The setting is a hospital. A father is exasperated, a child is crying and it's your job to find out why. But any victories will be small, as "That Dragon, Cancer" explores the ups, the downs, the everyday terror, the sudden miracles and the dreaded inevitability of caring for a loved one with terminal brain cancer.
So … wanna play? Ryan Green, his writer-wife, Amy, and a small team near Fort Collins, Colo., are in the early to middevelopment stages of "That Dragon, Cancer," a narrative-driven game they hope to complete and release by the end of 2014 for the home video game console the Ouya. Its tale is a personal one, initially conceived by Ryan and Amy in part as a way to help them and others express and cope with the unthinkable.
At around 12 months old, their son, Joel, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given about a month to live. He's now 4, and the Greens are posting updates of his treatments online (Joel was undergoing radiation sessions in mid-December).
Ryan, 33, who dreamed of someday being a filmmaker and has worked in mobile game development, ultimately determined the interactive medium was the one best suited for handling such a serious topic. While the area explored by "That Dragon, Cancer" may seem more suited for an indie film, he believes that by offering players a choice they can better experience "the themes that we have faced."
"Video games are the perfect nexus of all these different mediums," Ryan says. "It takes everything I love about film and animation, and it adds the nuance of immersion. You're asking a player to do something and then they evaluate it as if they are doing it."
It's not, Ryan stresses, a game designed to make players miserable. Parts will no doubt be difficult for some players to stomach, but he wants the game to start a conversation. Early scenes show the stress and weariness of a parent who has spent a late night in the hospital, and later Ryan wants to show players the perspective of the medical staff. The end of the game has yet to be scripted, but he envisions it more as a series of vignettes.
"Ninety-eight out of 100 people are going to have somebody that they knew with cancer," he says. "Everyone can identify with the pain that causes, but I also hope I can give you the same comfort I have received."