That Dragon, Cancer - The Year's most poignant video game

That Dragon Cancer Video Game Still

   For some, the idea of crying at video games seems preposterous. Whilst I've experienced pangs of frustration when placing a block in the wrong place at Tetris or a last minute goal conceded by my mighty Leeds United on Football Manager, tears of joy or sadness had never truly factored into my gaming life. Yet, with an entity like That Dragon, Cancer, I don't doubt for one minute that the experience will inspire a wealth of emotions for many who play it.

   The game was created in response to, and focuses its story, on the death of a child from cancer. That Dragon, Cancer, to confirm, does not use a child's death as a starting point for a tale seeped in grief - instead, we see (from the perspective of a parent) the protracted suffering of a child slowly dying before our eyes. The term "game" seems highly inappropriate to describe an interactive experience as soaked in pain as this even if it does utilise many of the machinations associated with the point-and-click genre familiar to adventure gamers.

   Ryan Green's creation captures the extremes of an unimaginable situation in a series of vignettes - the whimsy and joy of experiencing parenthood (captured in a fantastical battle with a dragon) through to the profoundly heartbreaking (trying to console young Joel's cries from the side effects of chemotherapy). This is not a game anyone would ever play for entertainment or enjoyment; instead, this is an immersive piece of art steeped in heightening or empathy for a situation that so few of us, thankfully, will ever truly understand.

   At only two-hours (or so) long, That Dragon, Cancer is short. This is a mercy - anything longer would have been unbearable (and perhaps, from a game design perspective, unsustainable). That said, despite the emotive subject matter and some brilliantly evocative cut-scenes, the game is not entirely without flaws. During various parts of the game, perspectives shift and we're often not certain of what we're supposed to be doing. If this is supposed to further reflect parenthood, this is quite a smart piece of commentary but, in terms of gaming, can prove rather frustrating. Yet, if such comments seem unkind, let me qualify them by stating that this is a game of rare ambition, emotion and eloquence (both narratively and aesthetically).

   That Dragon, Cancer, whilst formally similar to many games we're already familiar with, will change the way many of us think about gaming.
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