Sometimes artwork is plagued by its genre classification. Most adults continue to refuse reading, “comic books,” even when they are relabeled as, “graphic novels.” “Cartoons,” and, “Animated” features suffer the same stigma. They’re, “for kids.” Comedies have a similar cloud hanging over them – the Golden Globes lump them in with Musicals, as if neither can deal with serious subjects, the ways Dramas do – and the only way a comedic actor can typically have a shot at winning any of the prestigious awards is by doing a, “serious,” film.
I must confess to my own bias here. Having grown up with the first consumer, “video games,” (e.g. Pong and then Atari’s home console) I tend to have a limited view of what this medium is. Despite the fantastic artwork and complex stories that are going into more and more games these days, I typically think of these productions as, “just games.” The other day I listened to an episode of Radiolab that challenged me to wake up to a new reality. A Christian couple, whose youngest child was suffering greatly from cancer for four years, decided to make a video game that would share their experience, and their faith, with others. It seemed weird and somehow inappropriate when I first heard the idea, as if video games cannot do what novels, movies, plays, painting, sculptures, and epic poems have been doing since civilization began. All art is an artificial interpretation of the world, which can be merely for entertainment or passing the time, but it can also be used to help us understand the human condition, the human spirit, and the world beyond ourselves. Why should video games not be seen as art, on par with the other genres, and capable to dealing with more than shooting things or jumping over them?
If you remain doubtful that, “a game,” can reach into the depths of humanity, as other art does, then you should take a look at That Dragon, Cancer (2016).
Beside the game itself, there is also a documentary coming out that tells the behind the scenes story of what this family went through and how this game came about. Thank You for Playing (2015) is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to get the film in theaters and private screenings across the country. I put down my $25 for a downloadable copy, which should comes out in April, and I hope you will consider doing the same, or more, if you can afford it.
I was feeling rather cynical about technology and the future of humanity, after posting about Don Hertzfeldt’s latest short, World of Tomorrow (2015), but this game and the accompanying documentary have tempered those sentiments. Yes, we can create a lonely and dehumanizing world if we spend too much of our time interacting with screens and virtual things, but the same could be said of books or other physical objects, that nevertheless have the power to speak to us and enrich our lives. I hope That Dragon, Cancer marks the widening point in our perceptions of what, “games,” are and not just a blip on a largely static trajectory.