Slendering Pac-Likes

I suffer from social phobia. This means that I am afraid of people. I do not feel comfortable when there are people around me. This circumstance is not pretty and I don’t want to go into more detail at this point, but let’s just say that I already feel uncomfortable when I see a person approaching me in the distance who could theoretically want to talk to me. Or kill me. Both make me nervous. The prospect of a murder actually less, since I would have to be afraid afterwards no more, but before now all therapists in the world with treatment suggestions come rushing to me and put me thereby only still more in panic, I would like to talk briefly about films. Besides, I’m usually met by dog owners, and the only thing that they can kill is my tolerance for stories about animal excrements. Did I already tell you how a few days ago the first words a dog owner said to me were “Watch out, he has an inflamed prostate!”?

The movie “It Follows” is one of the best and worst horror movies I’ve seen in my life because it addresses the basic fear I just described. No, not the one about an inflamed prostate. I’m talking about the issue before that. The phobia. So: a being comes inexorably toward you. Walking. You can run away from it, but it always knows exactly where you are. Step by step it comes closer. I don’t want to break the film down into its individual parts any further. What is important is that after its first viewing, I had nightmares for several days and actually got scared when people walked by my window on the street. Simply because the film played with my psyche and destroyed it in the process. Like a toddler who sees the great Lego houses in my living room, touches them and thus immediately drops three pieces, two of which, for whatever reason, will never reappear.

It’s extremely interesting that movies always manage to hit me the way “It Follows” did, but video games only very, very rarely. The game “Slender: The Eight Pages”, for example, actually works like “It Follows”. A guy strolls up to me, suddenly stands behind me, and I’m dead. But somehow it never worked the way all the screaming streamers made me expect. The game is quite exciting at first, but it quickly loses its fascination at some point. Sure, I naturally wince at jumpscares, but does that annoy rather than impress me in the long run. Whenever the friendly gentleman was near me, I had fun testing the limits of the game. How closely could I look at him? From what distance? Will I die if I keep his high-end designer shoes in my field of vision? Can he come up behind me if I have a fence at my back? I break video games down into their mechanics very quickly. And then the horror is gone.

“Pac-Man” is probably one of the oldest Slender-Likes, which means “Slender” should really be a Pac-Like, but then genre designations have never worked that way. You run through a level, collect points instead of notes and are pursued by several evildoers. But somehow it’s not scary. That could be due to the joy of life that comes from the cherries to be collected. Cherries are great. Only the pits are annoying. But “Pac-Man” just eats them and doesn’t make such a drama out of it. Sometimes I’d like to be like Pac-Man. He’s not always acting like that. If it weren’t for the spirits. Or were they ghosts? Whatever. They’re annoying, of course. But the cherries…

If there’s a Slender-Like out there that actually gave me nightmares, it’s “Devil Daggers”. You’re running through an arena, shooting skulls, and trying not to go completely nuts in the process. Everything around you knows where you are and wants to kill you. That is the only goal of all the other creatures in the game: to kill the players. The arena is small, you can’t hide, all evil focuses on you. “Devil Daggers” is a game with an incredible atmosphere of hopelessness. No matter how well you play, there are always more enemies. The hope is not in winning at some point, but in not dying for as long as possible and getting as much as you can out of this damn remaining life. It’s depressing, grim, terrifying, and causes me constant stress. The graphics, the sound design, the game world, everything meshes together and smacks me in the face by the second. That’s why I sometimes play it for hours and have nightmares afterwards. In the end, you can’t be TOO fond of yourself either. By the way, you collect red crystals in “Devil Daggers”, just to make a connection to “Slender” and the motive of collecting them. Unfortunately there are no cherries. Which might be just as well, because I’m sure that in “Devil Daggers” even cherries would want to kill you. Even cherries! This game is definitely not sacred.

I’ve been playing “Dark Deception” for a few days now. In the first level, you run through a winding hotel from a first-person perspective, collecting energy crystals along the way. Meanwhile, you’re being chased by monster monkeys on the rampage, who can’t think of anything better than slashing the players. The game is a “Pac-Man” clone. Only with murders. I don’t really know what the enemies in “Pac-Man” do with the yellow ball when they reach it. The animation suggests that they do to it what King Kong likes to do to dinosaurs in his movies: tear open its mouth until everything holding it together breaks. And really, “Pac-Man” is nothing but mouth. Awkward.

Anyway, I like “Dark Deception”. The idea is great, the realization as well. The stomping steps of the monkeys quickly make you nervous. The monkeys always know where you are and come steadily towards you. You rely on your hearing, as it allows you to roughly estimate the distance between you and the enemy footsteps. And there’s an turn-around-180-degree-button that just feels awesome when you’re sprinting down a hallway, suddenly a monkey comes running around the corner in front of you, and you press said button and flee for all your damn worth.

“Dark Deception” has only one problem: it’s way too much fun for me. It’s almost not scary at all because of that. If a monkey comes around the corner, I shout out loud “Yeah!” because the critters look so cool, and only then run away. With a grin on my face that the “Pac-Man” offenders would surely like to break out of my face. It’s chaotic, hectic, and just a little bit creepy.

Ultimately, video games have a hard time really pulling me into their horror spell. If the situations that are supposed to scare me repeat themselves, I quickly become annoyed or jaded. “Dark Deception” goes in exactly the right direction: It doesn’t take itself too seriously, actually wants to be more fun and doesn’t annoy with cheap jumpscares, which have become the standard among most Slender-Likes. I can’t stand Collecting-stuff-until-the-jumpscare-comes and it is just uncreative. Like all the movies that are just out to scare the audience so that they have experienced a lot in the cinema but never think about the movie afterwards because nothing of the plot stuck.

So I don’t like the classic Slender-Likes. They go for jumpscares and that doesn’t constitute art to me. You’re scared of being scared, not scared of what scares you. “Devil Daggers” offers a different form of horror there. So does “Dark Deception.” In summary, I can say that the game mechanics stand above the rest for me, even in horror games. It’s fun to play “Devil Daggers” and “Dark Deception.” The horror is a bonus that I accept with thanks. “Slender”, on the other hand, is boring at some point because it has nothing to offer mechanically to distract you from the monotonous gameplay. Instead, as I play, I think about whether the difference between Slender-Like and Pac-Like is basically just the maze you move through in one Like and not the other. But I’m more afraid of a more detailed analysis of that issue right now than I am of the critter from “It Follows”, and I don’t think I can handle that right now, because the critter really isn’t good to chew on.

In Dark Deception you are chased by monsters through a labyrinth. In parallel, a woman tells you why this is happening. The game’s story is quite entertaining, but in the end you should always keep in mind that you are simply playing Pac-Man in a new perspective.

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