A Game You Can't Win


That Dragon, Cancer

"Empathy games" are among the more interesting genres to emerge from the world of independent and small-studio video games. These intimate interactive experiences put the player in the shoes of others dealing with difficult life situations.

Game designers Ryan and Amy Green used the structure of a game to tell the deeply personal story of losing their young son, Joel. That Dragon, Cancer makes its "player" a participant as Joel is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The player witnesses the family's unsuccessful fight to save him. Through the familiar design of a point-and-click adventure game, players journey through parks, cancer wards, and imaginary landscapes borne of the couple's frustrations.

It's a game you can't win. The player's options are limited, much like the Greens' were in life. But through the journey, narrated by the couple themselves, the player understands the difficult struggle with a depth no other art form could deliver.

Scott Shackford