Toddler’s cancer battle inspires Colorado father to create computer game

March 9, 2015
Photo: That Dragon, Cancer computer game screenshot
A screenshot from the "That Dragon, Cancer" computer game developed in Colorado.

Video and computer games transport you to another reality.

But in the case of "That Dragon, Cancer" – a computer game created by Loveland-based developer Ryan Green – that virtual reality may be all too real. And the subject matter has already generated buzz.

Green created the game as a way to cope with the loss of his toddler Joel, who passed away from pediatric cancer last year, and to share the experience with others.

According to The Guardian:

The game takes the form of a “point and click” adventure, like the PC favourite Myst, built around his family’s memories. It began with a book Amy wrote to explain Joel’s situation to the couple’s four young sons. In it, she depicts his struggle as a mythical battle, with his cancer portrayed as a terrifying dragon. Ryan instinctively saw the story’s possibilities as a game.

Green and his team expect to release "That Dragon, Cancer" this fall. Last year, the project earned $104,491 via a Kickstarter campaign. And the developers have presented the game at various events including the Rezzed Festival in Birmingham, UK.

The Guardian notes that the game has prompted emotional reactions and describes how it intentionally subverts gaming expectations:

In one of the first sections he wrote, the players are put into a small, plain room. They see Joel in the cot and hear him crying, and they see objects they can interact with: a sink, a carton of juice, a window. They try different combinations, clicking on whatever they can to make the crying stop. But it doesn’t.

Green told the publication that the story arc takes the gamer on a rollercoaster of emotions:

“I want it to have funny moments, sad moments, desperate moments because that’s the whole experience. That’s what it was like for us.”

NPR’s All Tech Considered also featured Green in a 2014 story.