That Dragon, Cancer is a powerful story about a tragic moment in the lives of the Green family. Their son, Joel, was diagnosed with cancer at 12 months old. The conversation on the game’s Steam forums has focused on the morality of making a game about that. Interestingly, the developers are letting it happen.
Right now, the forums are a shit show, a mixture of people defending the game’s artistry, others seemingly concerned about what the game represents, and opportunistic trolls happily tossing matches and hoping one lights up.
It’s a volatile mix that’s not exactly leading to thoughtful conversation, but in an attempt to keep an open mind, the developers at Numinous Games (which includes the Green family) decided to not lock threads or delete comments:
Hi Everyone, as we’re reading through the forums to answer questions and support players, we’re seeing some locked threads and frustration about missing comments. We just want you to know that as far as we’re concerned you have the right to believe and say what you want. We do NOT currently lock threads or delete comments. If you are seeing any, we did not do it. It is our understanding that sometimes Steam moderators may lock threads.
That said, our hope is that you find some common humanity on this board. We all suffer, we all have pain. Our hope is that at the very least, our existence on this store can inspire personal conversations that draw us together, rather than divide us.
Thank you for your support and your passion,
(Ryan is Joel’s father.)
Some of that is out of their control, however, as Steam-appointed moderators will take action if things are found to be violating the service’s terms of service.
When games of a certain type come out, there’s usually a debate over whether it’s a “game.” It happened with Gone Home, it happened with Depression Quest, it’ll happen with something else. People seem to have skipped past that with That Dragon, Cancer and began questioning the motives of the people who built it.
There are dozens of comments I could have picked from, but it’s hard to know who’s being sincere. In this case, it does seem like they are genuinely interested.
To be clear, while That Dragon, Cancer is intended to make money—they spent several years of their life making it!—it’s also intended to contribute to charity.
Ouya was an early investor in the game’s development, but Ouya was eventually bought up by Razer. If you buy the game through Ouya’s storefront or Razer’s Cortex platform, Razer’s proceeds are being distributed to different charities picked by the Greens: the Morgan Adams Foundation and Family House SF.
Additionally, 10% of the profits for Steam keys bought through Humble Bundle are being donated to the Morgan Adams Foundation.
This is all public information, and yet...
What’s worth remembering is how easy it is for a few people to dominate a conversation. That poster, in particular, has obsessed over this topic, despite their own Steam profile showing they don’t own a copy of the game. (Granted, they technically could have purchased That Dragon, Cancer on another platform.)
Take a look:
It goes on and on, too.
And yet, this person is not alone.
Everything I’ve read about That Dragon, Cancer suggests its creation was a form of catharsis for the Green family, an avenue to cope with the nightmare in front of them. They strike me as genuine people who loved their son, and while it’s true That Dragon, Cancer is a heavy subject for a game, it’s one I’m celebrating.
In fact, that’s how many people feel, despite what the Steam forums hint at.
When I asked the developers about everything that’s happened, about the hateful questions and accusations slung their way, they stuck to their guns.
“Our game has always been a difficult project for some people to relate to,” said the developers in a joint statement. “We understand that it is not for everyone. Throughout development, there has been a lot of discussion around the internet about what our intentions are and whether or not we are creating something that is acceptable and good.”
It doesn’t appear they’ll be changing their policy on Steam—or anywhere else. Instead, they’re going to allow That Dragon, Cancer to speak for itself.
“We knew that if we were to step in and make statements to defend our intentions it would have a dampening effect on the conversation,” they said, “and we love good conversation and debate. We love that people are talking about what games can be, what makes something Art, and how we should value each other’s work. We don’t want that conversation to stop happening, and if we have to deal with a handful of malicious forum posts in order for that conversation to continue to happen we are willing to turn the other cheek.”
For the moment, the developers are focused on fixing bugs and gathering feedback, the typical motions one goes through after a game has just launched.
“We have crafted something that we are proud of,” they said. “It cost us a lot emotionally, psychologically and financially, but giving our son’s short life this kind of platform has been worth everything it cost us, because sharing our love for Joel is worth any amount of hardship.”
To some, that will only underline what they loved about the game in the first place. To the ridiculous cynics, it may only reinforce what they’ve been worried about all along. I feel bad for those people.
You can reach the author of this post at email@example.com or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.