Why ‘That Dragon, Cancer’ Winning The Games for Impact Award is Important


At the 2016 Game Awards, the incredibly evocative game That Dragon, Cancer was honored with the prestigious ‘Games for Impact’ Award. This award presents the winner with a specific kind of recognition within the industry. To have a title that wins the ‘Games for Impact’ award establishes that the game stood above all others in terms of delivering an experience that is meaningful and thought-provoking. These games leave a firm impact on the player long after they have finished playing the game. That Dragon, Cancer is a very significant game that leaves a mark on anyone who has played it.

That Dragon, Cancer serves as a memoir for Joel Green who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at age one and, sadly, passed away at age four. Ryan and Amy Green (The parents of Joel) headed the development of That Dragon, Cancer to serve as a celebration of Joel’s life. “You let us tell the story of my son Joel.” Ryan Green tells a crowd of supportive and teary-eyed gamers while accepting the ‘Games for Impact’ award. “And in the end, it was not the story that we wanted to tell. But you chose to love us through our grief by being willing to stop, and to listen, and to not turn away. To let my son, Joel’s, life change you because you chose to see him, and to experience how we loved him.”

Listen to more of Ryan Green’s emotional speech here:

“And I have hope that when we are all willing to see each other, not for just who we want to be, but who we are, and who we’re meant to be, this act of love and this act of grace can change the world.” – Ryan Green

One thing that makes That Dragon, Cancer receiving this award so important is that it show what the industry looks like when it is united. Gaming is not always about yelling at each other during online gaming or bickering over which console is superior. At its best, gaming is about bringing people together under a single commonality. It is about sitting and enjoying an experience together. It is about facing a challenge together. It is about telling your story and having millions of people take a part in it. The support the Green Family and the developers at Numinous Games received in telling a fragile story, and putting themselves out there, is incredible. Seeing Ryan Green on stage overcoming tears thanks to the support of the audience, and fans of the game, showcases how strong and positive the gaming medium can be. That Dragon, Cancer winning the ‘Games for Impact’ Award is important because it shows our industry at its strongest and most impactful state.

It  also stands as a symbol for what games can be, to people outside of  industry. Games use to be seen by some people as gratuitously violent and poisonous to youth. Events such as school shootings were attributed to games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto, even though there were only minor correlations, and nothing that warranted the claim of causation. Games that receive the ‘Games for Impact’ award are the paragon of the wholesome gaming experience. They showcase a purity that reporters on either the left or right side of the news media have a hard time spinning in negative light. Through these games, people who get their information from sources not native to the game industry can see the positive side of the industry. Whether or not they weight the positive against the negative fairly is up to them.

That Dragon, Cancer Swing

That Dragon, Cancer is a great game to present to anyone who believes gaming is inherently harmful. It takes a phenomenon (being diagnosed with cancer or knowing someone who has) that has been experienced by nearly everyone, and sheds light on how devastating it can be. For the families affected by it, the event is completely earth-shattering. At the same time, it makes the time you spend with them all-the-more meaningful. In a somber way, this is a beautiful consequence of  horrible situation. This bitter-sweet dynamic is where the heart of That Dragon, Cancer lays. It showcases the tragic story of the Green Family and their effort to make good memories in-light of their overbearing reality. This depiction of real events shows the human side of games, and speaks merits to their ability to tell stories to a non-gaming audience.

This is why That Dragon, Cancer winning the ‘Games for Influence’ award is important.