'Slenderman' - The 21st century Bogeyman

“If you don’t go to bed, the bogeyman will come and get you!”

“The bogeyman will come after you, if you keep sucking your thumb!”

Did you hear these phrases when you were a child? Maybe they were said to you or your brothers or sisters. They were common traditional phrases used by parents to frighten young children into behaving appropriately or to cajole them into doing what their parents asked them to do. Not exactly politically correct and, in these modern times of high definition, realistically scary characters or monsters in films or games, very unlikely to work.

A few years back, however, a phenomenon appeared on the web that could be considered the modern day ‘bogeyman’, the only difference being that it wasn't parents that invented it, it has appeared as a consequence of youth culture’s fascination with all things horror and ghoulish.

In the summer of 2009, a poster by the user name of “Victor Surge’ contributed two black and white images to the ‘Something Awful’ internet forum. The images depicted groups of children being watched from the shadows by a very tall, thin figure. Surge also added text, purporting to be from eye-witnesses, describing abductions of children. Surge gave the character the name “The Slender Man”

As well as being very tall and thin, the Slender Man had unnaturally long, tentacle-like arms and was usually dressed in a dark suit and tie. It was regarded as male and possessed a white, featureless face, which only added to the creepiness of the character.

The Slender Man captured the web’s collective imagination and, as these things so often do, it soon when viral, spawning online fiction called “Creepypasta”, fan art and cosplay. Inevitably, it wasn’t long before fan-made videos started to appear on the ‘Something Awful’ forums and this only help to feed the rapidly growing ‘mythology’ that was building around the whole phenomenon.

As the web community’s interest in Slenderman grew, the boundaries between fiction and reality blurred, as a consequence of the variety of conflicting online perspectives. This had the effect of obscuring the origins of the character and offered the whole saga an air of authenticity.

In May this year, however, tragically the whole urban legend became something entirely different when two 11 year old Wisconsin girls allegedly lured their friend to woods near their home and repeatedly stabbed her in an act that was apparently carried out “…to impress Slenderman” who, they insisted to investigators, was real.

Shortly after this incident, another took place in Ohio, when a mother came home from work and was attacked by her 13 year old daughter with a kitchen knife, wearing a white mask. During the attack the mother said of her daughter “…it was as if she playing a role, it didn’t feel like her” and afterwards she found some very “dark” writings and drawings created by her daughter referencing Slenderman - she had even created a whole world within the online game ‘Minecraft’, for the character to live in.

This incredible story demonstrates tragically how powerful the influence of the internet can be and how a viral phenomenon can so easily manifest into something that, to vulnerable young minds, can gain authenticity and appear real. It is why it is so important that parents and teachers need to be vigilant and monitor what young people are watching, reading and browsing. It is why films and video games have age-ratings - they are not there as something to snigger at and dismiss, they are there for very good reasons and should be treated seriously.

"There is a point to be made that e-safety education also needs to incorporate digital literacy, with a emphasis on understanding the context and veracity of information on the Internet. That children need to be trained to critically appraise the information they are reading in the same way we would hope to train them to be media aware enough to understand the political bias in a newspaper or the reliability of 'facts'" - E-safety Support

8/9/14 - There is an online game which can be downloaded associated with this urban legend which can be found at www.slendergame.com

Written by Steve Gresty on September 08, 2014 07:55

Online Gaming - Muddying the boundaries between the virtual and real worlds

A few weeks ago an article appeared within my Facebook timeline from an online newspaper I follow. It reported on a young man in Colorado, USA , who was wanted on a drugs charge. He had been chased by the police at high speed and had managed to crash into dozens of other vehicles. He also evaded the police by car-jacking, no less than three other vehicles, one of which was a mother, who was stopped and dragged out of her car whilst the man sped away with her terrified four year old son in the back seat (he was later retrieved frightened and distraught but unharmed when the felon abandoned that car for another).

As I looked down the many, many comments attached to the posting, I was shocked to read postings such as:

“Ha, its just like GTA…” or,

“He’s been playing too much Grand Theft Auto lol!”

What struck me was the casual nature in which people acknowledged an incident that must have been unbelievably traumatic for the mother of the four year-old and the other victims for that matter, even to the point of thinking that it was something to have a bit of a giggle about.

As I read further comments of a similar vein, I started to reflect on whether our now daily engagement with technology is impacting our capacity to differentiate between the real and virtual worlds and whether it is encouraging a worrying trend, with some people, towards insensitive voyeurism; an acceptance that everything on the web is provided for entertainment and an inability to sympathise with a victim.

I then began to consider what impact this phenomena maybe having on young people and this made me think about some experiences I have had in my role as a supply teacher in both primary and secondary schools. Recently, I have noticed how the words ‘rape’ and ‘porn’ appear to have crept into the everyday conversations of young people, even to the point of modifying them with a view to include them in youth culture, as in the word ‘frape’.

