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That Dragon, Cancer and SXSW



In March I attended the SXSW Gaming conference in Austin Texas. I had the pleasure of meeting so many, insanely talented people. I also got to meet up with a few friends (thanks Wonderfling, we are still waiting on KR-17).

There were so many great games it was overwhelming. So many new things to add to our list of stuff we need to play with. There was one game that really stood out, one developer that is really doing something that seems to be touching everyone who has come into contact with it.

Every person who i have talked to about this game, as far as I can tell, hurts to their core when I bring it up. This game is an amazing work of art and quite possibly the most difficult game to even talk about. This terrible, beautiful, bastard of a game is “That Dragon, Cancer”.

that dragon father and son

That’s what this game is about, that disgusting and unfortunate piece of so many people’s lives. This game is not really a game. It is not meant to be exciting or action packed. This game is not about heroes but it is definitely about a villain. This game is about the struggles and heartache and desperation and hope and dreams of a family, a real family.

This game is a beautiful masterpiece that everyone should really experience. This is also a game that will make you feel. This is not something you put down and walk away from when you are done.

This is a piece of someone’s life, a piece of something that will make you want to run crying to your nearest loved one and remember why you are happy to be alive. This game is about Ryan Green’s son and his 3 year battle with terminal cancer.

Ryan’s son Joel was diagnosed with Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor at the age of one. The survival rate of AT/RT is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10%. Understanding this, is an incredibly heartbreaking piece of information with an even worse realization.

It is terrible that any child or parent should have to endure this, let alone share this painful and private experience with the world. Fortunately, Ryan Green and his wife Amy did the world an amazing favor and were able to capture and share this journey. This story is in no way easy to stomach, but it is not a walk of pity or hate.

The mere thought of what this game is about is sickening, but the way this tale told gives you an understanding and sense of hope. The thought that Ryan and Amy along with so many close friends and family, as well as those who may have experienced the same situation, can go back and remember the good and the bad, is empowering. Never have I been able to experience something so moving.


That Dragon, Cancer gives you an almost voyeuristic look into what the family experienced. You go through the darkness of a child who is in pain, one who is suffering. You see the love and laughter and hope that the family feels. You also get to experience the harsh reality of cancer.

Not everyone will like this game, nor will they agree with what Ryan Green is sharing with the world. That is the magical thing about it, you don’t have to agree with it. This virtual experience is a reflection on one family’s faith and hope and hardship. I cannot do this video game any justice, I am aware of that.

I cannot even begin to explain the lump in your throat or the tears that will undoubtedly have if you ever sit down and give this game a try. I can share the trailer with you though. Words cannot begin to explain the feelings this simple 1 minute video evokes, so I will shut up and let you watch.

I had the liberty of sitting down and talking with Josh Larson, the other creator of That Dragon, Cancer. One thing that he said that stuck out to me was that the game would be in constant development, even after release, since it would follow Joel’s progress and essentially his life. This was an amazing concept to me and really meant something. This would be Joel’s time capsule, this would be his memoir. I discovered the amazing story of Joel Green at SXSW in Austin, TX on March 9th 2014. Unfortunately, on March 13th the game officially had an ending.


The game will be released exclusively for the OUYA gaming console sometime during Q2 of 2014, with a PC release at a later date. Our thoughts go out to you Ryan and Amy Green. I will end with a quote from their website:

Fear is cancer’s preservative;
cancer’s embalming oil
and you
oh Accuser
are Fear’s oil salesmen.
A snake
a serpent
a dragon with snuffed out coal on his breath
molting, talons broken from the struggle
to free yourself of your own skin.

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