Sleeping with the lights on after a night playing Slender

Now Playing Slender

This article originally appeared in issue 244 of PC Gamer UK.

I know he's behind me. I can't hear him; the only sound is that of my hurried footsteps on the dry grass. I can't see him; my flashlight only circles the endless rows of trees in front of me. But I can feel him. Watching. Waiting for me to turn around.

These are his woods after all, and I've just arrived at a dead end. Slowly, I turn... and there he is, with his awful empty face, and static buzzing in my ears. The game ends, and I collapse back into my chair, my heart doing triplets.

The premise behind free-to-play Slender is utterly simple. You're stuck in the woods equipped with only a dying flashlight and the ability to sprint in short bursts. You must collect eight randomly scattered notes and crucially, vitally, you must avoid Slender and his cold, reaching fingers.

The Slender Man was born on a SomethingAwful thread that challenged forumites to create paranormal images using Photoshop. One Victor Surge posted two photographs of children in a playground, with an unusually long-limbed, well-dressed man standing in the background. He had no face. Then, after starring in several ARGs, and even in Minecraft as the Endermen, Slender found a new way to come after you.

It's astonishing that such a basic game can still ignite such a primal sense of fear, especially when the graphics are, well, a bit crappy. Within minutes of playing, my palms were damp, my skin was crawling with goosebumps, and I had to spam the Esc key until I was staring at the safe, fluffy kittens on my desktop again.

The game knows exactly how to toy with you. Slender's skinny frame is difficult to distinguish from the trees, making you skittish as you peer into the shadows. You never see him moving – he's just standing there, slowly getting closer. It doesn't help that the disjointed music gradually builds up, grating the nerves – and a shrill orchestral stab screeches out should he appear. This is horror at its finest.

The wood itself is a surprisingly small area. But because your light source is so limited, and your walking speed so goddamn slow, you feel as if you're trapped in an infinite landscape littered with odd, faintly unsettling architecture. Abandoned trucks, rusted storage tanks, a gnarled tree straight from the set of Poltergeist... and that nasty angular building full of tight corners and dead ends – perfect for getting trapped in.

Worse of all, all these landmarks force you to turn around in order to find those precious pages. And as your note count gets higher, the Slender Man gets nearer. You will panic. You will run. But don't turn around, boys and girls. He'll be there. And then you'll be his.