Thursday, 16 August 2012

SLENDER - A Brief History of Slenderman

I don’t want to be a dick, but I was crapping my pants over Slenderman before it was cool. Slenderman has a long and colourful history of making the bottom drop out of peoples’... bottoms, which extends far beyond his recent iteration in the indie game “Slender”.

Slender seems to have cropped up recently due to a number of prominent YouTubers picking it up as the perfect “Let’s Play” game. You spawn in first person, in a pitch black forest with only your torch to light your way. The game is almost completely silent other than your quiet breathing, and soft footfalls – both of which gradually get louder and more frantic as you progress through the game.

The idea is to collect pages from a notebook. These will be stapled to trees, abandoned cars and other landmarks across the map – eight in total. Each time you pick up a page the music will build to ramp-up the tension. Picking up pages or excessive running also alerts your presence to the antagonist of the piece – the eponymous Slenderman.

Clad in his typical black suit and white shirt, Slendy is a tall, faceless being with long, stick-like limbs. You never see or hear him move, you will only see him standing stock-still, staring at you out of the darkness. The more you look at him, the closer he will be the next time you spot him. The upshot of this is that when he catches you, it will be because you’ve turned to run and found him standing directly behind you – breathing down your neck.

The reason Slender is the perfect “Let’s Play” game is because the typical player rarely lasts beyond the first two or three pages, which limits the video to around five to seven minutes in length. In addition, there is nothing scarier than hearing a grown man whimper in terror as he jumps and hides from shadows and trees.

For those regular viewers of YouTubers such as TobyTurner, PewDiePie, Whiteboy7thSt, Syndicate or the GAMafia (Trout91, Sam5000, Joshflip1989 etc) this may be their first encounter with the Slenderman mythos, so could be forgiven for thinking that Parsec Productions came up with the idea themselves. In fact, the Slenderman story extends way back to 2009 and passes through a number of different phases before we reach the point we are at now.

Since its inception some 3 years ago (Slenderman’s birthday, to be exact, is 10th June) the character has weedled his way into the internet consciousness. His rise to fame is interesting because it brings with it a certain uncertainty about his ontological existence – is he really still just a fabrication of Victor Surge’s somewhat twisted mind? Or has he passed through the void; from fiction to reality? Has Slenderman become a Tulpa?

For those not quite in the know; the Slenderman is a character created on the Something Awful forums in a thread asking for posters to take old photographs and Photoshop a fictitious creature into the scene, and then attempt to spread them as genuine images. The poster “Victor Surge” posted two images (here's a link to the exact moment of Slenderman's creation) – one of a number of children running from something and one of a playground with a number of small children playing. In each picture VS shooped a tall, thin figure into the background – a figure with long tentacle-like arms. After VS posted his images, the imagination of the other posters was hooked, and they continued to post a number of new images – each with Slenderman lurking in the background.

The passages which VS posted alongside his original images formed the foundation of the Slenderman myth:

“We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time...” – 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.

One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence – 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986”

VS’s “Slender Man” was set up as a Lovecraftian child-abductor, and through the works of VS and the other denizens of Something Awful the mythos surrounding Slenderman (as he eventually became known) was fleshed out.
Another of Victor's Slenderman Pics

Just 10 days after Slenderman’s inception on Something Awful, the Marble Hornets YouTube channel started posting its “Entries”. The Entries are short videos taken from a doomed student film project directed by Alex Kralie (played by Joseph DeLage), cut together and presented in form of a documentary investigation of the strange goings on by Jay (Troy Wagner).

In the introduction, Jay tells us that he helped Alex to film his student film “Marble Hornets” one summer, but Alex mysteriously called off the shoot halfway through and moved away without explanation. Much later Alex passed the tapes to Jay, asking him to destroy them, instead Jay watched the tapes and witnessed Alex’s eventual descent into madness as he is stalked and tortured by Slenderman.

Jay is also stalked by a second antagonist, the mysterious “ToTheArk” figure, who posts cryptic video replies to a number of the entries. The general consensus is that the mysterious masked man who attacks Jay (shown below) is the YouTuber ToTheArk.

