Emotional Education

During our Animation class, we attended a lecture hosted by the philosophy course, “The Good Life.”

The creators of the video game, “That Dragon, Cancer,” visited Notre Dame to demo their game and speak about their experience.

If you still have the internet, read about it in this article: https://www.wired.com/2016/01/that-dragon-cancer/

It was an extremely interesting and extremely disturbing idea.

Two parents created a video game. This game chronicles the battle their son, Joel, lost to cancer as a toddler. Throughout the game, you play as the parents. Players try to click on things to try to calm Joel, but nothing works. There’s no winning the game. This is the point – they wanted to put out a game that invites people into the grieving process. There are Bible verses dispersed throughout. Joel’s father has an extremely strong connection to his religion, but is very open about his currently shaky relationship with God. They know it might be an emotionally scarring game to some people, but they’re hoping it will be more of a comfort to the many people who grieve loss. Or maybe it isn’t? The mother said she’s not yet sure if this game is supposed to be for the public, or therapy for the two of them.

They brought the game to shows. People cried while playing, begging the parents to tell them if Joel lives. When they first showed the game, they were able to tell players that Joel was still alive. Without quite realizing, they thought that making the game could be a way to somehow induce a miracle… that the game would end with their son alive. After their son passed, it became a tribute, an honor to their son. Joel lives on through this game.

The strange thing is that they want to sell this commercially. As insensitive as it sounds, the question must be asked: who wants to pay to feel this horrific grief? Is that what they’re selling? No, they’re selling the opportunity to emotionally educate people on deep, intense emotions through empathy.

Is it sick? Is it brilliant? Is it brave? Or is it emotional catharsis, destructive to themselves and others?

The discussion was mind-bogglingly intense. The topics included belief in God through struggle, questions of the afterlife, etc. Joel’s father used scripture to answer many of the questions. He just kept looking sadder and sadder…

Crystal, my acquaintance from class, was as horrified as I was, though I was trying very hard to appreciate it. It’s art, for sure. It’s poetry, but is it commercial? Is it entertainment? Definitely not. It shouldn’t be. Is it education? Maybe. Is it therapy?

I don’t think so. I think this type of constant infatuation with grief keeps the couple from moving on, from happiness, in some way or another. I can’t imagine this amount of prolonged active focus on grief to be the answer – but who am I to question it? I have no idea what they are going through. Honestly, I have no desire to know. Sounds harsh, but who would?

Moreover, they have 4 other kids. One is a daughter they had a year after Joel’s death. They say the rest of the kids are grieving just as deeply as their parents. How will the daughter feel? Will she feel that she wasn’t enough? Will the kids feel like they are less important?

I very much appreciated the opportunity to think and talk about these things, no matter how disturbing a situation or the judgement it revealed in me and the introspection it caused.

The point is to make you feel something. I can report with 100% honesty that the goal is met.

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(Lecture on September 28, 2016)

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