Mostly video games are the stuff of triviality – something we switch on to wind down after work or entertain ourselves during the weekend. But, a new title brings a serious, heart-rending message to the world of gaming.
That Dragon, Cancer is an indie title that is quickly gaining a following. It tells the real-life story of how developer Ryan Green is dealing with his young son’s terminal illness.
It is described as “an adventure game that acts as a living painting; a poem; an interactive retelling of Ryan and Amy Green’s experience raising their son Joel, a four-year-old currently fighting his third year of terminal cancer. Players relive memories, share heartache, and discover the overwhelming hope that can be found in the face of death.”
While cancer has long been the focus of movies such as Love Story or novels, including the recently released children’s book A Monster Calls, video game developers have so far shied away from including such a weighty subject.
But Green believes it was a natural marriage, explaining that when creative people face tough circumstances, they do what they do best – create. “It’s one of those experiences where I don’t know what else I would do to cope,” he says. He also believes the game will offer hope to anyone going through similar circumstances.
Green came up with the idea after his little boy was diagnosed with an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumour, a rare condition affecting 30 new children every year in the US. Diagnosed at the age of one, Joel has battled eight different tumours over the past three years, each one aggressively treated with radiotherapy, surgery, or chemotherapy. Each time, doctors told Joel’s parents to prepare for the worst, and each time, Joel defied the odds.
The game sees users play as Green himself in the first of what is planned to be a six-scene story.
It combines poetry, simple yet charming visuals and an emotive piano soundtrack to give gamers an intimate, and at times deeply upsetting, glimpse into what life is like caring for a sick child.
The first scene is played in a hospital room, with beeping machines, and the soundtrack of Joel’s plaintive cries. Throughout, you see all Ryan’s thoughts – even the unflinchingly honest ones like how, at the beginning, he saw himself cast in the role of heroic father able to bring his son through his terrible illness.
Thoughts and poems pop up, along with the opportunity to pray, and to read the prayers of the Greens. But, the overwhelming message is not one of religion – it’s never forced upon you. Instead, no matter how difficult a play this game is, the message firmly remains one of hope.
As Green writes on the game’s website: “We’re still fighting with Joel, and even though we’re on our eighth tumour, we’ve had a beautiful three years in the midst of such trials. That Dragon Cancer will have moments of despair, but I will never lead the player there. Our journey has been characterised by hope and many small miracles, a community of faith and a set of amazing physicians. And, even in the event we lose him, our desire is that our hope remains.”
The game is still in development, being funded by proceeds which come in from a book the family has written called He’s Not Dead Yet.