That Dragon, Cancer is a storytelling, narrative video game that retells the story of Joel Green’s 4 year fight against cancer. Released on Joel’s birthday January 12, 2016, That Dragon, Cancer is two hours of poetic narrative that explores faith, hope and love.
That Dragon, Cancer was developed by Joel’s father and mother Ryan and Amy Green along with Josh Larson and Numinous Games.
Inspired after watching Jacksepticeye play the game, I decided to give it a go. And what a powerful gaming experience.
From the beginning, I was emotionally invested in That Dragon, Cancer. Playing the game through headphones, I felt as if I was going on a magical journey through life.
I was interested in the game because of the characters who brought to life the reality of what facing cancer as a parent is like. They made the game real to those of us who haven’t had to deal with cancer in their lives. I felt as if I were living their lives, feeling all of their emotions as they dealt with cancer hurting their son. Amy was strong, holding on to her faith in God that Joel would be alright while Ryan was scared, not wanting to lose his son and feeling as if he was drowning. These feelings are showcased through Amy’s letters in the water and seeing Ryan drowning when Amy is trying to pull him on their boat.
In That Dragon, Cancer, this imagery is paramount throughout the game. The player not only experiences Amy and Ryan’s thoughts and feelings throughout the game as their son battles cancer, but also experiences a lot of dream-like imagery and metaphors. The title of the game itself showcases this as you get dived into an arcade game where you play as Joel, a warrior who battles monsters and eventually faces his greatest foe, a dragon who is called cancer.
In this part of the game, you play as Joel and Amy is telling you a bedtime story about a warrior who has a hard battle with a dragon to face. As you play this arcade game, Joel’s brother asks questions about the warrior the further you progress until you battle the dragon. The game itself is an interesting experience that also helps you understand the title of the game and puts meaning behind it to symbolize that Joel is in a battle against a dragon for his life.
Besides the imagery and characters, I also enjoyed playing That Dragon, Cancer because of the storytelling. I love how Amy and Ryan tell Joel’s story of battling cancer in an imaginative way. It allows the player the experience of seeing cancer in a new light, bringing understanding to a subject people avoid discussing.
I also enjoyed the story in That Dragon, Cancer because it is real. Joel Green is a real child who went through cancer and lost his battle. And experiencing that battle in a video game really brings to light how cancer can impact a family.
The only drawback I experienced playing That Dragon, Cancer is lagging. Whenever I was playing the game, there were a lot of moments where the game would shutter and repeat words a character said. This made moments whenever dialogue was really heavy and emotions were high difficult to immerse myself into the game because I had to keep pausing the game to stop the lagging. This made enjoying the emotional impact That Dragon, Cancer had difficult because I felt I couldn’t connect to the game as much because of the issues I was having.
However, That Dragon, Cancer is still an amazingly powerful emotional rollercoaster I enjoyed getting to experience. It not only made me emotional but also brought awareness to cancer in a fashion I hope we can use for other health illnesses.