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article imageReview: 'Thank You For Playing' is painful but essential watching Special

By Michael Thomas     Apr 29, 2015 in Entertainment
When Ryan Green's young son is diagnosed with cancer, he begins to develop a video game based on the highs and lows of his experience.
The news of a one-year-old diagnosed with cancer is devastating no matter how one looks at it. Green, a video game developer, decides to create a game called That Dragon, Cancer, featuring characters based on him and his family. The documentary in one aspect shows the myriad ways games can deal with traumatic issues; That Dragon. Cancer is in league with other arthouse games like Depression Quest.
Thank You For Playing features interviews with Green and his wife Amy as they navigate through the rough waters of caring for Joel, who is in the film four years old, despite being told he had months to live when diagnosed with cancer at age one. These scenes are interspersed with footage from the video game, creating at times a surreal environment, especially when Green's poetic video game script sounds almost indistinguishable from his real-life observations.
Green's reasons for creating the video game seem inexplicable at first. At one point Green is reading aloud an article about his game, and a commenter questions the intent behind it. "It's like filming your kid's death and then posting it on YouTube," the comment says. But as the film progresses and Joel's tumors spread throughout his body, Green's reasoning seems perfectly clear.
One of the most astonishing moments of the film shows Green taking a demo to Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), the first time the game has been seen by a population of game enthusiasts. Many sit down and play, and many leave with tears in their eyes. The deceptively simple moments in the game portray good times and bad with the same emotional weight.
The heaviness of the subject matter makes Thank You For Playing far from light viewing, but it shines a light on a subject few willingly talk about, and shows there are many ways to deal with trauma and grief.
Thank You For Playing is now screening at the 2015 Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto. See Digital Journal's full 2015 coverage here.
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