That Dragon, Cancer

That Dragon, Cancer

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    Image Courtesy of the Artist Ryan Green. That dragon, cancer: (Photo source , (2015))

Image Courtesy of the Artist Ryan Green. That dragon, cancer: (Photo source ,

“That Dragon Cancer” is a computer game produced by Ryan Green. Green is a professional game artiste who has been developing video games and applications for nearly 14 years (Green, Ryan-"Our Family." 2015)

The video game was inspired by Greens' involvement in caring for his son Joel who died of brain cancer. The son was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only one-year-old during the year 2010: Doctors predicted that he would only survive for four months. Against the doctors’ predictions, Joel managed to live up to the age of five years.

His illness left him intellectually undeveloped. By the age of two, he could not speak. He required extra parental care and management, together with frequent appointments to medics and hospitals for palliative support and chemotherapy management. (Green, Ryan-"Our Family." 2015)

The video game is intended to have the participant experience the challenging instants experienced by Green in the form of a point-and-click undertaking game. The video game was created initially to recount Ryan and his wife's experiences with Joel during the time they were indeterminate about his health.

In fact, because of the limitation of today’s medication and the serious brain cancer which Joel got, Joel Green didn’t get healed. He died in 2014, which was a heavy blow to the Green family:

“He lived 16 more months, but in those months the tumors started to come in small clusters instead of in insolation.  (A more typical recurrence pattern for AT/RT tumors, but still much slower progression and more susceptible treatment than anyone would expect.)  In January of 2014, the family decided to relocate to San Francisco to pursue a medical trial for AT/RTs because the new tumors were in and around the brainstem leaving them with no other viable medical options for Joel.  In March of 2014, it became clear that despite everyone’s best efforts, Joel was not being helped by the trial, and the family returned home to Colorado, where Joel died within days.” (Green, Ryan-"Our Family." 2015)

After Joel’s demise in the year 2014, “That Dragon, Cancer” was amended to celebrate and engrave their time and relations with Joel for the participant. (Tanz, Jason. January, 2016). Ryan made this game with his team. He also wanted to make it a narrative and nostalgic game that retells how Joel fights against cancer. Moreover, the whole game express the main themes of Love, resist, desire and hope. 

The video game is played as a survey adventure via several of distracted scenes inspired by Greens' experience with caring for his sickly son after being diagnosed with the disease throughout to his demise. (Tanz, Jason. January, 2016) The participant plays a role of Joel's parents. The participant is depicted interacting with characters that force him or her to come up with tough and moving choices similar to those faced by Joel’s family soon when the child was diagnosed with cancer:

In the first scene, the players have to deliberate their new roles nursing the child sick while considering on the irrationality and unfruitfulness of the hospital environment. The video game comprises of numerous dreamy and creative reconstructions of certain actual instants the family experienced like a wagon drive in a hospital being depicted as a flamboyant racing game (Green, Ryan, That Dragon, Cancer 2016). Together with the interactivity, the video game comprises of account from the family and recordings they had documented while caring for Joel.

Below is a web link to a video attributed to YouTube anchor called Pewdiepie illustrating how the game is played: ( The video shows Green depicting his son’s world from different scenes. The scenes portray mixed emotions because they convey the themes of love, struggle, aspiration, and hope. Some scenes sometimes optimistic and sometimes gloomy, which showed different emotions of the psychological change of the members of the Green family. At the completion of the game, the participants lose because the dragon, cancer, in the video game on no occasion dies. The game lasts for about five minutes. Through the game, Green compared cancer to an externalized and invincible Dragon.

Image Courtesy of the Game Player- Pewdiepie who showed his respect playing Ryan Green's That dragon, cancer: (Photo source,  (2016)   )

Image Courtesy of the Game Player- Pewdiepie who showed his respect playing Ryan Green's That dragon, cancer: (Photo source, (2016) )

However, finally they lose because the dragon in the game will never die, which means Joel’s cancer will never be healed. This scene talks about the memory that Ryan Green tried his best to help his son to fight against cancer. This five-minute-scene make many players feel pitiful.

