A must play: That Dragon, Cancer

Last year I was browsing ¬†YouTube videos when I came across a video called That Dragon, Cancer, the name was a bit odd to me and didn’t tell me much about what this game was about so I decided to give it a watch, I wasn’t prepared for what kind of journey this game would take me on nor was I prepared for the emotional toll it took on me but I’m glad I did come across it because now I can tell you all about it!

That Dragon, Cancer is an indie game developed by Ryan and Amy Green, Josh Larson, and a small team who call themselves Numinous Games, the game itself is a very personal one based on the Green family (Ryan and Amy), it tells us all about the experiences the Green family encountered when their son Joel was diagnosed with an Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor at only twelve months, they were told he had between a few weeks to live to four months to live when he was around two years old, but Joel went on to live on for 4 more years until the age of 5 and unfortunately passed away in March 2014.

That dragon cancer

The game was made so that the player would experience all the emotions the Green family did in the style of a point and click adventure game, what I loved about the game (even though I watched the gameplay and never actually played it) was how it sucked me in and how each bit of the story throughout the game left me feeling so many conflicting feelings, I found myself actually crying because of how raw the game was even if the graphics were simple. From what I’ve read, That Dragon, Cancer was first developed to relate to the Greens personal experience with their son Joel when it was unclear of what was going to happen with his health but after Joel sadly passed away that was changed and reworked.

That Dragon, Cancer is played from both first person and third person perspective’s, whilst working your way through a number of different scenes, you take on the role of Joel’s parents and Joel himself where you will go through 14 different scenes from learning of Joel’s condition to Joel passing away, you’re able to interact with different characters and make different choices which reflect on the kind of choices the Greens has to make in real life. It feels almost like a dream, that’s the best way I can I can describe it, it’s very surreal and that comes across in the graphics which are used for the game, even though they’re very simplistic the artistic and abstract side helps with that dreamlike feeling whilst being able to put me in Joel’s and Joel’s parents shoes and feel some of the emotions they went through.

That Dragon, Cancer needed funding in order for Ryan Green’s idea of this game to come to life, luckily Ouya put money towards the development of this game which helped to an extent but the money ran out in 2014 so they had to find funds from elsewhere, the developers decided what better way to fund the game further than by crowdfunding on Kickstarter. With the money raised for the game they were able to release That Dragon, Cancer on a number of different platforms ( PC/Mac, iOS, Ouya), it was originally meant to be released for Ouya only but they made an agreement to change it to “in association with Ouya” and the game went on to be released on January 12, 2016, which¬†would have been Joel’s seventh birthday. As well as there being a game, a documentary was also developed called Thank You for Playing, this documentary went on to show the last few years of Joel’s life and the developed of the game, the documentary was released last year which I have yet to see.

I find what they’ve done for their little boy and to raise awareness was so brave and wonderful, Joel’s little legacy will live on thanks to a small team who made a father’s dream a reality, it’s not every day that such a simplistic and artistic little game pulls on my heart strings and leaves me in tears. That, Dragon Cancer has won a number of awards one being Best Indie Game at the Emotional Games Awards 2016 which shows how much of an impact this game truly had. I plan to play this game through myself, it was admittedly hard to watch and I did pause the game play a number of times, but I would like to play it through for myself. If any of you get the chance to play this game I highly recommend it, it’s not very long but it’s a must play in my eyes.


This post was written by Elle May (@EllexMay), you can find more of her work at www.xgardenofedenx.co.uk, expect to see her around the site more often soon!

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