From Hub_129, October 2010.
You’re at home, alone. It’s late and it’s dark outside and you’ve just got in. You feel as if you were followed home by someone. You hear a noise outside and so you switch off the lights in your hallway, trying to get a look through the blinds by your front door, to see who is out there. You’re on edge and your heart is thumping loudly in your ears. You have your film camera in your hand so get it running, document this, it might help. You peer through the blinds. There’s nothing on the porch.
Scan around with the camera, anybody out there? Anything?
He’s there. Stood by your front porch. His head turns towards you, suddenly. He knows you’re there, watching. He knows he can get you anytime he wants…
Legends of the Slender Man first began to appear in Germanic wood carvings from the 16th century, depicting a tall, thin, figure dressed in black who would chase children that entered his habitat. There, he was called Der Grossmann and he was one of the fairy-folk that lived in the Black Forest. The only way a child could avoid Der Grossman was if they confessed to their misdemeanour or he would pursue them until caught, whereupon he would whisk them away to who knows where.
Except, he didn’t.
This article was originally going to be on Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) as part of the Save Point series. During my research for that article I was pointed in the direction of a specific game by Alasdair, Hub’s managing editor, bon viveur and all-round top bloke. As a relative beginner, re-entering the world of ARGs, I checked the game out on genre start-point website, Unfiction.com, and found that not only was this particular “game” considered to be very much active but it had a fertile following on the Unfiction forum. OK, nothing new there, I suppose, except I saw something which I hadn’t seen attached to non-commercial ARGs before in that people appeared to be creating their own stories within the game. Fan-fiction, as it were. I began to delve deeper.
On 20th June 2009, the first Marble Hornets video surfaced on YouTube followed, on June 22nd, by a Twitter account of the main protagonist of the videos, Josh.
The story revolves around a film student, Josh, who has been given video tapes to destroy by another student, Alex, who has since disappeared. The tapes include footage from an abandoned film project that Alex was working on called Marble Hornets but some recordings on the tapes don’t involve the project and Josh soon finds footage which shows that Alex appeared to have been stalked by someone or something.
To keep to my initial subject, however, I watched the videos and read the blogs that were linked on the Unfiction forum but I began to feel that this wasn’t what I would typically call an ARG. There was a lack of puzzles, though the videos were intriguing and kept many people guessing. Some of the videos lacked sound, which was later included on other videos posted by another antagonist, totheark. Matching the sound to the appropriate videos gave enough people reason to continue to call Marble Hornets an Alternate Reality Game. I began to see Marble Hornets as more akin to an interactive storytelling project though.
I delved deeper and began to see posts about the main antagonist, the Slender Man, regarding the fact that this creature had started life outside of Marble Hornets, outside of the ARG, on another forum. I began to investigate.
Slender Man first appeared on the SomethingAwful.com web forums on 10th June 2009, just 10 days before the first Marble Hornets video appeared. The thread where he was ‘born’ began as a simple “let’s create paranormal images” informal contest that unwittingly developed into something akin to a massive social experiment in creating urban legends. People of all ages, scaring each other out of their wits with some very good photo manipulation work and often clever storytelling: the internet equivalent of telling ghost stories around the campfire.
Of particular note were the posts of one “Victor Surge”. On the 3rd page of this thread, Surge adds the first post that includes the creature that they name “The Slender Man”. However, elsewhere on the forum, posters begin to point out similarities between Slender Man and a story that has been floating around the internet since about 2006 called “The Rake”. Other existing stories and real-life events soon get entwined within the Slender Man myth on the forum, including the 1959 Dylatov Pass incident in Russia, where 9 ski-hikers died under mysterious circumstances.
Slender Man is, though, in all essence just another bogeyman. A kidnapper of children, the unknown that lurks in the shadows and peeps at us around corners and through windows. The thing we fear that follows us as we walk home at night, hiding behind objects whenever we turn around.
The Slender Man was a conglomerate of different spooky figures from various films, mashed together with creative back-stories and shoe-horned into existing mysteries to scare the bejeesus out of as many people as he could. But the creature then developed further and Marble Hornets took it to a bigger, much wider, audience.
I managed to track down one of Marble Hornets creators, Troy Wagner, who plays Josh in the videos, and bugged the heck out of him until he graciously answered some of my questions for Hub:
Hub Magazine: The first Marble Hornets video appeared only 10 days after Slender Man was first mentioned on the Something Awful forum. Did you get the whole idea for Marble Hornets from there or was something already in development and the Slender Man character happened to fill a gap in your own story? Or was it all just an amazing coincidence?
Troy Wagner: The idea for Marble Hornets stemmed directly from the ‘create paranormal images’ thread on Something Awful. I was wanting to work on some kind of video series for a while, but I could never think up a good enough concept with which I was satisfied. The ideas and “lore” that was made on that particular thread is what inspired me to participate in it, which lead directly to Marble Hornets. I was very fortunate that it all worked out the way that it did.
HM: How quickly did the project go from idea to actual produced/released video? What did your creative process involve?
