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12 January 2016

What to Make of *That Dragon, Cancer*?

All of a sudden, I've heard a lot about this new "video game," That Dragon, Cancer. Here is the most recent episode of Radiolab:

Here is the most recent video from Feminist Frequency:

I'm struck both by the product and by the coverage, and I wanted to get a few thoughts down about it. True to this blogs title, I'm doing this on the fly, more than less as stream of consciousness.

First, I put "video game" in quotes above because this seems to be more of an interactive art piece than a traditional video game proper. As I think the Radiolab episode makes clear, it's more about catharsis for the father/developer than it is about gameplay. I'm intrigued by what seems to be a maturing of the technology.

Second, I have to admit that I was very surprised at the overt religiosity that seemed central to--and quite out of character for--the Radiolab coverage, and I'm not sure how to square that. The parents featured in the episode are Evangelical Protestants, and (spoiler) there is a recorded scene in the podcast of a prayer gathering that fell on what ended up being the night that the couple's son died. Abumrad and Krulwich simply report it uncritically. If I had to guess, I'd imagine they are likely to receive a lot of negative feedback from their regular listeners. To be clear, I was not so much put off by this as I found it odd.

Third, I find it interesting that a man who is part of the Evangelical tradition, one that in many ways is anti-institutional, would use a cathedral, the symbol of institutionalized religion, at the climax of the video game. Does this hint at some unrecognized and unmet need for institutional religion in times of personal tragedy? I was also reminded of my previous treatment of the changing imagination about the afterlife.

Finally, as a new parent (I have an 18-month-old daughter), I wept several times listening to and viewing the clips above, whereas, a year and a half ago, I would have been moved but not likely to tears. I think it's dangerous to argue that "you can't understand until you experience it," but parenthood has seemed to affect me in some pretty profound ways. I was also touched because friends of mine from high school lost a son a few years ago under remarkably similar circumstances to those that inspired the video game. I'm curious whether the game will bring comfort to people like them.

Hmmm.... I'm going to keep thinking about this.

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