Welcome to Eight Steps Forward, our unique Year in Review series that looks at specific games from 2012 that were touchstone moments of growth within the medium. The eight games featured in this series are progressive in genre, design, gameplay, and narrative. Spoilers will abound. Read our first piece here.
As a startling tale of minimalism, Mark J. Hadley’s game Slender: The Eight Pages lends itself to the player’s imagination, for better or worse, as the main character – many say she’s a woman – tries to escape the clutches of a faceless man. The game, a free download available for PC and Mac, has haunted many a screen, and perhaps later terrified Hadley’s one-man company Parsec Production, inspired by the Slender Man myth. In less than a year, more than 50 rip-off and “inspired by” games have been reported – or promoted! – by fans.
Thus, Slender: The Eight Pages raises questions about the survival horror genre, as well as how a game’s success is measured. It also raises questions about where we draw the line between copyright infringement and fan modding.
Slender: The Eight Pages distills the survival horror genre to some of its best parts – poor lighting, surprise attacks, ambient sounds (heavy breathing, static, footsteps) and the main character’s helplessness against the supernatural. Those are present in complex and eye-popping games like Metro 2033, set in a post-nuclear Russia, and even as far back as Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, with that title bastard tracking Jill Valentine to no end.
Slender: The Eight Pages rejects the complex. The player is constrained in a relatively small of dark woods and tasked a simple objective: Find the eight pages, or die. The Slender Man grows nearer and nearer and the ambient sounds intensify as the character picks up pages. With that in mind, the player is forced to move with haste while also keeping her imagination in check. Most players fail, feeling breathless and bewildered in the wake of death. As Bit Creature’s own Ryan Winslett once said about the game’s amazing approach: “It is an exercise in simplicity, yet it so effortlessly terrifies the people who play it. And that is exactly why it deserves to be discussed.”
Slender: The Eight Pages has also haunted YouTube, where fans upload reaction videos, fodder for vicarious terror and fun. It’s reaches the likes of tweens, new voices on the web, and even PewDiePie, a king of colorful commentary and playthroughs, whose four-part series on the game has millions of views.
When I played, it was 1 a.m.. My lights were off, save for the glow of my screen, and I was wearing noise-cancelling headphones. I embodied the main character, her flashlight, footsteps, pulse … and fear.
If you’ve read anything about the game, you know what happened next. About 20 minutes later, I was wondering why the hell I started the game, and whether I would sleep well that night. (No.) I felt like Winslett: “… what really makes this setting so unsettling is the knowledge that somewhere in these woods, the Slender Man is waiting for me. A fabricated urban legend, the Slender Man is a tall figure with elongated limbs and a white, featureless face.”
The afternoon after my Slender nightmares, I was sitting around drinking coffee with a few friends. Our conversation started like this:
There’s a game that scared the shit scariest out me last night and you should all play it.
You’re in these woods, trying to collect pages while running away from this faceless guy named Slender Man. It’s …
“Is it White Noise?” one friend interrupted.
I told him that White Noise: A Tale of Horror, available as Xbox Live Indie game for 80 MS Points, is just one of more than 50 games that have, depending who you ask, ripped from the pages of Hadley’s game. From Slender 2D to various Android and iOS games, they’ve created a spectrum of Slender. Each of these games should be evaluated with this question: If this is a line between copyright infringement and fan modding, on what side of that line does it stand?
To be fair, let’s entertain another question. Slender: The Eight Pages was inspired by the Slender Man myth, which has origins on the website Something Awful. (Track the timeline here.) For that reason, is Slender: The Eight Pages an original product or one of the first fan interpretations? Because Slender: The Eight Pages took inspiration, does that mean others fans are permitted the same license?
Regardless, the game should be considered a resounding success because of those fan rip-offs, if you will. While they might feel a little backhanded, these are compliments to Hadley’s creativity. Haunt: The Real Slender Game, though a graphical delight, is a sucker punch.
Here’s hoping that Hadley’s next game, Slender: The Arrival, packs something stronger – and awfully terrifying.
About the Author:
Rich Shivener is the Lead Editor of Bit Creature. He is also a writer, instructor and iPad whisperer from the shores of Northern Kentucky. You can find him in Publishers Weekly and Writer's Digest, among other places.
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