That Dragon, Cancer

Last week, I watched a playthrough of “That Dragon, Cancer”. TDC is a video game made by Ryan and Amy Green, with the help of a few others. TDC follows Ryan and Amy and one of their sons, Joel. Joel was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer at the age of one. Although he was initially only given four months to live, Joel was able to live on for four more years.

TDC follows Ryan and Amy as they cope with the struggles of caring for Joel. In one scene, Ryan is in the hospital with Joel. It’s late at night, and little Joel is crying. No, he’s not crying. He’s wailing. The pain in his head is too much to bear. He starts hitting his head against the bars of his crib. Playing as Ryan, you try to calm Joel down. You bounce him and hold him. He’s still crying. You give him apple juice. He gulps it down greedily, then vomits it. This goes on for several minutes, as you desperately try to find a way to calm Joel down. Eventually, Ryan sits and prays. He prays that God would bring peace to his son. Suddenly, it’s quiet. Joel is asleep. Peace. At least for tonight.

TDC also explores the role that faith plays for Ryan and Amy, both of whom are Christians. Amy earnestly believes that God will heal Joel of his cancer, that she would bear witness to a miracle. Ryan tries to believe, but finds himself struggling. He prays out of sheer desperation, with nowhere else to turn.

To say that one “plays” That Dragon, Cancer isn’t quite accurate. There are some gameplay aspects about it, mostly surrounding exploration. Instead, it is an invitation into a very personal story. There is no simple answer, no magic cure that brings healing. But in the end, there is peace.

The game invites players to reflect on death, loss, and faith. I will hopefully never experience what Ryan had to go through in that long night in the hospital room, watching hopelessly as he tried to comfort his dying child, knowing that nothing he could do would make Joel feel better. But I am thankful that Ryan and Amy have invited others to share in their story.

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