A video game to cope with cancer

A couple’s attempt to deal with the terminal cancer of their infant son is now a “moving” and new “sui generis” video game. It is called “That Dragon, Cancer” and it is a one-of-a-kind game that might change our view on the ‘entertaining role’ of the video game industry.

That Dragon, Cancer (credit: www.thatdragoncancer.com)

That Dragon, Cancer (credit: www.thatdragoncancer.com)

The entire project took parents Amy and Ryan Green three years to complete and it has been a ‘hard ride’ since its conception in 2012. The idea sprung from a particularly traumatic night Ryan had at the hospital. His son Joel is being treated for cancer with chemotherapy and that particular night Joel is so dehydrated and yet so sick from the therapy that it cannot keep liquids down. To soothe Joel, Ryan tries everything, but nothing works. Exasperated, Ryan drops into a chair and starts to pray. Suddenly, the crying ceases. “I wanted to share that moment of, sometimes we feel hopeless but then there’s grace,” Ryan explained.

Ryan is an expert programmer and his wife, Amy, a writer. Driven by this idea of ‘wanting to share how it feels like’, the two decided to make a video game that would document their struggle with their son’s cancer. The game is unique in that sense – it is an emotional experience. It has moments when you can actually ‘interact’ like in any other video game, but at the same time there are situations in which no matter what you do, nothing will change – a bit like in a movie where the audience is ‘forced’ to follow the characters playing out with no power over their actions.

While Amy initially thought at the game as “a terrible idea”, Ryan realised he was on to something when after presenting it at a gaming conference in San Francisco in 2013, a few financial investors stepped up to support the project. Then things started to grow even bigger with a movie been filmed “Thank You For Playing” and a successful Kickstarter Campaign that raised more than $100,000.

As the game development progressed, Joel’s health deteriorated until he died at home on March 13th, 2014. When the Greens began the project, they did not know whether Joel would survive or not. “Joel didn’t have the chance to make an impact,” Ryan said. “We can show the world how important Joel was to us. Loving him and losing him was the richest part of our life so far.”

While the game has received favourable press and reviews, not everyone supports the idea, with someone even going as far as accusing Ryan and Amy of being ‘self-indulgent’ and ‘morbid’. “Our goal is not to hurt people,” Ryan commented. “We hope that people will experience it and feel their life has been added to”. Many people who, like the Greens, lost a child or a family member to cancer, have stepped forward to support Amy and Ryan. They hope that the game will resonate with other families like it so powerfully did with them.

You can find a link to the video game trailer here, and visit the official video game website at www.thatdragoncancer.com.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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