Games With Slender Man Miss the Point - Why is Slender Man Scary?
Ah yes, Slender Man.
Somehow this brilliant cultural non-icon has disappeared from recent discussions - and that's a shame. Birthed from the Something Awful forums by user Victor Surge in 2009, the mythos has been populated primarily by the form of Troy Wagner and Joseph DeLage's ongoing ARG, Marble Hornets. Marble Hornets has been running on YouTube and Twitter since June 2009 and is the primary source of the Slender Man mythos - references to Slender Man are references to the mythos as defined by Wagner and DeLang's monster.
Slender Man is a household name, an unknown terror, and one of the most relevant villains of this day and age (if it is even actually a villain). Slender Man has permeated our culture and slipped in and out of the popular consciousness. There are Slender Man shirts, plushies, and video games.
All these artifacts occupy a strange space, however. A space where their existence defangs Slender Man by putting a face to the faceless and taking the Slender out of the mimetic machine. Slender ex deo, so to speak. Even more unnerving is that the face given is, of course, faceless.
These Slender Man artifacts are problematic.
While I do highly encourage and value this sort of fan interaction, where fans of the Slender Man mythos have taken a sort of postmodern ownership of a character for proliferation, the fan effort has missed its mark. The mythos has been damaged by misguided interpretations of the Slender Man, especially in video games. The most notable of these infamous iterations of Slender Man include Slender: The Eight Pages, Slender: Arrival, Slender's Woods, and Slender Rising among others.
Slender Man is not meant to be seen or observed. His, and I use the pronoun loosely, mere presence distorts and frustrates any attempt at comprehension. Whenever Slender Man is near, camera images and sound begin to distort - any attempt to record the creature with a mimetic device is met with strange glitches and horrific visions. This is where game interpretations begin to fall apart. In games, both the developer and the gamer have a level of control and agency over Slender Man as a digital object.
The body may be uncanny, but this does not a Slender Man make.
The Slender Man is simply a perception. That name is what we have given this being because it is what we think we see through the suddenly ineffectual lens of a camera. There is no way to fully understand who or what the creature is, but in the fragmented and disturbed footage we find an impossibly elongated human figure whose highly contrasted black body and blown-out face appear to form the shape of a tall, slim, well-dressed, pale man without discernible facial features.
The horror, the true horror of the Slender Man is this: we don't know what it looks like.
Even though cameras are pointed directly at it, we haven't got a clue. In a world where seeing has become believing, and video trumps all else, this is the one thing we cannot see. Scream "pics or it didn't happen!" all you'd like, every image of Slender Man evades specificity on principle.
A teenager with a phone often occupies the space of Big Brother more than any form of government ever could.
Our culture is defined by mimesis. We all have camera phones in our pockets and we see everything. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, SnapChat, and the myriad menagerie of other social image platforms is inescapable. Even the nightly news and morning newspapers report on ever present cell phone videos, which often capture what journalists cannot. We are the ultimate surveillance culture and a teenager with a phone often occupies the space of Big Brother more than any form of government ever could. Starting with the recording of the 1991 Rodney King police brutality tape, more than anything else, we've relied on camera footage to tell us the truth. The shaky handheld camera has revealed and communicated everything with unflappable honesty, often highlighting acts of atrocity and bringing to light events intended to remain in the dark. As a culture, we have become the Kino-Eye.
"I'm an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it. I free myself for today and forever from human immobility. I'm in constant movement. I approach and pull away from objects. I creep under them. I move alongside a running horse's mouth. I fall and rise with the falling and rising bodies. This is I, the machine, maneuvering in the chaotic movements, recording one movement after another in the most complex combinations.
Freed from the boundaries of time and space, I co-ordinate any and all points of the universe, wherever I want them to be. My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unknown to you."
- Dziga Vertov, "Kino-Eye"
Most recently, the bewildering images of Kiev's riots have enlightened and disturbed viewers around the world and we trust that these images represent a reality much more real and tangible than any words might. A picture is worth a thousand words, the adage goes. These candid images are literal documents meant to inform and reveal in a way that only the photojournalist Kino-Eye can. Through pictures of Kiev we can vicariously experience the strife and feel the power shifts in Ukraine, free from Vertov's "boundaries of time and space."
One of many images that draws us into Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine.
Without words, we are able to understand upheaval and comprehend that the very foundations of Kiev are being rocked and split. The Kino-Eye explains this unknown world to us. We sympathize with the bloody and the bruised and we can, for a brief moment, thrust our hearts through the image and out the other side into Kiev. The Kino-Eye mimesis, the factual image representation of these emotional and world-shattering events, allows us a transparent access to information across borders and seas and languages.
But Slender Man operates outside of the rules and scope of the Kino-Eye. This is the horror. It is not a horror of the abject or the body that frightens us about Slender Man. It is the horror of the unknown and moreover the impossible-to-be-known. Whenever the Slender Man is near, footage instantly begins to warp and distort. Its presence castrates the mimetic device and renders it useless. The Slender Man is more than just undefined, but it is impossible to observe second-hand. The comfortable connection between us and the Kino-Eye becomes severed. Only the ones there, seeing with their own eyes can know.
Entry #26 (video above) of Marble Hornets.
We sit safely behind our screens and watch the Kiev riots from afar and know that what we see in images is both truth and fact. While the Kiev protest is terrifying, it is a terror we can comprehend with images. But when we see captured footage of Slender Man, those distorted images lose their power - we can not know what is truth or fact based on what we see. Visualization eludes us.
The Slender Man eludes our Kino-Eye constructs, our eyes and ears around the globe. It eludes any form of Big Brother. And it, more importantly, eludes our desire to know what it is. In face of the human drive to understand and comprehend, the Slender Man makes no effort to explain itself. Slender Man just is, and continues its unknowable goals and objectives.
Of course, I suppose the Slender Man could always just be a little misunderstood too...
Originally Published Feb. 21st 2014