That Dragon, Cancer is a Project Worth Your Support

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It was more than a year ago that I played a demo of That Dragon, Cancer at PAX. I spoke to Ryan Green briefly before entering the small booth they had in the back of the Indie Megabooth and learned a little more about what I was going to play. This was a game about his son, Joel, who had been fighting cancer since his first year of life. In the demo, I would take the role of Ryan while caring for Joel in a hospital room. I thanked Ryan for giving us a chance to see the game and sat down for my demo.

What I played only lasted about 20 minutes, but it's a scene that has stayed with me since. I still vividly remember every second of that brief scene. Words are plainly insufficient to describe the experience of even that small section of That Dragon, Cancer. I can't blithely describe its gameplay or walk you through how I interacted with it. It's not a matter of appropriateness or respect at all, but I cannot begin to simplify it and still convey what it meant to me as a person.

I can't imagine the strength it has taken Ryan and his family to make this game a reality. Somehow, he has turned his sorrow and pain into hope and unbelievable warmth. I wept into his shoulder after my playthrough as had so many people before me and just as he had done for them, he talked to me about what I felt and asked me if I was okay. This man whose four year old son was battling one of the most insidious diseases a person can face was concerned about me. As we talked about each others experiences with cancer and the people in our lives who had faced it, I realized that this experience is something that can connect a great many people. Perhaps that is what makes  Beyond that, to turn what anyone else would call a tragedy into an evocative memorial to Joel and a monument to Ryan and Amy's unconditional love for their son is truly a triumph.

The game began as a way for Ryan to handle some of what he was feeling through the course of Joel's numerous treatments and surgeries. He and his wife Amy hoped That Dragon, Cancer would be about their son's remarkable recovery against all odds. They hoped that the end result would be a documentary of their miracle. Sadly, Joel passed away in March of this year. Since then, development has shifted from telling the story of Joel's struggle to experiencing his life through the eyes of those who loved him most. In their Kickstarter video, Ryan and Amy say that they have tried to focus on every aspect of Joel's life, from the good to the heartbreaking and hope that players can come to know more about who Joel was and what it was like to love and care for him.

That Dragon, Cancer has reached its Kickstarter goals and has offered up further stretch goals. As of writing this, the game has raised over $98,000, more than $10,000 over its original goal. Still, this is a project worth your support. That Dragon, Cancer is a changing experience. Ryan, if you are reading this at all, thank you for sharing your story with the world and for showing so many how to find light in the darkest parts of life.