Imagine holding a screaming child who is badly dehydrated but unable to keep anything in his stomach, the combined poison of chemotherapy and cancer coursing through his veins. You try desperately to comfort him, and nothing works. Imagine that same child on a different day, playful, sharing his beautiful laugh freely, unable to speak properly because of his brain tumors. What visions fly through his head? What visions does he see that you cannot?

That Dragon, Cancer is a special kind of video game, an interactive exploration of the Green family’s encounter with the disease. Ryan and Amy Green’s third son, Joel, was diagnosed with terminal cancer when he was only one and passed away at the age of five in the spring of 2014. That Dragon, Cancer walks us through suffering, love, grief, storm-tested faith, and grace in a way that only a video game could. While many associate video games with space combat, pointless shooting, and simulated sports, a growing number of games are demonstrating how the medium can be a vehicle for empathy.

That Dragon, Cancer leaves out many standard game mechanics. There is no score or competition. Most scenes revolve around exploration. At the beginning, the player controls a duck that hunts pieces of bread Joel is throwing into the water. Shortly after that, the player walks to a playground, where Joel waits to be pushed on the swing and down the slide. Most actions trigger bits of recorded family conversations, or thoughts and observations from Ryan and Amy, or short mini-movies.

The music is achingly wistful and moving. The impressionistic graphics are bathed in lovely palettes, at times warm, vibrant and full of life, and other times, somber and cold. Throughout the game, players encounter ...

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