Unhappy New Year: That Dragon, Cancer Out January

That Dragon, Cancer [official site] is a biographical game, the documentary of a brief life translated into a series of “poetic, imaginative” interactive sequences. It tells the story of Joel Green, who was diagnosed with an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor aged 12 months and died age five. Doctors had expected Joel to live around four months after the diagnosis and the game explores the experiences of his parents (father Ryan is the programmer of the game, mother Amy is the writer) as he undergoes treatment and lives his too-short life.

After years in development and a Kickstarter campaign, the game is ready for launch and will be available January 12th on Windows and Mac.

The game has been at a few events I’ve visited over the years but I never much fancied playing it in public, with the developers and passers-by near enough to read my reactions. In the comfort of home, I’ll certainly find time to play.

I’m interested in the game as much because it’s a documentary of the creators’ lives as because of the specific circumstances of those lives. It’s impossible to separate That Dragon, Cancer from its subject matter, of course, but in a broader sense, I’d like to see more developers “creating what they know” in the way that generations of creative writing students have been told to “write what they know”. Obviously, it’s terrible advice when applied as a concrete rule but I’d love to see more biographies, auto and otherwise, in games.


  1. aldo_14 says:

    I wish them massive success, and I hope it’s helped on a therapeutic/emotional level, but there’s no way I could actually play the game. Even just watching the trailer is enough for me.

    • acheron says:

      Same here. Have to “nope” right out on this.

    • ebmocces says:

      I was thinking exactly that. I’ll happily throw money at it, but I doubt I have the heart strings capable of playing it.

    • El_MUERkO says:

      I donated to the kickstarter but selected no reward. As a dad I can’t be handling that shit.

  2. Capitán Indie says:

    I just read the article and already got watery eyes. Man, does being a father changes you. I cover indies, but I don’t know if I can do this one.

  3. Emeraude says:

    Oh god, right during vacation time, I won’t have any significant excuse I can give myself to postpone playing it.

    And I have to play it. I really hope they manage to do something creative with the premise. Kinda awful of me to see it that way first, but it could be an important piece if game design history if it does.
    One of those Kickstarters I was really mad I couldn’t back up.

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    It's not me it's you says:

    I’ve had enough RL trauma with this awful disease to voluntarily go anywhere near this project. That said, I hope making it it helped the parents in some small way.

    • Imbecile says:

      Yeah, same here. I hope its been cathartic to make, but if you’ve any actual experience of cancer yourself, I’m not sure how you could play this.

  5. misterbung says:

    I backed this on Kickstarter, but I don’t think I’ll have the fortitude to be able to sit down and play it. It’ll wreck me thinking about loosing my own daughter, and I don’t think I’m strong enough for that.

  6. Zekiel says:

    Wow. That looks really, really heartbreaking and really, really interesting. Its gone on the wishlist.

  7. mineshaft says:

    I was lucky enough to catch Thank You For Playing, which is the documentary of the making of this game. It was at PAX one night only. Trust me when I say there was not a dry eye in the place, and it is unlike any game I have seen. The movie takes meta to a whole different level.

    Speaking as a father of a special needs boy, this game is going to be painful, but important. I wish them all the best.

  8. frejyasdaeg says:

    As a long time family friend of the Greens it has been extremely difficult to watch this game come together. It is amazing that Ryan has not only been able to move forward with development on this game, but that they are not able to bring this game to market. This is such an important work to bring to the market, and will stand as a unique and important piece in gaming history.