A Father, a Dying Son, and the Quest to Make the Most Profound Videogame
January 5, 2016 12:37 PM   Subscribe

A Father, a Dying Son, and the Quest to Make the Most Profound Videogame Ever: Wired interviews Ryan Green about That Dragon, Cancer, the upcoming game he created about his terminally ill son.
posted by infinitywaltz (16 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The Jenn Frank piece that's mentioned is here.
posted by kmz at 12:48 PM on January 5, 2016

On March 12, 2014, on the recommendation of their hospice nurse, the Greens took out the feeding tube that was Joel’s only source of sustenance. That night, they hosted an evening of prayer and song at their home. At 1:52 am on March 13, Joel died in his parents’ bed, with Ryan and Amy by his side.

Jesus Christ. I cannot even imagine. FUUUUUUUUUUCK Cancer.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Being a game maker, and therefore at PAX and the like in a professional capacity, there has been discussion (I'd hate to use the word buzz?) about this game for awhile. I always struggle with it. It's a crushing and terribly familiar story. But what they've done with it is not familiar, parents in their situation often get involved in fundraisers either for surviving families or for research, but not often make an interactive product.

By choice I've never played any iteration of the game. I find the exercise deeply uncomfortable, not wrong or right. But probably more that I am uncomfortable. Which might be the point.

While my ability to understand might be limited, I hope they get what they want/need out of this.
posted by French Fry at 1:32 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think using art to work through grief is very familiar, French Fry. Not many folks are making video games about their grief (or about the interplay among grief and hope and helplessness, like in the original project), but I get it.
posted by hollyholly at 1:54 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, a game is new but people do write books about their experiences, and filmmakers make movies about them.

It is deeply ingrained in our psyche to want to find connections with our fellow man. It is relatively easy to connect on things that bring us joy, but very hard to connect on things that don't. By sharing his experience with the world this man is finding ways to connect with the rest of the world, not just other victims of tragedy. It's laudable, and re-engaging with the community is a good sign this family is coping with their loss.
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:58 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

The stories about it are sufficient to make me teary, so there is no damn way I'm going to interact with this software (I'm sorry, I just can't. Knowing the background I can barely look at the screenshots), but I really respect their work. It's quite remarkable.
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am very happy this game exists. I'm happy that it is being made, I hope that it is artistically and commercially successful and I hope that it establishes a connection with people, especially for those who might get something really beneficial from it.

I'll be getting this, maybe not day one, but I don't know if I'll be able to play it. It might be too much for me to handle. My brother is four years old and I know it's not the same and I know that he doesn't look like the child in the game but that's probably who I'll see when I play it. It will definitely have some fantastic articles written about it when people get their hands on it. I'm looking forward to reading those personal essays and crying.
posted by Neronomius at 2:59 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of dark corners of the human experience that most people (mercifully) don't encounter, but that are common enough for many people to know someone who's encountered them.

The twilit world of medical care for an extremely ill child is one of those corners, with its long stretches of aching boredom punctuated by beeping machines and jolts of adrenaline in the middle of the night. I think it's really valuable for a game to try to put someone into that world, to share that experience.

I think I'm going to have to play it. If it resonates with my own experience, I might ask a few close friends to play it, too.
posted by gurple at 3:50 PM on January 5, 2016

Games let us share our emotions in new ways. Not all emotions are pleasant. That does not make them invalid or not worth sharing. I'm a father of two, a game maker and I hope to gather the courage to experience this game some day. Not looking forward to that though. Just reading about it is painful.
posted by hat_eater at 4:05 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I survived cancer. The last thing I want to do is watch a recreation, via a videograme, of someone's child dying from it.
posted by prepmonkey at 9:27 PM on January 5, 2016

That's totally reasonable. I don't think anyone is proposing that others be required to play this or any other game if they don't want to.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:34 AM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

I gave money to the kickstarter and will never play this game.
I could barely make it in to the trailer video without bursting in to tears.
posted by Theta States at 7:08 AM on January 6, 2016

The Jenn Frank piece describes a game mechanic a bit like what Tale of Tales was doing with Sunset, although the context and motivation are very different. And the Wired piece touches really briefly on the idea of games as no-fourth-wall means of telling stories, whatever emotion they are tapping into.

Game developers play around the edges of this idea all the time but always seem to have to put a win condition or absolute goal mechanic into the game (Myst, for instance) which alienates the story audience but does not quite capture the game audience. I think this desire to capture both audiences is detrimental to the growth of games as narrative or narrative entertainment, rather than games as gaming.

It feels completely unsavory to discuss That Dragon in traditional gamer language or with the expectations of gameplay but it's not theatre and movies (or even tv) which is where we traditionally share stories of human drama and explore the emotions of difficult life experiences, such as these. It's a thought many people are expressing in this thread--that this is a very novel--and thus uncomfortable--means of engaging people in the human experience. I don't know if I would play the game--I don't tend to seek out narratives of tragedy or pain--but I am moved that it exists.

[Tale of Tales on Metafilter: previously (shutting down), previously (the Path), previously (the Graveyard), previously (Endless Forest)]
posted by crush-onastick at 9:18 AM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun had the trailer on their site the other day. I definitely cried at the trailer. This game will be hard to play but I believe I will play it.
posted by SarahElizaP at 3:54 PM on January 6, 2016

Emily Short's Review

One thing I can't get from the reviews is what the game is like - are there puzzles you have to figure out, choices you have to make? There are levels, it seems, but how do you "beat" them ( is there a concept of "beating" or are you just a character in a film). I'm intrigued by narrative games like this because I've never really liked mainstream video games very much, but I'd be interested in playing something like this, even if it is tragic. In much the same way I watch films about troubling subjects or read sad memoirs, I'm interested in learning something about the author, the story, other people, and myself, I guess.
posted by bluefly at 6:50 AM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just listened to a review of this game on NPR. Just the audio clips of the gameplay were enough to make me tear up, as was the description of the moment in the game when the doctors give the parents the news about Joel's remaining time and palliative care. The review opened with a scene where the child is inconsolable in the middle of the night, shrieking and crying from the nausea brought on by the treatments. Juxtaposed by the next scene where the player-father is blowing bubbles for the child, who is calmed and happy. But only for a moment.

As a parent and a cancer survivor, this hits me in a lot of places at once. I can't fathom the anguish. I applaud these parents and admire their ability to create such an affecting work of art. I couldn't possibly play this game.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:33 PM on January 15, 2016

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