Slender is a free indie game by Parsec Productions based off the Slender Man mythos that originated in a Something Awful forum thread about fake paranormal pictures. His creation and history are a fascinating story, a community-driven monster myth in the making, so it was only a matter of time until someone made a game about him.
Slender is a simple game made by someone with an intuitive understanding of horror; everything in this game is designed to freak you out. You’re dropped into a small open world, a woodsy area at night, all you have is a flashlight, and you have to find eight sheets of paper before the Slender Man gets you. The catch is that the Slender Man can appear anywhere. It’s a game that plays off of our basest fears: Fear of the dark, fear of getting, lost, fear of getting chased, and each of these fears plays off another.
The Slender Man himself is scary as hell in his simplicity. He’s a faceless man in a black suit with unnaturally long arms; he doesn’t attack you, he doesn’t run after you, he doesn’t even really move—at least not that you can see. Instead, he just appears near you, out of thin air, sometimes at a distance and sometimes right behind you, but never in front of you. That’s what makes him so scary: He always appears where you’re not looking, so your natural tendency is to try and look everywhere so you’re not ambushed, but every time you turn you increase the likelihood of seeing him. You can’t actually look at him or you’ll die, so when you do see him the only option is to run away. It’s a monster that plays into our fundamental fear of the dark, of what we can’t see.
The music is great. It doesn’t actually start until you pick up a page, but the moment you do a low drum starts beating slowly, over and over again. There’s a subtle echo to the sound, and it’s naturally unnerving. As you collect more pages, more noise is added until the soundtrack becomes oppressive all by itself.
Like all good horror, there’s a slow build of tension in Slender, though a player can shorten that time the more they play. There are multiple distinctive landmarks that usually contain a page, but not always. Page locations are random, lending the game a rougelike quality. The more you play the easier it becomes to find pages since you know your way around the forest, but the randomness prevents the game from ever becoming easy, and when the Slender Man starts hunting you it’s scary no matter how familiar the woods are.
The forest is naturally creepy since anything can be hiding behind any tree, and you’re your mind starts to play tricks on you. In the dark and from a distance, the average tree trunk is about the same width as the Slender Man; you begin to see him everywhere.
Perhaps the funniest and most fun thing about Slender is how it can consistently turn even the most stoic player into a frightened child, and make us do all the stupid things we chastise characters for doing in a slasher flick. For example: If you see the Slender Man and he’s close to you, the music lets out a loud bang. It’s a cheap jump scare, but it works differently here than it does in the movies. You’ll jump (it’s a cheap scare but it is effective) and when you do your hand will move, which makes the mouse move, which causes the in-game character to spin around, which causes you to panic for a half second until you recover. This inevitably happens at least once per game because the jump scare is so instinctive and so physical. It’s wonderful to see an overused, clichéd scare tactic turned into something unique: An expression of pure panic felt in the real world and the virtual world.
Slender feels like the gaming equivalent of a campfire story: A short but evocative bit of horror that takes advantage of our primal fears.