Are You Desensitised?

I believe you know what I mean by desensitised.

When reading or watching genre fiction, you come across some really awful concepts with shocking regularity. Murder, torture, madness; torment at the hands of all manner of monster and an overdose of disgustingly horrific ways to die.

We take it in our stride, these days. But it wasn't always this way.

I must have been six when I first saw the box-art from Carrie. It was when they still sold VHS in HMV. Those wide-eyes staring from a blood-soaked face, I was horrified in the truest sense of the word and suffered many a disturbed night's sleep.

Waking, too, was transformed into a harrowing experience when, at a young age, I saw that horse's head scene from The Godfather. All of a sudden, the bright light of morning offered no reassurances. For a while I was terrified that I'd find a horse's head in my bed upon waking.

Now, though, I find I'm rarely scared by what I see or read in fiction.

Of course, I'm frequently disturbed. I found the remade from China Mieville's Perdido Street Station quite hard to take. And, more recently, the trans-time mutilation in Looper has been plaguing my mind with images I'd have rather not seen.

I suppose I'll only be truly desensitised when I cease to be disturbed by the things I come across in fiction. At the moment, though, it's quite rare that I should be scared by anything.

I don't believe I've ever found myself scared by a book. Nothing in the complete works of Poe, Lovecraft or M.R. James was enough to make me refrain from sleeping in the dark. Films can still be scary, but, again, it's a rarity. Not since [rec] have I been properly scared by a film. Of course, you could attribute this to the laziness of modern horror, but were that truly the case, then the classics would surely render me paralysed with fear?

It's not the case, though.

Can films or books still be scary? Of course they can. It's just that they will never scare people in the way they used to. And I know why.

It's video games. As an art-form they're still very much finding their feet, but their worthiness as a medium lies in the interactivity – that which happens doesn't just affect a character. It affects you.

If horror fans really want a visceral experience, it's likely that they'll find no finer chills than in the world of video games.

This notion was hammered home in a short sixteen minute burst of gruelling terror this very evening.

Slender is completely free and might just be the most frightening piece of fiction I've ever encountered in any medium.

Whilst playing it, I felt a rare feeling in my chest – exactly that which I've been missing in my explorations of films and literature these past few years – a delicious mixture of wariness, anticipation and lovely, lovely fear.

I won't say too much about it, because the fear of the unknown is what gives this game its devastating chops. But I will say that it's simplicity itself – just you, a torch, and a seemingly empty forest in the dead of night.

It's wonderfully atmospheric and creepy as hell. It mixes psychological scares with visceral fight-or-flight run-for-your-life punches to the gut. Everybody seems keen to describe that which is frightening as being potent enough to cause you to soil yourself. I'd say that Slender is so scary you might vomit.

It says a lot about the fearful potency of something when even the readme file's enough to fill you with a sense of wary foreboding

Slender can be downloaded for free from here. Do so now. Then turn the lights off and prepare to spend the next fifteen minutes in a state of sustained abject terror.

Then spend the rest of your night reading up on the slender man mythos. Then spend the rest of your life living in fear.


  1. There was someone dressed as Slender Man at the Play Expo in Manchester (OR WAS IT A COSTUME???) - for some reason I assumed they were dressed as Woody Allen in Sleeper.

    Sleeper/Slender... Who knows?

  2. It wasn't a costume. You're very lucky to be alive.