A game you can’t win
In his book Lament for a Son, about the death of his 25-year-old son, Nicholas Wolterstorff invited readers to “sit beside me on my mourning bench.” In the video game That Dragon, Cancer, Ryan and Amy Green take us with them as they care, pray, and grieve for their five-year-old son, Joel, who is dying of cancer. As Wired and the Washington Post have noted, this ruthlessly honest video game breaks new ground in the culture of gaming, in which having fun has been the main goal.
The game shepherds the player through stages in Joel’s cancer and the Greens’ caregiving. It moves between a playground, a hospital room, and several surreal landscapes. The player assumes the role of Ryan, Amy, or Joel.
The game’s title comes from a scene that uses imagery from 1980s arcade games. The Greens explain cancer to Joel’s siblings by comparing cancer to a dragon. The player then uses keyboard keys to dodge the dragon’s fireballs or leap over pits. The absurdity of the play manages to lighten the somberness of the experience while underscoring the seriousness.