It's weird. I read several reviews before giving the game a go, and afterwards did wonder whether there was a degree of leniency going on in the scores.
Certainly, the Green family, who created the game, don't need any more grief dumped on their heads. They've already lost a son, and the last thing they need is a bunch of games journalists telling them that their tribute to him was a complete waste of time and effort.
Fortunately, that didn't happen; the reviews were, almost unanimously, glowingly positive, and the game received much praise for bravely tackling such a provocative subject in such a nakedly personal fashion.
Consequently, it was left to the internet to give the Greens their kicking.
Reviews described it as something "everyone" should play, that it was "important", and "necessary".
In all honesty, I actually feel guilty that I don't agree with them. Somehow, in feeling that it wasn't completely a success either as a game, or a work of art, I'm somehow not being empathic, or sensitive enough. That, somehow, by criticising the game, I'm making light of what the Greens have gone through.
In all honesty, That Dragon, Cancer isn't a pile of crap - I just don't think it's very good, or a story that needs to be told. We all know that children die of cancer (and in these past few weeks, cancer has been in the headlines in a big way), and I didn't feel I learned anything new from the "game". Instead, it felt more that I was experiencing a couple's raw and fumbling attempts to portray their grief.
I completely respect the rights of creators to produce whatever they want, or need, to create. I wasn't moved by That Dragon, Cancer - but I was moved by the knowledge that it came about because a five year-old boy had died, and that a family was suffering unimaginable pain as a result.
NEITHER HERE NOR WHERE?
It's neither here nor there whether anybody liked the experience of That Dragon, Cancer. It's a story that the Greens had to tell, to process something catastrophic. By all accounts, completing the project tested them financially, and - given that work on the game was begun prior to the death of their son - quite possibly tested them emotionally.
What I do find interesting is the level of debate that has sprung up around the game. Clearly, there's a degree of trolling taking place, while other online commentators feel as I did, that some reviews went soft on That Dragon, Cancer, due to its subject matter (I also felt the same thing about Depression Quest, and - though I admit I've still only scratched the surface of it - Gone Home).
Others made the absurd and needlessly personal suggestion that it was a game that exploited the death of a child for financial gain. Others still took issue with its Christian message; the Greens may have lost their son, but took solace in their belief that his death was part of something greater.
I'm not religious. Even when I've grieved, I've found no solace in our silent and passive God. I started going to church for a couple of years as a teenager, and all it succeeded in doing was confirm for me that I don't believe. But I get why people do it - I get that thinking there's nothing more out there, that there's no greater purpose to existence, can be terrifying. Again, it's about respect.
Comments on the Steam message boards have been along the lines of the following:
- "Theres just some things you dont make videos games about. This is just f*ucked up. Whats next playing a mother that looses her child at birth?"
- "Really a game about cancer? I understand it may be done in good taste with lots of emotion but to make a game about cancer is pretty low."
- "By buying this game you literally finance two maniacs who want to bring up their kids in a christiand tradition, which is essentially child abuse"
Some of the proceeds go to charity... but then, there are even those who have complained about the choice of charity.
For whatever reason, That Dragon, Cancer has become one of those industry whipping boys, which spring up from time to time. Much of the criticism of it seems absurd - who is anybody to tell the Greens how they should remember their son? And if certain subjects were "off limits" to creative works, then much of the art that the human race has produced would never have existed. It also seems wrong to question the motives of a family who are grieving.
At the same time, it's equally wrong to jump on people for criticising something simply because the subject matter is a bit touchy. Dealing with big themes doesn't make a game immune to criticism; certainly, I think That Dragon, Cancer could've been much better and more effective than it was (the photo of the family above I find far more moving than the entirety of the game), but it is what it is.
That's how the Greens chose to present their grief to the world. Whether you think that's worth £11 is up to you - as is whether you think it's any good or not.