"Joel took his last breath at 1.52am."
That was the painful update this morning to the dev blog of That Dragon, Cancer, an autobiographical game by Ryan Green about raising his son Joel.
Joel Green was five years old at the time of his passing. He was diagnosed with an Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor when he was one. The Green family - consisting of father Ryan, mother Amy and siblings Caleb, Isaac and the since-born Elijah - responded to the diagnosis by choosing to celebrate Joel's life rather than dwell on his horrible situation. The Greens even wrote a book about the joys of living with Joel called He's Not Dead Yet, and Ryan has been toiling away at conveying his plight in the upcoming Ouya-exclusive That Dragon, Cancer.
"He is the sweetest kid," Green said to Eurogamer contributor Simon Parkin in an interview last year. "I hope to capture some of that, some of who he is. You know when a father pulls out the photos of his children from his wallet and continues to show them to you way past your interest level? I have an opportunity here to create the ultimate photo album. In the end, I guess my greatest hope is pretty simple: that players might care about my son the way that I do."
At the time Parkin asked how the game would be impacted if the worst were to happen, to which Green responded, "I hope the message doesn't change."
"A lot of players don't want to enter our story. Because he could die, right? And who wants to play a game about that? But I want people to trust that I am going to tell a good story regardless. Because, as difficult as it is, I am living in a good story."
I had the pleasure of meeting Ryan Green at GDC last year, where I was struck by his warmth and affability. At first I thought maybe I was thinking of the wrong guy and that he might have been a different member of the dev team. This can't be the guy whose kid has cancer, I thought as Green casually laughed at my inebriated journalist friends and I arguing about the merits of Uncharted over late-night burgers. He seems too jovial and relaxed! That's the great thing about Ryan Green: he could contemplate the gravity of his dire situation, yet not succumb to its weight.
I look forward to meeting the digitised representation of Joel in That Dragon, Cancer. I'm sorry I never got to meet the real person. He sounded like quite the character.