TW: There was very little time between pre-production planning and the first finished entry being uploaded to YouTube. I made the original, in-character post explaining the story of Marble Hornets on the Something Awful thread, then called my friend Joseph DeLage to see if he wanted to come help me out with it (I originally planned to write and shoot it all on my own, which probably wouldn’t have worked in retrospect). When he agreed he came over to my house later that night and we had a five hour story boarding session where we laid out all of the events of the entries in the order we wanted to post them. That was the easy part, however. After that, we had to go out and actually shoot all of our crazy ideas in a convincing manner. Typically, most of the entries only involved one person in front of the camera maximum (some not even requiring that). But on the few occasions where the “set” of the fictional film within Marble Hornets was shown, we would simply call our friends to see if they were available for half a day and then shoot. There were not really any “trained” actors involved at all, just whoever wanted to be in it.
HM: Did you have anything to do with the stories involving Slender Man that appeared on the Something Awful forum?
TW: No. We consider Marble Hornets to be completely separate.
HM: Did you have any hand in any of the blogs created regarding Slender Man?
TW: No. The only thing Joseph and I did was the Marble Hornets and totheark YouTube channels.
HM: Do you feel you’ve succeeded in what you wanted to achieve with Marble Hornets? What do you think about fan reaction on places like the Unfiction forum?
TW: I feel like we’ve achieved a lot more than we originally set out to do. We had no idea it would become so popular so quickly. We really owe all of that to places like Unfiction and Something Awful (4chan had a hand in it too, so I’ve heard). However, that being said, Marble Hornets is by no means over yet. There is still plenty more to try and accomplish with all aspects of it, such as the storytelling, acting, and technical aspects.
HM: Marble Hornets is considered by most to be an Alternate Reality Game, would you consider it to be an ARG or simply an episodic film project?
TW: I definitely consider it to be an episodic film project. There are a few “puzzles” here and there (usually with the totheark videos), but they are by no means necessary to enjoy the actual story. They’re simply there for the people who want to interact with the story in an alternative way. And to fuel all the rampant speculations about what will happen next!
HM: Are there any connections whatsoever between Marble Hornets and EverymanHYBRID? Have the guys behind EverymanHYBRID contacted you regarding the story or anything about Slender Man?
TW: No connections. They have not contacted us either. But I am happy to see that they’re getting exposure. EverymanHYBRID is a very cool concept.
HM: Following on from that, have copyright issues regarding the character of Slender Man ever been a concern/issue with you? I’m guessing no-one really owns the character; do you consider Slender Man to be Creative Commons?
TW: The only non-human character that appears in Marble Hornets is The Operator. There’s definitely some inspirations from other sources, but we consider it to be our own interpretive creation.
HM: How do you feel about the number of people on the internet who have, after seeing Marble Hornets amongst other things, begun to believe that Slender Man actually exists?
TW: However people want to interact with said storytelling is completely up to them. Lots of people believe in ghosts and the like, which probably originated from scary folk tales told a century or two ago, if that makes sense.
HM: Where do you see Marble Hornets going in the future? Will there be a part 2 and, if so, when?
TW: Like I said, Marble Hornets is NOT over yet. I can’t give any information on any kind of timeframe or date when new entries will be released. But yeah… not over yet. That’s really all I can say at the moment.
Marble Hornets is a work of fiction and an amazing project by Troy and Joseph on a shoe-string budget driven by heaps of enthusiasm. Even now, and after talking with Troy, some of the videos still freak me out. To me, this shows how good the endeavour is. They appear to have captured something in the videos which is simple yet frightening on a basic level. A feeling of isolation and of an invasion of space by an unknown, seemingly unstoppable, entity. And that you only see this entity in glimpses leaves more for the imagination to warp whilst filling in the blanks. Is it what was attempted with Blair Witch Project minus the hype and over-egging? Or The Last Broadcast without the silly ending?
I’m openly pleased to say that I still find I have to convince people that it is a work of fiction whenever I recommend it to others to watch. I won’t name my friends who have texted me late at night asking me to reassure them that Marble Hornets isn’t real, that it is fiction. But, hey, I can’t guarantee these things don’t actually exist…
Der Grossman/Slender Man, or The Operator as he is known in Marble Hornets, are the creations of a type of collective consciousness, the culmination of people throwing their ideas into the cloud/internet and trying to scare the wits out of each other. One idea stuck more than others and was built on, developed and grew out of its original remit.
The development of the Slender Man myth doesn’t stop here. EverymanHYBRID, another video project, as mentioned above, is rolling along at pace as I type. I recommend readers check that out as well as the Marble Hornets videos. They deal with the mythos in a different way but it’s equally intriguing. Photos and written stories are still popping up on the internet on forum sites and blogs. Then there’s still Marble Hornets, who knows where Troy and Joseph will take it in the future?
I began this primarily to look into Alternate Reality Gaming, what I actually found was something which, I believe, is a lot bigger and far more intriguing… and forgive me if I’m coming across as precocious here. I’ve been a part of web forums and sprawling, open, creative projects since, oh, 1996 but what I’ve seen develop from that thread on the SomethingAwful.com forum has been far more successful and complete than anything I’d witnessed before.
And it got loose.
In the words of “I”, forum member on SomethingAwful.com:
The Slender Man. He exists because you thought of him.
Now try and not think of him.
Marble Hornets Twitter account:
SomethingAwful Forum thread (warning: lots of swearing!):
The Rake story: