“That Dragon, Cancer” is a brutal, heartbreaking inspiration

★★★★★ $15, Mac, Windows

Bethany Berg, Photo Editor

Loss is a difficult thing to confront. We can cope and try to continue with our lives the best we can, but it’s difficult to talk about, to go through and to continue on after experiencing. “That Dragon, Cancer” confronts a world of doubt, fear, loss and anxiety head on. It is a direct connection to the heart of a father who is losing a son to cancer told through a simple art style, abstract imagery, spoken-word-like prose and a vulnerability that is raw and brave.

One of the first sounds you will hear upon beginning will be a child’s laughter. His name is Joel, and you will learn to love making him laugh. “That Dragon, Cancer” is a literal walk in developer Ryan Green’s shoes, a true story told by sights of parks, hospital rooms and hallways wreathed in cards to lost ones, about lost ones. It is a beautiful story about a tragedy, and after experiencing what the Greens went through – losing their five-year-old son Joel in early 2014 to a type of brain cancer: an Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor diagnosed when Joel was one – will leave you changed.

You may be asking why even consider playing a game surrounding the pain of cancer when you already have a suspicion on how it’s going to end; and my answer to that is because this is art. “That Dragon, Cancer” is so incredibly humane. It tackles a terrible issue, personal emotions, helplessness and the ache for structure behind hope and faith. It asks tough questions in tough times that I cannot personally understand fully and leaves the player more appreciative for the people they have with them now, while comforting them for the people they may have lost.

In terms of actual gameplay, this is a point and click interactive story. It’s a deep, emotional look in the loss of a young child to cancer. “Game” isn’t really the right word for it. It’s an experience, a kind of journey, one that I wasn’t expecting, upon starting. In the opening scene, there is a big orchestral opening, upbeat and uplifting and one that emphasizes how strong the music component is in “That Dragon, Cancer.” Music is an almost constant, ranging from uplifting to slow and pensive. It sets the mood to every scene, whether it lays behind speech or solely by itself.

For those of us who have not been so directly affected by cancer, “That Dragon, Cancer” helps to better understand and support those who have. It provides a place of familiarity to those suffering, and introduces a platform to share their own stories. It is not only a new form of support system but also a whole new medium to bring light to cancer research and donations.

“That Dragon, Cancer” is a beautiful, heartbreaking tribute. It is real and powerful, genuine and vulnerable, in a media where many are set up differently. I recommend everyone to experience this game, to see raw emotion and abstract retelling of a story about true loss. Just make sure to buy tissues.