Slender Man

As you all know, the day before yesterday was Halloween. Previous years for me have always consisted of either dressing up in ridiculous costumes and asking strangers for candy, or attending socially awkward parties. Don’t get me wrong, these timeless traditions hold a fond place in my memories, but this year a couple of my friends and I decided to make Halloween scary again.

We all met up at one of the two’s houses and played Halo (Combat Evolved of course) until it was dark out. It was at this point that the idea was brought up that we all download an indie horror game called Slender. This idea wasn’t novel (we had all become involved in another indie horror game called Amnesia: The Dark Descent a little under a year earlier) but it certainly appealed to the three of us at the time. Once the download was complete, the lights were turned off, headsets were donned, and the game was started up. I’m not going to go into specifics, but if you want to you can check it out here (it doesn’t look nearly as scary as it actually is.) Within minutes our veins were coursing with adrenaline and our minds and psyches were all but broken.

But why? Looking back, it’s nearly impossible to explain why this game was so scary, it just was. I can’t remember being this frightened by anything… ever! But beyond the question of, “Why did this scare me?” I have to ask, what is it about the horror genre that scares everyone? Anyone can startle someone else by jumping out from behind a corner, but there is something else that made this game, and every game or movie like it absolutely terrifying.

After sitting, thinking, and addressing the internet for awhile, I have come to the following conclusions as to what makes things scary.

1. What people find scary will vary depending on culture, but the one thing that seems to be a consistent trait is being alone.
Almost every horror movie, book, or game features some form of being all by yourself. Whether the character is a child whose parents own or bought a house far away from the rest of civilization (Hide and Seek, The Orphan, The Shining, The Haunting in Connecticut) or someone who goes out on a hike/vacation/drive through the middle of nowhere (Gerald’s Game, Misery, The Blair Witch Project, Dead Space) it always has the theme that you or the protagonist are in a foreign environment and something isn’t right.

2. It’s in a location we cannot control.
Another thing that almost every horror story has in common is the setting. What do seemingly abandoned castles/space stations (Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dead Space, Alien) and inescapable forests (Gerald’s Game, Slender, Blair Witch) have in common? We have no control over them. We don’t know our way through or around them, and we have no idea what horrors they may hold. On camping trips, we sit in the middle of the eerily quiet and dark woods, around a crackling fire that we believe will keep us safe (Frankenstein, Werewolves, Zombies, and Bigfoot {among others} are all afraid of fire) and tell scary stories.

3. We are afraid of our own inhumanity.
When it comes to monsters and horrifying creatures, we seem to have a broad and colorful list. However, looking closely one may notice a theme: the scariest part of them is that they are everything we like to pretend we moved past long ago. All the aforementioned monsters who are afraid of fire, also display all the traits we attribute to our darker, primitive side. They are violent, incapable of reasoning, cruel, animalistic, and uneducated. The very fact that they are afraid of fire only shows where we seem to habitually draw the line between our primitive and more civilized selves.
To be fair, we do move away from this generality occasionally, though it’s only to focus on the exact opposite. Once you move on from the ghosts and ghouls the only things left to scare us are alien abductions and mad science experiments. Unmatched technology and intelligence at the hands of malevolent beings who don’t feel remorse or regret. We fear technology because of its cold detachment and inability to feel: its inhumanity. 

Perhaps the reason I was most afraid of the Slender Man is because he (it) contains all of these aspects. You don’t know what he is, only that you and he are alone in a forest, he dresses well, is unarmed, and doesn’t have the common courtesy to let you know he’s right behind you. Through all of this, he’s also the last thing you see before you die, and you don’t have any idea why. To top it off, he doesn’t have a face – the ultimate attribute of humankind.