The Marble Hornet Entries are a mixture of clips from the original film set, home videos which Alex shot whilst alone, and footage of the contemporary events of Jay’s investigations.

The series is now in its second Season, with Jay now tracking down Tim – another member of the Marble Hornets crew – and attempting to piece together his memories of the months between the end of the first season, and the start of the second.

Marble Hornets has added loads of important features to the Slenderman mythos - a number of which feature heavily in the Slender game.  These include Slenderman’s ability to interfere with and corrupt electronic equipment, seemingly at will (this is demonstrated during the game when Slendy finally catches you and seems to take a hold of your screen and cause significant distortion). A number of times when Slenderman is seen on screen in Marble Hornets the video begins to crackle or break up – with significant visual tearing (the actual introduction of this as a facet of Slenderman’s powers may have been unintentional on the part of the MH crew – as they might simply have been using the video distortion to mask the low-budget nature of their Slenderman costume). The scrawled nature of the note pages which you collect in Slender is taken directly from the MH series (who were, themselves, influenced by an earlier blog-series - Just Another Fool (JAF)):

A page in Slender

Alex's scrawling in Marble Hornets Entry #8

Other features introduced by MH, such as Slenderman’s affinity with fire (reinforced by the fire at the old hospital which Jay is currently investigating in his latest entry, the burning down of Jay’s apartment at the end of series 1, and the picture of the burning forest which features in the earlier episodes of Season 1), are now accepted as canon in the Slenderman mythos, though they don't feature in the game.

One group which embraced the series was the Alternative Reality Gaming community – due to the accessible nature of the characters (being able to follow Jay on Twitter for example) and coupled with the cryptic nature of ToTheArk’s videos – which, through some crafty audio/visual decryption can be found to contain secret messages relating to the series. Even to this day, one of the most active sections of the UnFiction forum is the Slenderman Mythos board – started by the Just Another Fool story, bolstered by the Marble Hornets series and then maintained by a number of young pretenders (Tribe Twelve, Everyman Hybrid and other low-budget series).

Marble Hornets is the project which brought Slenderman out of the Something Awful and /x/ 4chan threads and into the wider community.

I feel a strange sense of ownership over Slenderman. Possibly because I've followed the Marble Hornets series from the very start, and watched it grow into an internet phenomenon. I can't say it has always been a wholly enjoyable experience - the creations (such as MH and Slender) which are spawned when people start mucking around with the Slenderman idea are often cack-yo-pants scary, but it has certainly been a ride.

Of course, tall dark figures with elongated limbs, pale skin and eerie movements are disturbingly common in pop culture. Slender is just another in a long-line of terrifying iterations of the same meme:

Some of the examples above are directly influenced by Slenderman (such as the Endermen from Minecraft) whereas others seem to just prey on the same primal fears which, evidently, dwell deep down inside each of us (such as the Silence from Dr Who and the Gentlemen from Buffy). My mind is drawn back to a creepypasta I read a while back, strikingly relevant to this post, so that's how I'll end it, methinks:

Many classic horror icons, such as Geiger’s xenomorphs, Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head, and other disturbing creatures, share common characteristics. Pale skin, dark, sunken eyes, elongated faces, sharp teeth, and the like. These images inspire horror and revulsion in many, and with good reason. The characteristics shared by these faces are imprinted in the human mind.

Many things frighten humans instinctively. The fear is natural, and does not need to be reinforced in order to terrify. The fears are species-wide, stemming from dark times in the past when lightning could mean the burning of your tree home, thunder could be the approaching gallops of a stampede, predators could hide in darkness, and heights could make poor footing lethal.

The question you have to ask yourself is this:

What happened, deep in the hidden eras before history began, that could effect the entire human race so evenly as to give the entire species a deep, instinctual, and lasting fear of pale beings with dark, sunken eyes, razor sharp teeth, and elongated faces?
… Just be careful out there.

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