January 2016 has been a month to remember. We have been inundated with deaths from the entertainment world at the beginning of the month, and while that is sad, we tend to neglect the other millions of people because we simply do not see all of them. Most all of us have known someone, at least, that has passed on from cancer and while we feel sorrow for them, the team at Numinous games have managed to take all the emotions to bring us a journey through the struggles of a dying loved one in, That Dragon Cancer.
I am going to go ahead and preface this by saying this game will not be given a score. Not because I feel that it is not a game, but because that definition is broad and not everyone is going to agree on what constitutes a game. It is not my intent to define it for the readers, nor will it ever. Instead, I will just refer to That Dragon, Cancer as a journey or experience, because that is what it is.
The experience will probably only take between an hour to an hour and a half to get through as we go through a family’s struggle coping with their youngest son’s sickness. Not everyone is going to like the overall design of the characters in this experience, as there’s no facial features on the people, especially Joel. We can tell by the hair and glasses who is the father and mother, but it through the majority of the game, Joel doesn’t have any clothes on other than a diaper/underwear. While this may not be the reason behind the design choice, this made the game more immersive. As a parent, all I could do is think, “That could easily be my kid as it could anyone else’s,” and with that it brought more into the game than I thought it would.
What drives the story even more is the musical score in the game. The score hits at all the right times to evoke some kind of emotional response, whether it is racing around the hospital Mario Kart style, reading the greeting cards in hospital hallways, or even the ending credits.
There is a spirituality and religious aspect to That Cancer, Dragon, that some players may not care for. The spiritual side of things are great as some scenes are meant to be more like metaphors than anything else; like drowning in your emotions as you see the father literally underwater. However, talks of Christianity are abundant to say the least. Towards the end of the game there is a lot of Bible talk that occurs, and while I am still not sure if it was completely necessary to have that much of it in this journey, I needed to remind myself that…
“This is not our experience, it is theirs. This is the creator’s version of the story he wanted to tell; events that probably happened and thoughts about it in his mind, and how to cope.”
For anyone that has kept up with this story since the Kickstarter campaign will already know how the story ends. What you will not know is the emotional struggle the parents had to go through and that in itself is part of the journey. What happened when one parents lose hope, while the other is so confident in their boy’s recovery? There are inevitably marital issues that occur in reality and in the journey of That Dragon, Cancer.
One thing to keep in mind about this experience is that we are going through the perspective of the parents in this, and not the pain that the child is experiencing in his mind. We get that impression already with the crying and the parents talking about it in the narrative. There is no feasible way that anyone could know what is going through Joel’s mind, and the game is better off not trying to.
There is one thing for sure when talking about That Dragon, Cancer, and that is there’s no effective way I can talk about what makes this a great experience and why you should play it at some point. How can a person put into words what another person if feeling, and why they created what they have, when you have no idea what its like to go through a child’s passing yourself? While I cannot condone the current price point at its release date, I can state that there was a lot of care that went into this project, as is should, since it was the director’s son. I just hope that a lot of people get to experience this journey at some point regardless of how much you want to pay for it.
That Dragon, Cancer it a journey that puts you into an experience that is all too real for many of us, and while it may not hit as close to home for some compared to others, it is well made story that deserves attention in its design choices and soundtrack alone. We are in a world with a lot of bad in it, but in the bad there can be good and positive way look things, and That Dragon, Cancer shows us that hope can exist no matter how you portray it.