“We grieve in silence,” game maker Ryan Green says at one point in That Dragon, Cancer, an interactive experience based on the illness and eventual death of his son, Joel. Released this week from Numinous Games after years of development, That Dragon, Cancer is his family’s grief transformed into a game, their private tragedy made public and achingly loud.
Green started the game in 2013, before Joel’s death on March 13, 2014. Its release follows much media hype, and a massively successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $100,000. So what’s it like to spend two hours with the Green family’s loss? Harrowing, haunting, and complicated. There are beautiful, moving moments in That Dragon, Cancer, such as the first scenes where you’re in a serene woods, playing with Joel, and an unsettling voice message from Ryan’s wife Amy disrupts the peace with worry about Joel’s vomiting and the strange lean of his head. I also got tears in my eyes when I found myself in a hospital room littered with sympathy cards, not all of them for Joel, and after reading each one I exited to find the hospital hallways absolutely packed with them. The Green family’s sorrow may be the focus, but it’s just one of thousands of lives strained by cancer each year in these sterile spaces.
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