I love survival horror games.
Let me say that again.
I LOVE survival horror games!
Now I can remember a time in video games where survival horror games were just what the genre said they were : horror games. I remember fondly on the days when I first discovered games such as Silent Hill, Parasite Eve, Fatal Frame, and the grand-daddy of them all, Resident Evil. Ah yes, that was childhood for me. Nothing spelt ‘Fun’ more than just sitting in front of my television, nursing a gallon Pepsi with a bowl of Cheetos at my side while clutching my controller in terror at the pixelated zombie threatening to eat me.
Nowadays, however, the survival horror games have been given a make-over and more gun-totting action sequences have been added in for more thrills. Games such as Dead Space, Fear, and even the Resident Evil series have become more of a heart-pounding, action-paced thrill rides over the years, making the survival horror genre more of than it once was several years ago. While the change is good for some and, at times, needed in this age of first-persons shooters, for someone such as myself, this isn’t the genre I grew up with. Don’t get me wrong; change is good. But overtime, game creators have but all completely abandoned the very roots of what the genre was based off of. The slow-pace built to something terrifying has been replaced with quick time events followed with gun battles against a colossal monster. Sure it’s fun, but it’s a different flavor than what I’m used to.
At the risk of sounding old here, in the old days of survival horror, players were made to navigate through not just a collection of spine-tingling events, but also their own fears. I have always said that psychological horror is perhaps the best kind of horror as is our own fears and insecurities that become our worst enemy. Just like great horror movies, survival horror games gave us just enough information on the enemies we were up against to pique our curiosity. And trust me when I say that games such as Silent Hill knew how to do that very well.
Take characters such Pyramid Head for example.
This was a moment of true terror for me back then. So many questions ran through my head. What the heck was this guy? Who was he? Why is he here? Why is he just standing there? This silent entity didn’t need any flash jump scare or quick-time event to fill me with fear. His very presence, standing right in front of me was enough to make me second guess on what I was playing. And just as soon as he appeared, he was gone. That’s what I mean by giving the player just enough to go on. From what little information we have, we ultimately end up drawing our own image and explanations…and anything we can create in our heads is far more terrifying than anything game creators can come up with.
Enter the Slender man.
By now, the legend of the Slender man is something that just about every gamer has familiarize themselves with. What began as an internet meme on 4chan to a series created by Marble Hornets to a game that has been scaring the pants off everyone who plays it. Don’t believe me?
The attraction of the Slender man, I believe, has to be the mystery surrounding him. Little is known or shared about this character other than he (it) is a creature of unknown origins and whose main purpose in life (other than scaring the piss out of us) is to hunt down victims who have encountered him, claim them as his own, and take them to unknown place. Those unlucky enough to meet up with this figure are ultimately doomed to madness, writing incoherent notes of warnings to anyone who will listen until they are finally taken. Is he a creature of good or evil? How long has he been around? What is his interest in those who see him, preferably children? Where is he taking them? None of these questions are really ever answered while playing the game, and that there is the beauty of the legend.
The game is a mystery, pure and simple. A nail-biting, sweat producing, scream-your-head-off-and-run-out-of-the-room crying experience that I haven’t had in a long time. And obviously, no one else has had if the amount of reaction videos are anything to prove. From the debut of the game, Slender had all the elements of a horror game or a movie. An unknown location, a silent atmosphere that begins to change ever so slightly as you venture further, and a strange figure that stalks you every move. All your power is stripped away, and your only defense is to flee as fast and as far as you can. A fruitless endeavor as you come to realize their is no escape from the Slender man. Sounds like the backing to every 80’s horror movie, yet it works oh-so well.
There is one concern I have about Slender, and it’s a concern that I believe is already happening. With anything that gains enormous popularity runs the risk of something I like to call The Saw Effect. Back when the movie Saw was beginning to gain recognition and sequels in were being planned, the allure that drew in so many people quickly began to lose steam. It was classic burnout, and I am beginning to see the same thing happening with Slender with other games trying to re-capture the same stalking formula.
My opinion: stop before the scare tactic doesn’t work anymore. Slender is a marvelous piece of survival horror which I believe has the potential in bringing the genre back to its original glory. With the right treatment, it could even make a terrifyingly good horror movie in fact. But only if what attracted people in the first place hasn’t lost its appeal before it has a chance to shine. I for one would hate to see this game lose steam way before its time.