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Assumptions


May 14, 2017

Daniel's instinct is to think of video games as mostly a waste of time. Can Kyle convince him otherwise? Is the storytelling approach to video games unique to our age? Together they play the video game "That Dragon Cancer" and get emotional talking about death. 
 

Media Discussed:

Much of this show discusses the video game 'That Dragon Cancer' (http://www.thatdragoncancer.com), available for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android.

We briefly mention the board games Operation and Life, and describe the puzzle game Rush Hour (http://www.thinkfun.com/products/rush-hour/).

Video games mentioned include the Final Fantasy series, Golvellius, Tetris, the Battlefield series, the Call of Duty series, the Halo series, and Zelda: Ocarina of Time (which Kyle claims is the best video game of all time).

Kyle first heard of That Dragon Cancer through an episode of This American Life (http://www.radiolab.org/story/cathedral/). That episode consisted of clips from “Thank You For Playing,” a documentary film on the game.

Daniel first learned of the game through the Christ and Pop Culture Facebook Forum, which you can join by becoming a member here: https://christandpopculture.com/member-benefits/.

Daniel said that the game was covered by Wired Magazine (https://www.wired.com/2016/01/that-dragon-cancer/), The New York Times (see below), and had meant to say The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-video-game-about-terminal-cancer) rather than The New York Post. 

The only other video game that Daniel has played all the way through is the beautiful Monument Valley (http://www.monumentvalleygame.com/).

Kyle's other podcast is Whatever This Is (https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/whatever-this-is/id532925138?mt=2).

Daniel quotes from two articles on the game. The first is "Slaying the dragon: Video games, fairy tales, and seeing life in this world as it really is" (http://st-eutychus.com/2016/slaying-the-dragon-video-games-fairy-tales-and-seeing-life-in-this-world-as-it-really-is/), written by Nathan Campbell. It contrasts the experience of playing Fallout 4 with playing That Dragon Cancer. Here is that full quote: "Fallout 4 relies on the premise that you can be totally in control of everything — put the right machines together, make the right choices, control the world and your environment just right — and you’ll live, not just you, but the society you’re building. That Dragon, Cancer makes it clear this promise is a baldfaced lie. It doesn’t matter how good you are at pulling levers, or knowing stuff — the monster will take down the machines every time. Hope is found somewhere beyond the machine."

Daniel highly recommends the whole article, especially since it quotes Assumptions favourites James K. A. Smith and Charles Taylor. 

The second quote came from The New York Times' profile on the game "This Video Game Will Break Your Heart" (https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/02/06/arts/that-dragon-cancer-video-game-will-break-your-heart.html), which quotes Amy Green, co-creator of the game. "One of the great strengths of video games is that automatically a player goes into a game expecting to have some agency,” Mrs. Green said. “And it felt like the perfect way to talk about cancer, because all a parent wants is to have some agency.”

Finally, at the end of the show Kyle describes the video game The Stanley Parable (https://www.stanleyparable.com/). 

 

Further Reading: 

In addition to the outstanding St Eutychus and The New York Times pieces mentioned above, here are some additional pieces on the game.

This short reflection was written by an atheist as he played the game. It includes the haunting line, "I have been staring at this cursor for a long time.  Help me, someone else write this.  I want there to be a God, there should be one, because these people deserve an answer." https://www.penny-arcade.com/news/post/2016/01/13/unhelpful-ism

For a thoughtful Christian perspective on the game, this piece from The Gospel Coalition (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/that-dragon-cancer) is helpful. Here are some interesting quotes:

“That Dragon, Cancer” is a hard experience to reduce to language, and perhaps this is part of why Ryan Green, Joel’s father, chose the medium of video games to tell the story. Things like sorrow, pain, fear, and doubt can be named and, to a certain extent, described; but as long as they are mere words and concepts their power is limited."

"Often, the allure of video games is that the player is granted special power and agency. One becomes a soldier, business magnate, or superhero at the press of a button. “That Dragon, Cancer”frustrates and subverts the normal expectation of agency. Players are given game-like tasks, like navigating Joel through a field of cancer cells as he clings to a handful of balloons, or racing a wagon through the hospital.

"The facade of power and control crumbles away. It’s a brilliant piece of artistry in terms of video game design and theological heft; we players, accustomed to the power to trample our enemies, are shown our impotence in the face of a broken and fallen world. Our works cannot save Joel."

Finally, this recent piece in The Atlantic asking if video games are better without stories sparked a small discussion over on our Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/AssumptionsPod/posts/1896209167330886)

 

Credits:

Assumptions is written and produced by Daniel Melvill Jones and Kyle Marshall.

This episode edited by Kyle Marshall.

Our soundtrack comes from The Parson Red Heads, who have a new album (Blurred Harmony) coming out on June 9th.

Podcast artwork designed by Chris Taniguchi 

Photography by Jen Hall

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