That Dragon, Cancer Is The Hardest Game You’ll Ever Play

Review: That Dragon, Cancer

That Dragon, Cancer (Ouya, PC)
Developer: Numinous Games
Publisher: Numinous Games
Price: $14.99
Released: January 12, 2015

Without a doubt, That Dragon, Cancer is the hardest game you’ll ever play. Not because the gameplay is especially challenging, but because the game deals with difficult themes on such a sincere, human level that I cannot imagine how anyone who plays this game will not be reduced to tears.

That Dragon, Cancer is a two hour-long, autobiographical meditation of creator Ryan Green’s experience of having a young child diagnosed with cancer. When Ryan’s son Joel was twelve months old, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was expected to live only a few more months. In spite of the short prognosis, Joel lived for several more years. That Dragon, Cancer explores the time between the diagnosis and Joel’s eventual passing.

That Dragon, Cancer‘s strengths lie within delivering deeply personal, moving moments that convey the pain and helplessness of raising a terminally ill child (though, I imagine that it’s merely a morsel of how difficult it truly is). Whether it be spinning a children’s toy to hear the thoughts of adults in a room to feeding ducks while Joel’s siblings ask questions about his static development, when players are made to interact with representations of how the family is coping with the looming tragedy is unsettling in how moving and meaningful these moments are.

When the game strays into abstract representations of its emotional themes, or introduce interactive elements that lack the poignancy of previous scenes–i.e. the three lap cart race in a hospital with no opponents or stakes–, the game stumbles slightly. I say “slightly” because even though these moments feel a bit incongruous to the overarching sombreness of the game, it is still valuable time players can use to compose themselves from the crying the more emotional moments are sure to bring about.

Aside from a few issues with narrative-pacing and forced interactive moments, That Dragon, Cancer is well-worth two-hours of your day. From its handling of the highs and lows of life to the exploration of how Christianity fits into a family anticipating bereavement, from the discussions of the future to the enjoyment of the present, That Dragon, Cancer‘s unflinching humanity is an awe-inspiring beautiful experience when it is focused. It is an incredibly touching monument to a lost son that a few complaints about flow can’t undo.

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