Most of us have seen reaction videos to those “surveillance footage” clips where a scary face suddenly appears with a loud shrill. I hate those. In fact, I really dislike scary things and horror in general. Grotesque creatures, suspenseful moments, and shocking visuals make me “NOPE!” out of there faster than Scooby-Doo and Shaggy after finding a monster in a closet.
Horror games fall in the same category for me as their movie counterparts. I gave Resident Evil a chance when it came out in 1996 because it was popular. Besides that, and “you shoot zombies,” I knew nothing about it at the time. The controls were a pain, but I made my way just fine… That is until the famous, skinless dog jumped through a window. I have never forgiven Capcom and swore off the entire horror game genre. At least, I’ve sworn off playing it.
I still refuse to play such games, but I have found a way I can enjoy them: through the safety glass of watching others play online.
I first gave horror Let’s Plays a chance in 2012. At the time, one of my favorite streaming personalities was Sean “Day” Plott. Around then he was mostly known for StarCraft 2 streams known as the “Day Daily,” where he’d review and discuss StarCraft 2 topics and gameplay.
One night I tuned in to find him playing a new game called Slender: The Eight Pages At the time he smiled and gave the camera the finger.
“Happy Halloween,” he said. ”I don’t want to do this.” Neither did I.
Stick Together, Everyone
He talked about his day, his mood, his mindset, everything—anything to keep from actually playing the game. Finally he gave in, turning off the light in his room, and camping up with his stuffed rabbit Manfred tucked into his hoodie, he ventured forth. And I went along with him.
I could have just closed the tab. But knowing that Day, a streamer whose tastes typically lined up with my own, had similar reservations about horror made me hesitate. His other viewers alternately teased or cheered him on. We weren’t just on the other side of the glass watching him terrify himself. We formed a wave of support to keep him tethered to the real world. Normally I was the one who’d need that to play a scary game. But we all pressed forward regardless.
The goal of The Eight Pages is to find, well, eight pieces of paper spread randomly in a dark forest.The only light in the game comes from a flashlight that loses power over time. As you find more papers, the Slender Man, a faceless man in a suit that silently stalks the forest, becomes more and more aggressive. Fog thickens and the sound of your heartbeat gets louder and louder. Naturally it’s game over if you get caught.
I found myself intensely watching Day explore that forest for the first time, slowly figuring out what to do. There was no sound except for his footsteps. We knew something was lurking out there since Slender was marketed as a “scary game,” but we didn’t know what. The suspense built and my breathing slowed.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
He found his first paper on a truck and a low heartbeat began to pump. Chills went down my spine and by now, my hand was off the mouse. There was no way I was going to close this and miss what happened next. The Let’s Play medium broke down my wall of fear around horror games. Then the usual reason I turn to livestreams—the real-time question of what happens next—took over.
Then the screen filled with static, the first sign the Slender Man was drawing near near. Turning around, we got our first look at the faceless man (presumably) staring directly at us. I screamed to “run!” directly into my monitor. I had to support the terrified streamer (even if he couldn’t hear me). He did run, of course, without needing my command. He escaped into the darkness where both streamer and viewers could calm down.
This wasn’t so bad!
I watched silently and intensely as Day continued through the forest with no sounds other than his footsteps and a heartbeat, and no visuals other than trees upon trees that all looked the same. The game is designed to be devoid of identifying features. So when you do stumble upon a truck, storage tank, or building, you’re instantly drawn to it. Most of the papers are in these locations.
After all that wandering, he came across a bathroom complex in the middle of the woods. In daylight I’m sure it makes sense for whatever abandoned construction site to have this building, but here it’s odd and yet intriguing. A lone, creepy building that invites the player in with it’s white reflectiveness within the dark, foreboding forest.
Falling into the trap of entering a building, a very creepy building with long hallways and splatters of dark, dried liquid on the floors and walls, I found myself with my hands curled near my eyes yelling, “Don’t go in there! Don’t go in there!” At the time I was experiencing the classic scary movie trope without realizing it. He turned a corner, the screen turned to static, harsh shrieking filled the air, and I screamed again, louder than before as the visage of Slender Man filled the screen.
The screen cut to black and back to Sean. After a long sigh and a moment to catch my breath, I found myself laughing. I just enjoyed getting the shit scared out of me. I just enjoyed it and I couldn’t wait for him to do it again. After two hours, he finally gave up on the game without finishing it, but I walked away with a new appreciation of the genre and a realization that I, too, could enjoy it.
A few years later, Markiplier started a new, low-profile game called Five Nights at Freddy’s and the cycle started all over again. I watched him play each iteration, screaming every time Foxy or Chica appeared on screen to stuff our hero into an animatronic suit. With each new game in the series I found myself becoming invested in the creepy lore behind this restaurant chain that reminded me of my trips to Showbiz Pizza as a little girl, watching the animatronics play their songs.
While I wouldn’t say each year I look forward to scary streaming season, I now know that I can watch my favorite streamers play and get scared safely alongside them. All I had to do was support my fellow scaredy-cats, rather than act like one myself.