There has never been a Title for a Video Game been as apt as That Dragon, Cancer.
Sitting down to play That Dragon, Cancer, I wasn’t
really sure what to expect. From interviews and articles I’ve read, I knew that
it documents the Green family going through the events of their infant son with
terminal cancer. I couldn’t entirely comprehend how a game could be made around
this subject – that is, until I played it.
You less “play” That Dragon, Cancer than
interact with the world around it. The game is very metaphorical, as evidenced
by the beginning of the demo. You’re in a first person perspective, sitting
down in a hospital room, contemplating why the walls are painted the color they
are. Green for life, blue for comfort. As you walk around the hospital room, it
triggers different inner thoughts, kind of like audio logs. Sometimes it could
be inner frustrations, other times a poem.
Interestingly, although you hear the wales of a small child,
you never actually see the child. You do go through audio logs of you trying to
console your child, but to little avail. Joel continues to cry, and you
continue to feel helpless.
During a panel discussing the game’s design, designer John
Larson described the game as an interactive retelling, and I would agree. There
aren’t any coins or end bosses; it’s just you walking in the shoes of someone
else, and yet that’s what makes it so special. It’s games like That Dragon, Cancer that highlight what
makes video gaming such a unique medium. Unlike books or films, you really
can’t superimpose yourself onto the character – but while playing this game, I
actually did feel like Ryan Green. I don’t have any children, but I did, for a
slight second, feel the pain of seeing my son slowly die.
Larson describes that, in the game, you try and fix the
issue in a very mechanical way. Your child is crying, so you try picking him up
to console him, and although it works for a bit, it really doesn’t solve the
problem. It doesn’t take the cancer away, and that’s what’s most frustrating.
Ryan Green himself was also supposed to be there to join the
panel, but had to run to San Francisco for an experimental cancer treatment for
I did ask if anyone has ever been offended by playing That
Dragon, Cancer. Considering that Joel is still undergoing treatment, it’s
still not entirely known if Joel will survive. Larson said that no one has
vocally, in their face, said that they have been offended by the game, but they
have had instance where people did disagree at a philosophical level. Both
Larson and Green are Christians, and since this is Green’s story, it goes
through what he went through. There was a section of the game where he made a
prayer to God, and they did have an instance where someone who was playing
refused to move further because it disagreed with her personal philosophy.
Green and Larson weren’t at all offended by the situation, rather finding it
admirable that the player stuck to what she believed in and stopped.
an eye out for That Dragon, Cancer. It’s a game that will truly surprise
players and will greatly push forward the conversation of games as being
significant to society.