Surely, the ‘normalisation’ of these words into our youth vocabulary is not healthy and is contrary to the nurturing environments that adults should be ensuring exist within school and at home. So, how does this happen?

This blurring of the boundaries between reality and cyberspace can manifest itself in much more sinister and darker ways too. A year or so back, I was teaching a Y11 resistant materials class who had a double lesson that spanned over dinner time. A couple of the boys returned to school after spending their dinner at a house of one of the group. As they entered the workshop they were laughing and I overheard one them saying “… it was just like on ‘Fallout’ ”. Thinking that they had been playing video games I asked them about it; however, I was shocked to discover that what they had been watching was a real beheading that had been posted on the internet by a terrorist group. What was equally distressing was how they had viewed this horrific scene, coldly disconnecting the fact that this was a real person from the voyeuristic and trivial ‘entertainment’ the video provided for them. They even likened the event to computer games that they had played to the point of interpreting and reconciling the video as just another scene from a computer game.

As a consequence of the ubiquitous nature of the worldwide web and the type of material that can be accessed, do you think that the real worlds of young people are being dangerously impacted by their cyber worlds? Do you believe that the way in which content is presented such that the difference between the real and the fictional is distinctly vague and blurred, encourages young people to becoming desensitised and numb to real events and situations that, prior to the technological age, would have been genuinely seen as horrific, upsetting or gruesome?

Or do you believe that the impact of the web is no different to the influence on youth culture of radio and television in the post-war 20th century and it is inevitable that media will affect the language and behaviour of young people?

To let us know your opinion is on this important topic, please use the comments section below. There are also a number of related lesson plans and assembly plans available from E-safety Support

Written by Steve Gresty on April 29, 2014 09:15

Online Games: A Few Considerations

Game Based LearningType ‘online games for children’ into a search engine and a staggering amount of results are returned. Quite literally, hours and hours could be spent playing the array of online games. Some online games may have an educational value, developing knowledge and understanding of content in the school curriculum for English, Mathematics or other subjects. Others may benefit wider cognitive development, encouraging reasoning and problem-solving abilities. There are, however, recreational online games that need to be evaluated for their suitability for children and it is important to know what to look for to ensure online safety.

Arcade-type games are prolific on the internet and many of those in search results for ‘online games for children’ (or similar keyword searches) contain inappropriate content. A ‘shoot ‘em up’ game is very different in nature when children are blasting the answer to a number sentence than when zombies, people and everyday objects are the objects of destruction… FunBrain, although an American site, offers arcade-style games that have educational value and some are simply there for the purpose of having fun. As part of Pearson Education, the appropriateness of the content can be trusted.

Online games hosted in the USA that comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits marketing and prevents online collection of personal information from children younger than thirteen years old. It is worthwhile knowing about COPPA in the context of the UK because it can provide some assurances to teachers, parents and carers that the online gaming environment has been subject to regulations intended to protect children. Remember, searching for online games using Google or other search engines can provide links to websites hosted anywhere in the world.

Poptropica is a virtual world for children, a multi-player online role-playing game. It has controls to ensure online chat is restricted. Children can communicate with other players and compete with them when travelling through different islands to complete quests and challenges. This website involves scripted chat. It is not possible for a child to type their own questions and answers therefore what is communicated is limited. Personal details cannot be shared. In the event of an adult using the website, they are unable to engage in any conversations other than those determined by the scripted chat facility provided by the website. Avatars are randomly generated and provide anonymity. Poptropica can be considered a safe online role-playing game for children and preferable to console games or other online virtual worlds where multi-player chat is not necessarily subject to such strict constraints. This website is an example of an online environment adhering to the COPPA.

For domains in the UK or elsewhere, it is wise to find parent or teacher information links. In preparing this piece, it was found that this is not always straightforward. It is, however, quite informative. Several websites offering online games for children place the responsibility on those supervising children’s use of the games to decide on whether it is safe and appropriate. Any such notice on an online gaming site should alert an adult to a possible lack of control in the materials available and the extent to which personal information could be shared within games.

So, for teachers, parents and carers concerned about online games that are appropriate for younger children, the following points need to be considered.

If the game is a virtual world where role-playing is featured, thoroughly check the nature of the chat facility. It should generally involve controls in how usernames for avatars are generated and ensure avatar pictures cannot be uploaded therefore the risk of children identifying themselves online is limited. Scripted chat rather than free typing facilities are a feature that should be evident before allowing a child to interact with others in an online virtual environment role-playing game.

It is important to examine what a gaming website says about its own view of how it is or is not actively aiming to support the safeguarding of children. Perhaps a general rule of thumb is to only allow access to reputable websites from trusted organisations, such as the BBC, Disney or other major organisations that produce online games for educational or entertainment purposes.

You can teach your students more about the risks associated with online communication and gaming using a selection of lesson plans and assembly plans available to E-safety Support Premium and Premium Plus members.

Written by Jazz Williams on February 06, 2014 12:39

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