That Dragon, Cancer Now Kickstarting

Any time a limb of RPS has had the opportunity to play That Dragon, Cancer, they’ve turned it down. As beautiful and exciting as it looks, it also seems harrowing. One needs to be in a certain mood to play a game based on a family’s real-life story of raising their young son as he goes through terminal cancer. We’ve heard wonderful things about it but… it’s never been the right time.

While That Dragon, Cancer was once due to be an Ouya timed exclusive, now the non-puzzling adventure game’s headed to Windows and Mac simultaneously too. It’s looking for funding to finish up, though, so the developers have turned to Kickstarter.

That Dragon, Cancer is a series of point-and-click scenes about the joys, hopes, and difficulties of Amy and Ryan Green raising their son Joel as he went through treatment. When programmer Ryan and the team started working on the game, Joel was still in treatment. He died this March. It’s still a game about hope. Please do read about Jenn Frank’s experiences of playing an early demo; she writes about that better than I could.

I am uncomfortable experiencing emotions but had a little cry watching the Kickstarter video, so let’s move onto talk of cold, hard money. The Kickstarter is looking for $85,000 (£54k) to finish development. Pledging at least $15 (£9.50) will get you a copy of the game when it’s finished. More expensive tiers will let you put some artwork or a message of your own into certain scenes.

28 Comments

  1. padger says:

    Oof. This game.

    (Backed.)

  2. Orija says:

    Is this even a game? I pity the kid and all, but I don’t see any gameplay in there.

    • Zallgrin says:

      It’s an adventure game of some sort. You can read more here about how the demo looked like.

      Personally, after reading that article even the game’s name brings up tears for me. Every goddamn time. I’ve backed the project, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to play it.

    • EValdr says:

      No, it isn’t. But nobody wants to be branded as the guy who hates a kid with cancer just for pointing out the fact that an animated short doesn’t become a game simply because you give me a button to press. Remember what happened last time we did that?

      • JimmyG says:

        I think I understand how you feel. With this game (as with Depression Quest, it sounds like), you feel like you have a valid mechanical criticism — but other people might label you hateful because they’re wrapped up in the game’s emotional content.That’s probably happened before, yeah. But it might not be the only reason that saying “this isn’t a game” sets people off.

        Just to introduce another perspective, sometimes hearing “not a game” incites people to defend the possibility and plurality of all interactive-whatevers. They feel like bending expectations and breaking rules is good for an artistic medium — it expands things in new directions, and allows the form to grow beyond what it has traditionally been. That doesn’t mean they like everything that gets made. Twine games have been especially divisive recently. But the difference between “not a game” and “ooh, interesting experiment” is basically the difference between, “no, get out of our clubhouse” and “hey, wow, a new friend! come on in and tell us about yourself.”

        It’s fine to impose a draconian definition of gamefulnessism in your personal life, but doing it out loud can just strike some folks as aggressive or spiteful — like some stereotypically cantankerous parent of a baby boomer, barking that the twee rock-and-roll of the 1950s isn’t music. That’s all I’m really trying to say.

        You might have more luck if you try to recraft your criticisms as, “I wish it had more interactivity. I wish it had more mechanics. I acknowledge that it might still interest some people, but I take two scoops of systems with my cup of tea.” Or, you know, you might still get flamed because some people are wrapped up in the game’s emotional content. But hey — you tried!

        • theblazeuk says:

          Depression quest had a game mechanic though: you could succeed by managing it effectively, muddle through in the same miasma or crush into an even deeper abyss.

        • Raiyne says:

          I wish more of the world could think like you do. Too often, people succumb to their innate desire to categorise everything in their own little boxes, unable to think deeply about the fundamental experience beneath every medium. Ultimately games are all about interaction, and the emotions we experience through them.

          • bp_968 says:

            Sure, but some of us choose to play games to “forget life” and the real world for a while. This is not something I’d classify as fun regardless how much interaction (or how little) it has. I’ve been disabled by illness, it reminds me every morning how crappy life can be. A good friend of mine is dying of cancer, another friends child nearly died from it just last year. My wife regularly volenteers for “now I lay me down to sleep” (warning, that site will make you very very sad). I see plenty of life’s crap without “playing” it in a video game. Let me conquer the world, or get trolled by a jerk alien in my video games.

            That’s cool that they are dealing with the pain through creativity. That’s cool that some people will want a game like this. It’s also cool that some people want nothing to do with it. We all handle the darker aspects of life differently. Unfortunately we all eventually have to handle it at some point (how is it the only sure thing in life is death? How twisted is that?)

    • Bassen_Hjertelos says:

      No, by definition a game has to provide entertainment and/or amusement. This is an interactive story. I understand the need to give it a label, but calling it a game degrades the poor child and what he went through. It is not entertaining and certainly not amusing.

      Every time I see El Laberinto del Fauno I feel somewhat entertained by it’s beautiful scenography and tiny moments of warmth and humor, but mostly it’s a harrowing experience, especially the ending. I would hardly call that movie entertainment. Maybe it’s because computer games are a young medium, but I think it’s wrong to chuck everything remotely interactive under the “game” label.

  3. SanguineAngel says:

    This seems like rather a brave and admirable thing to do. I am certainly going to put a little something their way.

  4. Dawngreeter says:

    What a brave thing to do. I applaud the creators, that’s some superhuman level of emotional strength that I couldn’t dream of possessing. And I’ve lost my baby boy after 10 months of intensive care, so I’d say I have an idea what it’s like. Even writing down this one sentence, I had to take a break midway. Can’t imagine creating a whole game about it..

