playing the dragon

Original Photo: Numinous Games

Original Photo: Numinous Games

Today’s Fun Friday isn’t exactly fun, but it is about a game. I recently played and finished the indie video game, “That Dragon, Cancer.” 

Really, it’s more of an interactive experience, but there are certainly game elements to it.

This is something I’ve been thinking about playing for a while but have put it off because, well, I wasn’t sure how it’d make me feel—or perhaps because I had a pretty good idea how it would make me feel and I didn’t want to feel that way until I was good and ready.

If you haven’t heard of it, That Dragon, Cancer game is about … oh, I’ll just let the wikipedia article tell you:

“… the Greens' experience of raising their son Joel, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at twelve months old, and though only given a short time to live, continued to survive for four more years before eventually succumbing to the cancer …”

It has won some major awards and has been very well received. It’s moving, beautiful and raw. It paints some very powerful visual metaphors and much of it deals with the dad’s, Ryan’s, own faith and struggle through the experience. Though I often felt deeply moved while playing, there was one line in particular, toward the end, which especially resonated with me:

“I think greater than my fear of death is that of insignificance, rather my default assumption is that my thoughts and passions, loves and the stuff of my being are insignificant.
How could the creator of all that is and ever was love my son as he did Lazarus and could my soul stranded on this blue raft awash in a sea of stars, ice and dust matter enough to Him to turn his hand in mercy?”


I’m glad I played it and, while it dealt with some very heavy issues, it leaves the player in a good place, one of tranquility. The story it tells is an important one—one I believe could be very healing for those who have been though similar hardships.

I came away from this with two thoughts: 

First, I appreciated how the game really opened the doors to a consideration of what exactly makes something a game. It invites one to think about what the purpose of a game is to begin with. Is it solely for entertainment or something more?

Second, I’ve considered my own hesitancy to engage with the forms of creativity I know will stir up strong negative emotions like grief. Sometimes it’s easier when you don’t know what’s coming, like watching a movie you haven’t heard much about. I think of Grave of the Fireflies, which is probably the saddest movie I’ve ever watched (and a Japanese anime nonetheless). But even though it’s hard, I believe it’s very important we give some space for works such as this, whether we’ve been through the same type of experience or not. It rounds us out and opens our eyes to what life is like for others as well as prepares us for or encourages us through our own hard times.

If you’ve a mind or heart for it, I highly recommend That Dragon, Cancer and hope more creative experiences like this continue to surface, even if from a well of tears and tribulation.