Emotionally Practical: That Dragon Cancer

There exists in this game a clear, apparent purpose by the authors/developers to ensure that those of whom are playing this game are given the ability to feel and to express emotion. I argue that it is not the purpose for this game to necessarily be satisfying in a typical FPS or level-up sense, but more so satisfying with regards to wisdom achieved or deeper understandings by the games end.

By just a little bit after the intro/begining, you will see how it already will be sectioned off into the life of the young child, with us eventually landing into the hospital. What was most intriguing by having this setting in a hospital is not necessarily showing or simulating that the parents were in the hospital, but it portrayed this dark ambiance, almost dark and mysterious feeling towards the players of the game. Even more so, one could feel extremley saddened by the juxtaposition of life- the young child- and there that of death- a happenstance that one only hopes to experience years well into adulthood- well into being elderly.

With regards to this newfound wisdom aforementioned in this game, I as a gameplayer was not privy to all of the different happenings goings (sic)  on with regards to dealing with the sickness of cancer. For instance, [below]

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one can see that what seems like a race-track game with the kids is actually a way to collect different procedures for dealing with cancer. It listed differnt types of blood-works taken when one collected a token during the race, as well as listed other procedures such as chemotherapy. While I did know of the procedure of chemotherapy, I was not previously aware of all the different types of bloodwork taken while being treated for cancer, therefore, as a gameplayer, my real-world knowledge was increased from playing this particular game.

What was most present though was the emotional forethought put into this game. Let’s take this scence for example [I’ve enlarged it a bit]:

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We can see hear the warm colors of the sun contrasted though with the hospital lime green of the Intravaneous fluid attached to the toddler. Specifically, what you can’t see, or hear that is, in here, is the baby’s crying. I remember having to turn down my computer’s volume when the baby cried, because of how loud and rough it was. This certainly was the most emotional part of the game-play- and in particular- made me as a gameplayer more aware of the struggles of taking care of a toddler  while you are in fatigue and exhaustion, on top of the worry for the baby’s well–being itself. \

Certainly, this game brings out the cultural awareness of the dealings with of cancer in the most practical, simulated sense. I would rate this game an 8.5-9/10.

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God’s Role Needs Refinement

I wasn’t in class on Thursday (and thus totally blanked on posting to the blog, sorry!), so my response to That Dragon, Cancer will have to be based entirely off the experience that I had while playing it.

I already commented on the nature and beauty of walking simulators in my first blog post, and after seeing previews of That Dragon, Cancer, I knew it’d make for a good continuation of that topic. First and foremost, this game solidifies in my mind the existence of the narrative-based indie game. Gone Home and Journey, which we’ll play later in the semester, have both become classics of this style. That Dragon also immediately reminded me of Myst, one of the most acclaimed PC games of all time, with its point-and-click movement and vivid, low-poly graphics.

Of course, each of these games is unique, and That Dragon did not fail to break the mold. Its strengths include several novel storytelling techniques and a powerful soundtrack; its weakness, in my opinion, its its undeft presentation of the tension between the parents and the importance of their religion.

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That Dragon, Cancer is a deeply Christian game. This isn’t in of itself a detractor, of course; the developers have every right to style their game to their philosophy, and the importance of the characters’ religious beliefs could hardly be overlooked. Furthermore, it’s not like I don’t enjoy Mumford & Sons and Sufjan Stevens, with their overt Christianity. But God’s role in That Dragon, as it were, was painted in with too broad of brushstrokes.

At the game’s first mentions of God’s presence and influence, I was intrigued, looking forward to where this theme would go. But as the game progressed and the narrative became more heavily laden with churchgoing diction, I found myself too bashed in the face with it all to fully appreciate the real point of the game—that is, an attempt to convey the potent misery and joy that such a parenting experience would bring. In all, however, That Dragon, Cancer did deliver this message, and did so in a really nuanced way.

Considering that this is an entirely true story, the couple couldn’t have necessarily been expected to produce a perfectly fluid presentation of the slow death of their son. But as a purchaser, consumer, and critic of the game, I would have liked to see God’s role worked into the story a bit more, rather than plowing straight over it.

That Dragon, Cancer, and the Role of Crowd Funding

Even a quick glance at the home page for That Dragon, Cancer reveals the origins of the game. While originally a small-time endeavor, many donations through Kickstarter, a crowd funding website, allowed the game to achieve the style and recognition that we see today. It’s not surprising, then, to see the home page for the game littered with messages giving thanks to those who have donated and multiple options for more people to buy the game. There are also links to the corresponding documentary and soundtrack. All of this may seem to some like monetizing a terrible event, but I think we can view all of this as some sort of coping mechanism, and a sincere desire for parents to share their story with anyone wanting to sympathize.

What I find really interesting about this entire process is what this could mean for the future of some indie game developers. To a genre of gaming that inherently struggles more with funding than the big producers, could the sort of crowd funding exhibited by That Dragon, Cancer become a new venue for success? The critical acclaim might indicate so, but we should be mindful of some of the issues facing future games that decide to try this method, especially if they employ the same sort of gameplay as That Dragon, Cancer.

