We are all afraid of the dark.
Even our earliest ancestors hated not knowing what might be beyond the firelight: saber tooth tigers, vengeful spirits, or people with malicious intentions.
As author Chuck Wendig explains, we fear most the horror we can’t imagine, “Horror often operates best when it plays off this core notion that the unknown is a far freakier quantity than the known.” Lovecraft understood this better than most, capturing the ultimate horror, the ultimate unknown by making cosmic monsters so unknowable, they would drive their victims insane.
To cope with this innate fear, my old literature professor explained we prefer to create our own monsters as a way of putting a face to the unknown, turning our nameless fears of death, violence and helplessness into boogeymen, vampires and devils; making the unknown, known. That’s what I expected when I played the free downloadable horror game, Slender.
I was wrong and was forced to face something far more frightening.
The game takes place in a dark, abandoned forest. Armed with only a flashlight, your goal is to find eight manuscripts, each containing clues to the Slender Man’s identity, the monster stalking you from the darkness. Each clue scattered along the forest shed some proverbial light on the monster’s origin. In this sense, the game mirrors our quest to illuminate the unknown.
The game and its monster were created by a community of writers from the macabre Something Awful Forums, a meme of amalgamated fears.
The myth was borne from many contributors, each adding their own dark fears to his assembly, trying to put a face to the faceless:
But ultimately, the result was a formless monster:
Not much is known, as no specific information has been found about origins, but his objective and habitat are made very clear. He has the need to kidnap children, and is seen right before the disappearance of a child or multiple children. He seems to prefer fog-enshrouded streets and wooded areas as a way to conceal himself from being noticed. It should also be noted that children have been able to see him when no other adults in the vicinity could. Children also have dreams or nightmares concerning The Slender Man before their disappearance. Confiding these stories to their parents are met with the usual parental admonition: overactive imaginations.
Adults have fears too, but no one to confide in. We have no reprieve except to watch our horrors play out on the TV screen long after the kids are in bed. We cope by attaching our fears to Freddy Krueger or the boogeyman, to express our accumulated dread, and call it silly; Freddy Krueger isn’t waiting in the darkness outside our window.
So I searched for the Slender Man’s clues in the dark forest, hoping to find catharsis for my real fears in the virtual forest.
I walked aimlessly, my fingers gripping the keyboard, nervously glancing around the screen for any sign of my silent stalker.
In the distance I saw a clearing. They say you can see the Thin Man in the distance at any point in the game, but I did not want to look for him. I made my way to the clearing, and was drawn like countless players before me, to the large rock in the centre. On the grey surface a yellow square of parchment was plastered, a note with letters scrawled as if written in haste or by an unsteady hand.
I spent the rest of my avatar’s short life searching for these clues, each bringing me closer to the knowledge of who the Thin Man was.
Until, walking the perimeter of an abandoned truck, I found the last clue I would ever need.
A shape, a point of black fabric, stood out behind the vehicle I just circled, something that had not been there a minute ago.
Curiosity is a hard impulse to control. Even as I rounded the truck to see what it was, I realized I already knew but it was too late.
As the screen dissolved and the unspoken dread, the one that causes us to double check locked doors and install porch lights in our backyards, filled my senses I realized my folly.
The Thin Man wasn’t a face for the unknown. He was the unknown. The clues were red herrings, like watching horror movies; no matter how many fires we light, the darkness always lies just beyond.
And in this way, Slender Man reveals most horror entertainment for what it is, our own self-deception, a poor coping mechanism for the horror of the unknown. Like the Thin Man, the unknown keeps coming, closer and closer until we have nowhere else to run.
Lovecraft was wrong. Insanity doesn’t come from confronting the unknown, but rather from living in fear of it. And if the Thin Man had a visible face with horrible red eyes and cruel crooked teeth, he would’ve been no different from all the rest.
Instead, his faceless cowl reminds us that we cannot escape the unknown by making up our own monsters.