Overall, “That Dragon, Cancer” is a game that Ryan Green create for remembering his son- Joel Green, and the efforts the Greens tried:          

“The days since Joel’s death have been filled with more grace than seems possible, as the Green family remember Joel and miss him and wish things could have been different, but now must learn what it means to be a family without him.” (Ryan Green, 2015)

Indie Game: The Movie ( can be compared with That Dragon, Cancer. Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky developed the computer game, and they record their process to a movie. This movie showed the game they created. The game Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky created and That Dragon, Cancer share similar experiences of characters doing abstract actions in a dreamy world. To compare That Dragon, Cancer, Indie Game: The Movie showed the game mainly focus on the dreamy experience the player will get. It also has some powerful shots of frames that showed the idea of minimalism. Thus the game in Indie Game: The Movie, some frames looked clean and natural because of the white background. In addition, both of the games express the idea of remember someone, and they comprise of bizarre and abstract scenes. The difference is that Indie Game is designed as a 2-D game, and the whole story of the game tells players an happy story.

Image Courtesy of the Artist Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. Indie Game: The Movie: (Photo source , (2014))

Image Courtesy of the Artist Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. Indie Game: The Movie: (Photo source ,

Another game that can be likened with That Dragon, Cancer is called Consumer Game.( Ruben F. Stremiz developed the game. The game is interactive and stimulating. The game is designed in 2.5D style. The game is similar to That Dragon, Cancer because they are both interactive and have amusing sound-designs which bring players auditory enjoyment and immersive emotions. Consumer Game represent the theme of love and daily lives. To compare with That Dragon, Cancer, this game also focus on the audio design, and the audios make players feel relax. The difference between Consumer Game and That Dragon, Cancer is that their directors express different ideas. In Consumer Game, Ruben F. Stremiz focus on how teenager acts in today’s life. He also did some research of discovering the places where today’s teenagers usually go. Thus, Consumer Game makes teenager-players feel realistic to their daily life. It’s hard to compare those two games in their concepts, because these two games bring different feelings to players. However, both game have positive meaning for players that remind them to cherish their happiness everyday.

Image Courtesy of the Artist Ruben F. Stremiz. Consumer Game: The Movie: (Photo source , (2013))

Image Courtesy of the Artist Ruben F. Stremiz. Consumer Game: The Movie: (Photo source ,

In my opinion, That Dragon Cancer is a sad and moving video game. The game offers the participants with an ability to re-experience recollections, share despair, and realize the irresistible hope, which is associated with death. By being involved in the game, players will feel remorseful about Green’s experiences, as they will be able to recount the tale. And that’s why That Dragon Cancer is more than a game because of its connotation of love hope, and even sadness. While similar games try to provoke comparable feelings from its participants, That Dragon, Cancer is exceptional in its methodology for being honest, autobiographical, and saturated with its designers' spiritual characteristics. It forces the participants to interact more instead of being an audience making them bear some of the feelings experienced by the designer and uphold the legacy of Joel’s brief life.

In conclusion, it should be noted that That Dragon, Cancer is a moving and inspiring video game. The video game was inspired by Greens' involvement of caring for his son Joel who died of brain cancer. The game comprises of a variety of game-art elements. It helps participants recount Green’s experiences in means that a video cannot. Furthermore, That Dragon, Cancer is a modern game art, which links creator’s memory to the real life.


List of Ryan Green’s artworks:

Bok Choy Boy (IOS Application)

Photo Bucket (Port) (IOS Application)

 iStreamer (Port) (IOS Application)

 Spoken Bible Project (IOS Application)

WindUp Robots (IOS Application)

 G: Into the Rain (Port) (IOS Application)

 Falcon Electronic Medical Records System (IOS Application)

 That Dragon, Cancer (Game / Art Installation)



Green, Ryan. (January 2016). That Dragon, Cancer. Numinous GamesReviewed

Green, Ryan. (Aug 30 2015). "Our Family."-That Dragon, Cancer. Numinous Games, Web. 11 Apr. 2016 Reviewed.

Tanz, Jason. (January, 2016). A Father, a Dying Son, and the Quest to Make the Most Profound Videogame Ever. Retrieved May 02, 2016, from



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