That Dragon, Cancer: A Review
That Dragon, Cancer was created by Ryan and Amy Green in homage to their little boy Joel who died of cancer in 2014. In the same week that we have lost Alan Rickman and David Bowie, this story goes to further prove just how much of a piece of shit cancer really is. The game is more like an interactive story than a game and the player simply needs to point and click to walk and interact with Joel, and Ryan who you play the majority of the game as. A selection of mini games are also included but these are simple games that help move the story along.
The gameplay style works, and I’m not really sure how else Ryan and Amy could have tackled such a topic in this medium, but I’m not sure whether I would play any similar style games in the future. That Dragon, Cancer could almost be an animated short due to the small amounts of interaction the player actually has, and I think in some ways it would have been better released in a different medium.
Following the very personal story of Joel, from his cancer diagnosis to his death, this is most certainly the most delicate game I have ever played. This also makes it really hard to really portray my true feelings of the game for fear of somehow diminishing his parents’ grief or placing negative thoughts on their religion: neither of which I wish to do. Yet I feel I need to be honest, and although I have read about people struggling emotionally with this game, the only time I did tear up was during the end credits where photos of Joel and his family were included.
I think part of the reason why I couldn’t get too involved in the game was because of how religious it is. A lot of the game focuses on Ryan and Amy’s relationship with God and I found myself getting frustrated with it at times. There was one point in the game where I spent ten minutes desperately trying to make Joel feel better and stop crying and nothing seemed to work. Then Ryan prayed to God and was given the peace he needed.
At another point in the story, Ryan questions whether Jesus will love Joel as he did Lazarus. This to me seems like a very bizarre thing to query, yet perhaps this was his despair, and maybe those who believe in Christianity can see the reasoning. It did however make me wonder how people do cope in situations when they haven’t got a strong belief system behind them. Does religion make it easier or harder to cope with tragic situations? This isn’t something a game has made me ponder before.
On top of this, I felt uncomfortable with how personal the story is. I had to pause it a few times as I didn’t think it was right of me to be acting as a voyeur looking in on this poor family’s grief. I did like how, however, apart from the crying scene mentioned above, Joel was always portrayed as happy and not in pain. His giggle was adorable, and you could see that he was much more than the cancer that had taken his body.
I feel awful writing this review as no parent should have to go through what the Green family did, and if That Dragon, Cancer has helped them to somehow come to peace with losing their little boy, that can only be a good thing. Yet, however much I wanted to write a positive review due to the game’s backstory, I almost found it too personal, and with no real game play involved, I felt like nothing more than a fly on the wall who was sharing a part of the poor family’s grief. It’s not something I think I would want to go through again but I do wish the family all the best, and I hope this game has brought them some kind of peace.