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    dkirschner's That Dragon, Cancer (PC)

    [November 12, 2018 12:31:42 PM]
    I have a feeling I will never forget this game. It is a raw, emotional journey through a family's life as they grapple with their youngest son, Joel, dying from cancer. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings while playing, and will do my best to summarize them here.

    1. Authenticity. That Dragon, Cancer is such a personal piece of work. You feel what the parents were going through--the shock, the grief, the hope, the love. You even feel the confusion that their other children experienced, and one of my favorite aspects of the game was how it showed the parents guiding their other children through Joel's illness. Many of the recorded conversations sound like a mic was on in routine family interactions. The mother's letters/diary entries are at times brutally sad, at times pensive, and usually hopeful and religiously inspired.

    2. Religion. I know the game has been knocked for heavy Christian overtones. This is not a preachy game. If it were preachy, I would have hated it. Instead, it demonstrates how faith helped the family through the ordeal, helped them understand and rationalize the loss of their son. A major function of religion is to explain the inexplicable, and although we can scientifically explain cancer, it is hard to understand WHY it is happening to YOUR child. Why would God allow that? Many of the religious reflections aren't particularly deep, but use them as a springboard to go deeper yourself.

    3. Art. The game is beautiful in its own way. Not in the "wow, that's impressive art" or "wow, the technical ability of the artist is high!," but in its simplicity and in the emotions that the scenes evoke. The opening vignette sees you controlling a duck, eating bread that Joel happily tosses into the water, as the father talks to his other two sons about how Joel is different. Then, you take control of Joel and toss the bread. It sets the mood--a serene lake, a family outing, sunshine, hope, happiness--that becomes distorted at times later. One of the most memorable vignettes with a seriously dark tone sees you controlling Joel, floating in the sky with a bunch of inflated medical gloves (as balloons). There are ugly, black, pulsating representations of mutated cells that you need to avoid. But it's impossible to avoid them, and one by one, the balloons pop, until Joel falls from the sky and the vignette ends.

    4. Gameplay. The game design is strong because of the art, the vignettes, the empathy the whole package elicits. The game design is weak in terms of controls and how much you can interact with the world. Sometimes these effect each other positively, and sometimes negatively. I'm sure the level of interactivity is purposeful, but I think it clearly shows that this game is in no way a polished product from a team of highly skilled designers that we generally expect to encounter. Instead, there's not a lot to DO except use a walk command and some sort of "interact" command. There are a couple others that I could not figure out what the icon meant. There is a swimming sequence where you have to (I think--actually I'm not sure what the "win condition" was for that area) get the dad to swim to the surface of some water, perhaps toward a rowboat, but he's so hard to control. Another was a little cart racing vignette that was so rudimentary. The cart goes, and you steer it in a circle. Again, these generally worked emotionally, but they were not easy or interesting to play through, and the emotional impact would have been greater if my focus wasn't on "Swim UP man!" or "Wow, this cart control sucks." One cool vignette was a story that the parents were telling their other two sons about Joel. Joel is a knight fighting cancer, which is a dragon. The game shifts to a delightful 2-d platformer. You control Joel, and as his parents tell the story, their words appear on screen where some narration manifests. So for example, "And Joel had armor to protect him [text appears with armor that you pick up]. And he needed this armor because on his journey he faced many fearsome enemies [text appears over new enemies]." It's like the story causes the sidescrolling, and was a super cool way to demonstrate progression in the narrative and in this vignette. But sometimes the text would seem out of place or it would go too fast and appear off screen. It took a little bit of oomph away from the vignette, but that was still one of my favorite ones.

    There's plenty more to say about this, but I'm going to revisit the game. Next semester, I'm teaching a course on death, grief, and dying, and I am absolutely going to work this in. It's short enough and simple enough to use in class, touches on numerous topics I've got outlined for the course, and students will find it extremely interesting. And I wasn't even thinking about that before I played!
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    dkirschner's That Dragon, Cancer (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Sunday 11 November, 2018

    GameLog closed on: Monday 12 November, 2018

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Sad, authentic game about parents losing their little boy to cancer.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

    Related Links

    See dkirschner's page

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    1 : That Dragon, Cancer (PC) by jp (rating: 5)


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