When I saw this game was on display, with creator Ryan Green in tow, I was surprised. Reading Jenn Frank’s heart-melting article about the game several months ago, a loud venue like the LACC’s South Hall seemed like the worst possible theater for this kind of emotional experience. Talking with Green and then donning the headphones, I didn’t play That Dragon, Cancer with the intent of shedding a tear, but in embracing its very intimate story, I did anyway. The game affected me in a way that other games never could.
In the conventional sense, That Dragon, Cancer plays like an adventure game. Entirely mouse-driven, you click on points of attention and walk to various stations in this ICU room. In real life, Green’s son Joel has been battling terminal cancer for years; in the game, we see their relationship distilled to a poetic, interactive experience draped in simple graphics. Green’s provides the soft-spoken poetic narrative of a man under stress, doing his best to provide for his son but ultimately being able to solve Joel’s most pressing issue: a haunting sickness that simply won’t go away. As Joel cries, you feel helpless to assist, like I imagine Green does as the chemotherapy does its harsh work. This is a game about hope, about hanging in there and finding the victories in the bleakest situations.
That Dragon, Cancer was my pick for E3’s best Indie game and I stand by that. Rarely do games make you feel something so unique like developers Green and Larson have built.