Urban Legends of the Internet: Slender: the Eight Pages
Does anyone else remember the show The Storyteller? That amazing, short-lived TV show in the 80's from Jim Henson?
Essentially, the show was an anthology of classic folklore and fairy tales, hosted by the eponymous Storyteller (played by John Hurt and later Michael Gambon) and his ever-present dog companion, voiced and operated by Brian Henson. And it was GREAT. This show was imaginative, colourful, dark and brooding at times, bright and cheery at others. It was propelled forward by a simple premise: aren't the strange and wonderful things we dream up COOL? Folklore is a goldmine of imagination. Dragons, ogres, trolls, fairies...and perhaps the most dazzling thing of all is that it's still growing.
True, it is tempered by modernity's current wave of cynicism, but even against the tide of internet skepticism, we have people dreaming up creatures and stories and myths. And we call them Urban Legends.
One such Urban Legend - one that is fully acknowledged to be a creation, not a tale with any basis in real life events - is that of the Slender Man.
Slender Man is the freak-child of a Something Awful forum contest, where participants were asked to photoshop pictures with their own ideas for a paranormal occurrence. Eric Knudsen entered an amalgamation of the ideas of Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Tall Man character from Phantasm. Depicted as a skinny, hugely tall, blank-faced man in a suit, the Slender Man has oversized arms and is usually accompanied by black tendrils growing out of his back.
Knudsen's creation struck a chord with the internet, and since his debut in 2009, Slender Man has been the product of fiction, videos, mockumentaries, and - you guessed it - video games, the first and perhaps best known of which is Slender: The Eight Pages.
In Slender: The Eight Pages, you play someone dumb enough to go looking for Slender Man in the woods. At night. Alone. Because hey, you ain't 'fraid of no stupid Urban Legend, right?
Your goal in the game, which takes place in cozy first-person view, is to track through the pitch-black woods with your flashlight, seeking out eight pages which give clues to the mythos around the Slender Man. Naturally, Mr. Slender Man don't take too kindly to this, and he stalks you down for the purpose of...well, I'm not entirely sure. But it ain't good.
The pages you find contain such helpful information as "Always Watches - No Eyes," "Don't Look, Or It Takes You" and simply "NONONONONONONONONONONONO." (had to count to make sure I got the right number of "NO"s).
For such a simple game, Slender: The Eight Pages sure does work well. My favourite story about it involves a friend "gifting" it to another friend. Hours later, the gifter received this text from the giftee: "F--K YOU. I wanted to sleep tonight."
What makes the Slender Man such a compelling figure for the internet, and for pop culture, is his malleability. Since he is rather loosely defined, he can flex to meet the needs of the content creator, and, for that matter, the audience. Like I said, I don't know WHAT the Slender Man does to you when he finds you. I only know that the screen goes all blurry, there's a horrible screeching noise, and darkness.
It is that malleability that I think helps contribute to his enduring popularity. This is echoed in his physical appearance: the faceless entity is one we assign our own meaning to. His suit is merely an indicator of a being adopting the cultural norms of the time. His gender is an assumption of that costume; perhaps he is genderless.
The canon of Slender Man is constantly growing and shifting, an apt metaphor for his very existence as a creation of the internet, itself a semi-organic beast of formless, evolving identity. What will you contribute to Slender Man?