    Best of luck to the Greens. I won’t be able to play the game, but I feel the world owes them a debt for making it, should they succeed in finishing it. Or, hell, even attempting to.

    • Crea says:

      Very sorry about your loss. I’m in full agreement – I couldn’t play this, but think it’s wonderful that it exists.

      It’s the most unexpected thing about having kids, for me. The amplification of your emotional range. I don’t think I ever really feared, truly feared, anything, before having my kids. Now, reading something like your post, and the description of this game, brings tears of empathy and, yes, terror to me.

      I had absolutely not expected that. To feel such panic at a hypothetical scenario. Fundamentally different to the thought of the loss of a spouse, or a parent. And not hypothetical at all, for you. Again, sorry.

      • MadZab says:

        Having only just become a father less than three months ago I totally agree: Even just reading about the game and seeing the (rather rough) graphics makes me throat clench up. There is nothing as harrowing as realizing just how much you have to loose as a parent. Truth be told, I cannot even watch the kickstarter-video. I don’t dare to. It would likely break me for the entire day and I have work to do.

        At Dawngreeter: I have no idea what to type to express my condolences.

        • Armante says:

          Dawngreeter, I cannot even begin to.. My heartfelt condolences.

          I’m a stay at home dad to my 15 month old, and becoming a father has been a genuinely life hanging event for me. The depth of feeling is just staggering. Just reading this coverage on RPS left me wobbly, and going through the Kickstarter pledges got me choked up. The final pledge level just had me sobbing.

          My father passed away almost a year ago, and I am so grateful he got to meet his grandson before his time was up. Life seems so much more precious now than it used to. Good luck to the parents and creators of That Dragon, Cancer. I’ve pledged although I doubt I will actually ever load it up. It is part of their healing process, and I felt that the little I could do to help them in that was worth it.

          Dawngreeter, I hope you have the love and support of those close to you.

          • MadZab says:

            One of the great regrets I have right now in my life is that my mother died two years before her grandson was born. And at the age of 56, after five years of a constantly losing battle against cancer, that is too early. Still, seing that happen to someone below you in the family tree is something I cannot even begin to fathom. Damn, this whole thing is really ruining an otherwise nice Friday…

    • MajorManiac says:

      Thank you for sharing this.

    • Mitthrawn says:

      And what a brave thing for you to do, to write that. I am very sorry for your loss.

      I backed this but even without being a parent, I’m not sure I will have the emotional strength to play the finished thing (and never has the word “play” felt so misused).

    • aldo_14 says:

      *hug*

      (I can’t really think of any adequate words)

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Thanks to all you guys. Wasn’t really attempting to fish for sympathy but… yeah. A heartfelt thanks is in order.

      I talked to my wife about this game last night and we both recalled how one of the pain points in such a horrible situation is that you just can’t tell someone what it’s like. You can’t figure out the words that could explain it to someone who doesn’t already know. That kind of thing makes you feel strangely confined, even if you really don’t have much of a desire to go around talking to people about things like that. It’s the fact that the option isn’t even there that can really bother you.

      So, the fact that this attempt will exist out there really means a lot. I doubt many people will want to “play” it (yeah… strange wording…), and that’s natural. I just feel it existing is something that matters to me personally. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are many others who feel the same.

  5. Burius1981 says:

    I looked at this article and watched the kickstarter video two hours ago while I was eating lunch, I had to leave work and take a walk to clear my head. I have a 13 month old son and I can’t begin to wrap my head around going through something like this, I’m feeling awful trying to write this comment.

    I’m definitely going to pledge to the project but I don’t know if I will ever be able to play (ugh) the game. This will be the game I show to someone the next time the old “video games as art” argument comes up.

  6. check engine says:

    Is there a way to crowd-fund and not be given the game?

    As a father of three I have absolutely no desire to play it, or even possess it. Just reading the article makes me want to leave work early and run home to hug my kids.

    • jezcentral says:

      Yes, click on the green “Back this project” button under the number of days to go.

      Choose the “No reward” tier, and enter an amount. I’ve sent them $10 this way.

  7. jezcentral says:

    I want so much for this game to exist.

    I want so much to never read about it again.

  8. b0rsuk says:

    So mature, so artsy!

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      thankfully there are people like you, who are the complete opposite and it all balances out.

  9. Khaya says:

    I hate to be the guy pointing this out, but I’ve registered nonetheless just to make this comment.

    This ‘game’ feels somehow wrong to me. Although it’s pretty cool they are commemorating their deceased son by making an interactive story about his last moments, monetizing the whole thing just doesn’t feel kosher to me.

    Additionally, choosing to put the focus on their own experiences makes it come across more as an autobiography that capitalizes on people’s empathy and emotion than a pure ode to their son.

    Also: pointing out a piece of entertainment does not conform to the commonly accepted definition of a game does not make them spiteful by default. If something resembles an interactive story more than a game (which it does, from what I’ve seen so far), it should be called an interactive story.

    [Edit] Apparently they’ve already written a book about the experience, called “He’s not dead yet”

    • Raiyne says:

      Monetising their dead son? Jeez, that’s a really cynical thing to say, man. Personally I figured it’d be an act of catharsis, paying tribute to their son, albeit in a very direct way. To have given so much of their lives taking care of him, struggling against the inevitable, that’s a really heavy burden.

    • Kala says:

      what are videogames if not interactive stories?