, combat, and spectacle. However, I also believe that there are horror games that suffer from doing the opposite, by not being engaging enough with the core mechanics of their gameplay and trying too hard to provoke mystery and suspense, which results in boredom similar to the sort I feel when I play “Resident Evil 6.” I think it’s a problem that these games are praised for merely attempting atmosphere and suspense when in fact they’re utilizing it poorly, and I feel they’re doing just as much damage to the genre and the industry as their gun-happy counterparts.

And by “these games,” I’m really talking about one game: “Slender: The Eight Pages.”

I want to clarify a few things first. The most important one is this: I don’t hate “Slender.” I think it’s important to state that I don’t really hate any game.. That said, there’s no reason why I can’t hate what a game symbolizes or stands for, and what I hate about “Slender” is its representation of the reactionary culture to modern trends in horror games. I have nothing against the people who made this game nor the people who like it, but I do have something against the philosophy and arguments that some of them may support.

Another thing that I should stress: “Slender” can be scary. Yeah, the overall game is boring, but the first five or ten minutes or so are great. The stillness, the darkness, the knowledge that nowhere is truly safe, and the droning music create this fantastic aura of suspense and mystery that few other games can match. When I first turned on the game, I was of the same opinion of most people who like this game. I thought it was doing a fantastic job.

Then, it kept doing that job. And again. And again. And again.

My problem with “Slender” isn’t mainly with what it’s doing, because for the most part, I actually really like what it’s doing. My problem comes from how much it’s doing it. The lack of proper lighting would’ve been fine in an isolated part of the forest, like inside the tile building that people are so fond of. However, to have that amount of darkness applied to the entire game is simply frustrating. I understand what it’s trying to do in terms of thematic presentation. Darkness does create a sense of blindness to the world around you, yeah, but that’s not a good thing when you’re trying to play a game. Navigation is nearly impossible because it’s so hard to tell where you’re going. Unless you’ve memorized the positions of every landmark on the map, much of your time is going to be spent walking stupidly in a straight line, hoping to bump into something. The game’s aesthetics and general design only focus on trying to build suspense and atmosphere, and the gameplay suffers as a result.

Speaking of suffering, let’s finally talk about the big boy himself: The Slender Man. Let’s go over the basics, shall we?

He is a tall, humanoid creature. He shares all the bodily characteristics of a normal person, however he has pure white skin and no facial features. He also wears a business suit, and when he’s about to kill you, he spawns black tentacles out of his back. He has no voice, other than the classic static-like screech when he nears you. It’s implied that he kills you when he catches up to you, but the pages around the forest only say he “takes” you. He never moves, but he’s an omnipresent force constantly pursuing you. While you might almost never see him, you know he’s always watching you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop him from his ultimate goal. There is also nothing that can kill or injure him, and almost nothing that will slow his progress. In the end, he will win and you will lose, no matter what you do.

There’s actually almost nothing wrong with Slender Man himself. Conceptually, Slender Man is a fantastic character. What’s wrong is how the game utilizes him. The aura of mystery surrounding the Slender Man mythos is classic boogieman material, but there’s an inherit flaw in portraying him as the main part of a story: there is no story. Slender Man is supposed to be a symbol, be it for conformity, or death, or oppression by the upper class. When you put him in the context of a game, however, you need context. Why is he here? Why are you here? Why is he chasing you? What are you trying to achieve? Where is this taking place? When is this talking place? Who made these pages? Where did he come from? Just who or what is the Slender Man?

The ultimate flaw with the Slender Man character is that the ambiguity that makes him a great character of folklore makes him unsuitable as part of an interactive videogame. A videogame isn’t a campside story. You can’t suspend your disbelief for so long. You are perceiving the world not through the words of a narrator, but with your very own eyes and ears. The small details become more apparent, and so do the flaws. The mystery and wonder of the Slender Man melts into confusion and boredom when I can play a part of one of his legends, and it turns an otherwise intriguing idea into an unengaging, sagging mess of a story.

Some might say that I’m over-analyzing this game, and that the ambiguity of the Slender Man legend is the whole point of the game. While I wish this was true, I simply have no choice, If the game was more dynamic, more developed, then I wouldn’t have been so bored as to resort to looking for other mediums of engagement with “Slender.”

A world with atmosphere and nothing else is a very boring place, and so is the world of “Slender.”

GameCrank is written by Patrick Pontes.

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