Friday, May 10, 2013

Gaming's new frontier: Cancer, depression, suicide

How "empathy" games are striving to make powerful emotional connections.

Brian Ramage has made traditional hardcore games for all his professional life, and still does. He recently encountered a very different kind of experience, one that altered his view of what games can achieve. 

Attending the Game Developers Conference last month, Ramage was invited to a game developers' social gathering. Anticipating the pleasure of enjoying a few drinks and some amiable conversation with fellow professionals while playing a few demos, he agreed to attend. At the bar, he joined in the hubbub of chatter about games. At some point, he began chatting with a couple of guys working on an unusual project. Ryan Green is the father of a young son who is suffering from terminal cancer. He is making a game about this experience. His friend Josh Larson is helping out. 

Sympathetic to Green's plight, Ramage was intrigued. A game about a child's terminal cancer? A game about being the father of a dying child? 

Green and Larson showed him their game, That Dragon, Cancer. Ramage sat down facing the bustling room, put on the headphones and played for a few minutes.
That's all it took. He began weeping.

Brian Ramage isn't the kind of person who sniffles at heart-tugging TV commercials. If, at the end of a mushy movie, he feels a tear forming, he'll bite that bad boy back before his girlfriend sees what's what. He's been playing games for most of his 38 years, been making them half his life, and has never, ever cried while playing a game. 

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