In game, notes like these were created by those who donated to the game’s creation.

Though the route to success for That Dragon, Cancer may not be indicative of any trend, if there are future games looking to find funding in this way, they must be mindful of legal challenges to some past crowd funded endeavors. According to Kickstarter’s Wikipedia page, some of their recently funded projects have run in to issues over copyright, fake contributors, and even rights to certain aspects of the product once it has been funded.

That DragonCancer, also allows for people to experience much of the game without actually buying it. The game’s page mentions that there are several “Let’s Play” videos for the game that allow viewers to watch someone else play the game and experience much of the action themselves. This particular game suffers more from this aspect than most, I think, since the actual action of playing the game is rather barren, and someone could get a lot of the narrative and metaphorical impact simply from watching someone else. Future producers will have to make some sort of choice in this matter, knowing that some will donate to their cause, but others may find alternative routes to experience the game play.

What do you all think? Will we see more games attempt funding through Kickstarter or other sites? What sort of issues might arise?

Walking Simulators and the Importance of Narrative

In class on Thursday, one of the complaints that people had towards That Dragon, Cancer was that it wasn’t really a “game;” instead, it was more of an interactive narrative.  They went on to say that, since they were expecting a more gameplay-driven experience, the extreme focus on story and lack of choices that That Dragon, Cancer had left a disappointing taste in their mouths.  However, I would argue that lack of choice is incredibly important to the story.  Furthermore, I would argue that That Dragon, Cancer does count as a game, because the very act of playing serves a purpose and communicates core concepts to the player.

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A scene where gameplay matters.  Source

A major theme of That Dragon, Cancer is the sense of helplessness that Ryan and Amy feel.  At a certain point, they realize that there’s not really anything they can do to save Joel’s life.  While faith (specifically Christian faith) gave the pair a way to cope, by the end of the game they realize that there is nothing they can do.  While it is subtle, much of the gameplay in the game leads you to have the exact same feeling.  The scene shown in the screenshot above is a good example of this.  In it, you play as Joel and eventually a man who died of cancer in the family’s church.  While there is a lot going on in this scene, one thing in particular stands out.  If you are good at fighting the dragon, Cancer, (see what he did there), then you will realize something interesting; no matter how long or how well you play the game, you will eventually succumb to the dragon because the dragon will never die, but stay at 1/2 heart until you eventually die.  What is interesting is that the game is not exactly hard; if you’re good at retro video games (which I am not) and figure out the pattern(which I did not), you can theoretically stay alive and continue fighting indefinitely.  However, if you want to continue the game, you have to give up.

There are many other places where you have to give up in order to continue.  Specific scenes where this is a theme are the Temple of God scene where you have to stop moving to continue and the scene where you play as Ryan and the only way to continue forward is by swimming deeper into the ocean.  These scenes serve to make an important point-moreover, they make you, the player, feel the point in a way you would not from simply hearing the characters describe it.  This is why I consider it, and many other “Walking Simulators” like it, games: because games aren’t just narratives that you affect, they are narratives that affect you in ways that a novel or movie does not have the ability to. Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you guys in the comments!

Interacting with Fiction

What makes a game a game? A game can be almost anything that has rules that define how to play and how to reach the end of the game. However, there are many games that feel more like an interactive story or experience than the traditional idea of a game. This is the case with That Dragon, Cancer where the main mechanic is to point and click on different locations and characters in order to interact with them and advance the story. Aside from a few mini games to illustrate the fight they are in against the cancer, the game acts like an interactive story. Each click leads to a scene that plays out in front of you through dialogue, letters, and limited movement. In order to advance the story you have to take in your surroundings and listen to what the characters are saying. After playing the game many of my classmates expressed that they disliked the game with some of them pointing out the lack of interactivity as a reason that they did not enjoy playing it. Personally, I liked the game and felt that this game style fit very well for an emotionally charged game like That Dragon, Cancer where more free input from the player would have detracted from the story that the parents wanted to tell. Instead of the controls getting in the way of the story it allows you to experience the game at your own pace without any extra factors such as camera angle or free player movement to distract you. However, I can see why many of my classmates would not like the game particularly since many of the games I have enjoyed that were interactive stories or contemplative experiences were much shorter and That Dragon Cancer is very long. For example, The Temple of No only takes 15-20 minutes to complete depending on which route you choose and The Plan is only 5 minutes long, allowing you to control a fly as it journeys upwards through the trees. The Temple of No is a game that is almost entirely text based though it has some illustrations and music for certain scenes. It is also an example of how games that are story focused can vary widely because it is very sparse with graphics and sound where That Dragon Cancer has very beautiful graphics and many of the scenes are told in voice overs from the parents. 

On the other hand, The Plan has very nice graphics and the story is based only on your movement and is directed by the music since there is no written story you are following.ss_46464261147b27033478ada0c7962f8bf7edac20-600x338

Each of these games feature very simple controls that help to drive their story or the experience they are trying to show you. In fact, That Dragon Cancer utilizes these simple controls to pull you into the story and encourage reflection to ensure that you feel the full impact of Joel’s life story.