Today, we are announcing the Playability Initiative at Games for Change. It’s an initiative that has our whole heart because it allows us to focus on the abilities of children like Joel, who may not be able to leap and run and dance and sing, but we know that everything they can do is a precious gift to the people who love them. We are designing a video game for “the one.” The one others may not see. The one that may get brushed aside so we can serve the majority. The one who the shepherd might leave the 99 for. And what if this one can only move a single finger, ever so slightly? Can we imbue meaning and joy and connection to that child’s ability? We can. We just have to be willing to consider them, to see value in their abilities, and believe they are precious enough to warrant our efforts. Because of Joel, we see all of these “ones,” and we don’t think, “what a shame,” we think, “look at them go!”
There is nothing quite like paying someone not to listen to you.
Me: “We need to do something different. The diabetes medicine is triggering my IBS. I’m at the point where it is affecting my work.”
Doctor: “Did you know that the drug you are on has benefits for preventing cancer?”
Me: “What? I’m in the bathroom at least 4 hours a day, every few days, because of this medicine.”
Doctor: “I wish I was on the diabetes medicine you are on just for its cancer preventing abilities alone.”
Me: “You have diabetes?”
Doctor: “No, but the cancer benefits.”
After weeks of dealing with side effects from my diabetes drug, I had hoped for a new path of treatment. Instead, I was told that I am:
Doctor: “You’re doing good. Keep taking the medicine.”
So frustrating to waste time and pay someone not to listen to me. All the while they are messing with medication, and my health.
I’m hunting for a new primary care doctor. I shouldn’t have to feel like I am fighting against a domineering/non-listening doctor who doesn’t care whether I am sicker than a dog or not.
The Gospel Coalition’s Chris Casberg wrote a piece titled “‘That Dragon, Cancer’: A Video Game on Death, Grief, and Our Living Hope“. Love his observation on how the experience subverts player agency.
“That Dragon, Cancer” frustrates and subverts the normal expectation of agency. Players are given game-like tasks, like navigating Joel through a field of cancer cells as he clings to a handful of balloons, or racing a wagon through the hospital.
The facade of power and control crumbles away. It’s a brilliant piece of artistry in terms of video game design and theological heft; we players, accustomed to the power to trample our enemies, are shown our impotence in the face of a broken and fallen world. Our works cannot save Joel.
The overall effect is devastating. I cried multiple times, and I even had to stop the game to go hold my infant daughter. I’ve never had a game move me so much.
Tabitha and I experienced That Dragon Cancer together. With Wyatt tucked away in bed for the night, we hooked the laptop up to the television. Light’s dimmed, we entered the world of the Green family. The musical score comforts like a warm blanket. The woods around full of promise and wonder. In this setting we meet the Green’s son, Joel, who is feeding a duck. Joel laughs, a lot. After a transitional time at the playground, we meet the dragon of this story, cancer.
Cancer, represented in jagged distorted shapes of hate. Always lurking like a monster in the night. Howls reverberating as a heartbeat of a sick boy.
That Dragon Cancer is a series of vignettes, brief flashes of hope and dark nightmares. Narrated at times by Ryan and Amy Green, we follow their family on their journey with Joel. Tabitha and I appreciated the depth of honesty in Amy’s comments on doubt. Doubt is normal, she says. A contrast to the modern Church whispering “hush” in such moments.
No matter how dire the situation became. No matter how hard Amy and Ryan prayed, their faith stood out to us. A faith that allows for questions, doubts, and even fears. Media, as a whole, has a hard time portraying faith. The video game medium allows for an unknown level of intimacy. Allowing us to partake, in some small way, in the Green’s suffering. I’m thankful for that.
As the game ended, I found myself in a contemplative mood. That Dragon Cancer reminded me of my need to pray. I prayed for Amy, Ryan, and their family. I fell asleep only to wake up sometime later. Praying over life, direction, and meaning.
I would like to thank Ryan and Amy for being real. For sharing Joel’s life and opening up their family to the world.
Title: That Dragon, Cancer
Developer: Numinous Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, OUYA
Reviews on: PC
*A review copy was provided for this review.