That Dragon, Cancer

is an autobiographical game about the life and death of a boy with cancer. Joel, who was diagnosed when he was 1 and died four years later in 2014. He was survived by his parents, Ryan and Amy Green, who made the game.

On Steam, That Dragon, Cancer is described as a "walking simulator", but that's not quite accurate - while it isn't fun, the game is committed to its medium. Yes, you spend a lot of time walking around. But there are also parts where Joel literally battles a black dragon, or drives a couple of laps around a circuit. Often, these moments feel out of place until you get to the end of the segment and your collectables pop up on screen. Those bright, shiny objects you picked up on the racetrack each represent the various brutal treatments Joel has had to undergo.

While That Dragon, Cancer is at times clunky, it also feels important. The desperation of Amy, who truly seems to believe God will heal her son, runs counter to Ryan's descent into despair. At one moment, when Ryan is losing hope, he and Amy are arguing.


"You have to let me feel this," Ryan cries, and it hurts me. I could imagine having that conversation, feeling heartbroken and feeling like I wasn't allowed to be yet.

And, in another scene, Ryan's struggle as he tries to comfort his crying son. Joel is, understandably, in pain. The sound of him crying made me incredibly uncomfortable, and I'm not a parent. I was, like Ryan, rushing to find a way to just get him to stop screaming, but I couldn't.

The entire game is just a couple of hours long, but it managed to elicit an emotion in me that I haven't felt while playing a game before. Going into That Dragon, Cancer I thought that feeling would be grief, but it wasn't. It was pure, unadulterated desperation.

Game: That Dragon, Cancer
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Ouya