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Let's Talk About That Dragon, Cancer

A feels trip, yes, but not necessarily the one you expect it to be.

Cross-posted from my personal blog.

That Dragon, Cancer has finally come out, and it is a doozy — enough of one that I’m releasing this week’s Let’s Talk About video ahead of schedule. Script is below.

Hi, folks. Crowbeak here. This is the newest video in my Let’s Talk About [GAME] series. Each episode focuses on a specific game — usually an indie game, since that’s mostly what I play — and things about the game that I think are worth talking about.

So let’s talk about That Dragon, Cancer.

Hoo boy.

In case you’re unaware, That Dragon, Cancer is an autobiographical game about what it’s like to have a child who was diagnosed with terminal cancer before learning to walk.

And it is one hell of a feels trip.

That is, I think, to be expected, given the subject matter. What surprised me when I played it, though, was that it wasn’t exactly the feels trip I expected to go on. Yes, it was a good thing that I made sure to have a box of tissues on hand. But I spent a lot of the game laughing, perhaps nearly as much as I spent in tears. It’s not just an endless chain of sad or frustrating moments strung together; there are also moments of silliness and joy. These, mixed with recordings of the developer and his wife having tough conversations with their other children, make That Dragon, Cancer very much a bittersweet emotional rollercoaster.

I can’t help but feel like that’s the point — if the game has one. What I took away from the game is that having a toddler with cancer is many things, sometimes awful, often stressful, but punctuated with the moments of joy any parent experiences with their children.

Every time I think back on That Dragon, Cancer, there are three trains of thought that my mind is likely to board.

First, I neither have nor want children of my own, though I do love children. I am an aunt and a teacher. When I was younger and an active participant in the youth theatre community back home, I was a role model for the younger children. I have therefore been priveleged to watch many children develop, if even for only a portion of their lives. I am glad that I’ve never had to watch this kind of tragedy unfold personally. I hope that having played That Dragon, Cancer will help me avoid making life more difficult for someone if I ever do find myself watching such tragedy unfold.

Second, two of my students have Down syndrome. Although undoubtedly less awful than having a toddler with cancer, I suspect many of the struggles shown in That Dragon, Cancer are similar to things the families of these children have gone through. Perhaps I understand their lives a little bit better now.

Last but not least, I remember my father. Upon hearing news of any tragedy involving the death of a child that left grieving parents behind, he always said, “No parent should ever outlive their child.” The accompanying look on his face would be haunted as he said it, like he was imagining me or my brother dying and how he would feel about it. Since his untimely death, my grandmother has fared poorly, losing much of her mental sharpness. It’s something I know my father would never have wished to inflict upon her.

Part of That Dragon, Cancer’s power comes from how easy it is to find parallels to one’s own experiences within it. It’s very relatable. The other part, of course, is that it’s a sad story and a true one.

Wired ran an excellent article on the creation of That Dragon, Cancer, which I highly recommend. You’ll find a link to it in the description.

Have you played That Dragon, Cancer? Are you reluctant to do so because of how powerful an experience you’ve heard that it is? Leave a comment to share your thoughts on it. And if you liked this video, please consider hitting the like button, subscribing to my channel, or sharing the video.

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