As video games mature as a medium the subject matters they cover become increasingly diverse. Recently this has become ever more apparent, with games like Dear Ester and Gone Home both abandoning the tired old high fantasy/sci-fi/zombie themes that have become almost ubiquitous. I say 'almost' as now we come to That Dragon, Cancer a game that is tells the story of a child who is ridden with terminal cancer as told through the eyes of his father.
If you're still reading this preview you may want to grab some tissues as That Dragon, Cancer
doesn't pull any punches when it comes to its subject matter. As noted, the player assumes the role of the father of a baby boy who is suffering from cancer. Viewed from a primarily first person perspective, the player selects icons that show preset movements and interactions with the environment. As the player does this the story of the boy's continuing trials against the cancer that is slowly killing him unfold via text that splashes across the screen and is read out by his father.
Sadly That Dragon, Cancer
is not a work of fiction. The lead developer Ryan Green is the father of the four-year-old Joel, who features in the game. It is Ryan's voice you hear as he tells how hard it is for him to see his son suffer so much, yet be able to do little to comfort him because of the illness that plagues him.
It is a deeply moving game and one that impacted me a great deal after I had experienced it at PAX Prime. So much so that it weighed on me for quite some time after I had played it. I had to take a break from the show floor and everything else just to make sense of what I had seen.
The style of the game takes on a very low polygon look that is akin to Another World
, which does an excellent job of reflecting the stark reality the player faces as they work their way through the game. The sound is limited to the wailing and gurgles of Joel as well as the monologue given by his father. The whole game is designed to deliver a single stark message to the player as simply as possible, avoiding any ambiguities.That Dragon, Cancer
is being released on the Ouya console sometime in 2014. Entirely self-financed, the developers are working studiously to deliver a game that is both impactful and deeply thought provoking. I shall sign off by saying that while I'm happy to see That Dragon, Cancer
is a game that can and will be released, I can't help but feel a tinge of melancholy over what I experienced. But that's hardly surprising, considering the fact that I'm a human being with feelings.