September 6th, 2015
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For the uninitiated, That Dragon, Cancer (which has yet to see a retail release) is a narrative-driven game, meaning players walk slowly and click on elements in the game world to activate spoken passages of text and interactions with other characters. It stars the creator, Ryan Green, and members of his family, as they bounce between hospital rooms, days at the park, and weirder, out-of-body experiences. The film’s opening sequence appears to be taken from the game itself, putting viewers in a first-person perspective where they see a hospital waiting room filling with a thunderstorm’s rain. The only noise competing with the thunder is the sound of hospital workers shouting about “excellent end-of-life care!”
But while the game in question has modern peers, Thank You For Playing doesn’t bother building up a lengthy treatise about “games as art.” For everything Ryan says about video games in the film, he isn’t quoted talking about how only a video game could tell his son’s story, nor do the filmmakers present any montages of other arty games. This is a film about a family and its game creation as a coping mechanism; what it says about gaming as a legitimate art form comes more indirectly from the ways in which the Green family’s life play out both in the real world and in the digital one Ryan has created.
(Viewers do see a brief montage of more mainstream-styled, gun-loaded games, but these are presented as a foil to That Dragon, Cancer’s first public demonstration, at the 2013 iteration of PAX Prime—players had to walk through arcadey game kiosks to find Ryan’s booth, which contained a closed-off desk, a box of tissues, and a lot of hugs between players and developers.)