Reply All: #50 The Cathedral
January 7, 2016 5:48 PM - Subscribe

Amy and Ryan Green's one-year-old son is diagnosed with cancer and begins an agonizing period of treatment. And then, one night in the hospital, Ryan has a strange epiphany: this whole terrible ordeal should be a video game.
posted by lunch (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Also, if anyone's curious, That Dragon, Cancer will be available on Steam, although it's not yet listed.
posted by lunch at 5:58 PM on January 7, 2016

So *that* was incredibly harrowing
posted by chrchr at 7:29 PM on January 7, 2016

Gosh, but that was a tough episode to listen to. I'm not really a cryer, but I've just been lying in my bed with tears streaming down my face. I've mostly experienced death at a distance -- loved ones go to the hospital, I visit, and one day they're gone, and it was someone else that managed the day-to-day of it, the grind toward the end.

But I know that time lies ahead for me too, and it will either be me slipping away, with the people I love most of all worn down by it, or it will be them with me by their side. I suppose the game might be helpful, in giving us a test run for the end. I don't know. This episode might have been test run enough for me.
posted by maxsparber at 9:55 PM on January 7, 2016

So *that* was incredibly harrowing

Listening to it on the bus on the way to work: ...yeah.

I had a bunch of weird criticisms popping up in my head even as I was fighting back tears, though: What's the purpose of the game - proselytizing that prayer is the answer, or that grief is inevitable? Whom is this for? Is there going to be a happy ending? Is that fair? And then I decided I didn't care; it doesn't matter to me that the Greens are selling something inspired by their personal tragedy, they turned their tragedy into something tangible and directed, and that's remarkable.
posted by psoas at 10:45 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

What's the purpose of the game?

I got the idea that it was more 'this is the only way I can really express what I'm feeling right now' than any sort of thesis statement. Kind of like with depression quest, which is another sort of game that's not made to be fun.

I held it together until I got to the end with the bubbles.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:17 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow, went to look at the Radiolab version of this story and I was surprised at exactly how negative so many of the comments were. Maybe I shouldn't be? But the number of people who took this show to be proselytizing (which - religious messages aren't my favorite either, but I'm not sure how you'd have a story about this family and their situation without discussing their religious beliefs), or exploitative still seems a little astounding.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:56 AM on January 11, 2016

I kickstarted the game, with only vague knowledge of the subject matter. Seems like it might be too heartbreaking to play.

I thought this was a great episode, but I can see where the complaints about proselytizing come from. For me, it was the part of the game described as trying to comfort your crying son and nothing working until prayer suddenly stops his crying.

This is apparently the week for talking about That Dragon, Cancer, because long, sad articles are popping up all over the place.
posted by graventy at 3:24 PM on January 11, 2016

I hated it. I really, really hated it. Couldn't listen to the whole thing.

I'm not a hardline atheist, more of a live and let live agnostic. Catholicism never took for me, but a fair chunk of my immediate family is Catholic/evangelical Christian. So I listened and tried to understand some perfectly nice people whose beliefs are not mine.

I stumbled at the protracted recording of their son's crying.

(Wasn't it his crying? Was it a recording of some other poor kid emulating his crying? From the transcript: "SRUTHI: And he’s crying, and crying, and his cries just get more frantic, and animal, and there’s nothing that Ryan can do." )

From later in the transcript:
SRUTHI: So Amy puts on the headphones…


SRUTHI: And finds herself back in the hospital room. You’re playing as Ryan. He looks like he’s made out of origami. In the room, you don’t see Joel. You see an empty crib, and you can hear him crying. You can move your mouse around the screen, and options appear. You can walk around the room. Give him juice. Bounce him. But no matter what you do, his crying just gets worse and worse.


RYAN: Okay, buddy, okay. I’ll hold you. Shh, shh shh shh shh shh. Please stop. Please. Stop.

SRUTHI: After five or six minutes of this, ...
I wasn't offended by the gameplay that prayer stopped the crying -- I just hated listening to real or imitated crying of genuine distress from a real boy was turned into gameplay. I am old enough and have faced enough pain and death in my family to know a little bit about enduring what can't be cured. I'm not learning a single new goddamned thing from listening to that crying. I don't help Joel. I don't help the family. I just immerse myself in more pain without being able to help at all? FUCK that.

I plunged on to the story of the game build and Joel's ups and downs and eventual death, but shut it off in the middle of the father's painful prayer because, again, pain I could not learn from or help someone with was being piped into my ears and NO.

So if y'all loved and learned from that, fine. But maybe you have a slightly better idea about why some of us never want to hear something like that again.
posted by maudlin at 3:45 PM on January 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

I was not a fan, for many the same reasons that Maudlin stated. Also, ... isn't Reply All supposed to be about the internet? The fact that this was a video game, and had a kickstarter, is so tangential. It reminds me of their earlier episode about "How the internet stole a dog" which I also disliked.

One thing I couldn't stop thinking about during this episode was the recent broadcast conversation among gimlet management about if they should or should not target christian demographic. This felt like they said to themselves "Well, we're a bunch of atheists. Maybe we should give it a shot, see what we can get?" I doubt that that actually happened. But the proximity is there, and it was in my head while I listened.
posted by rebent at 7:07 PM on January 11, 2016

Great podcast episode. Sruthi Pinnamaneni is a good interviewer and producer, I love her contributions to the show.

Rock Paper Shotgun has a thoughtful review of the game. Sorry to say it's negative, but a thoughtful critique specifically on game design grounds. "We need art and stories, games included, to shake us from that apathy and to take us past sympathy and towards empathy. That Dragon, Cancer is an important game because it tries, but not because it succeeds."
posted by Nelson at 2:37 PM on January 13, 2016

Also, ... isn't Reply All supposed to be about the internet?

By that metric, many if my favorite shows of theirs don't really qualify. But the game is being released on Steam, so this actually has more to do with the web than, say, the episode when they took a day off.
posted by maxsparber at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2016

Because I know the Reply All folks sometimes read this:

Please, please, please: Infant death is one of the things that really needs a trigger warning at the beginning of the episode.
posted by schmod at 5:54 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I did find myself wondering how useful, exactly, this exercise was for the parents as a memorial or as a grieving experience. Something that the episode touches on at the end, when Ryan describes how his memories of Joel are fading and that the game feels like an imperfect echo of those memories.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:32 PM on January 20, 2016

That was both a great story and an absolute misery. That didn't make me much more than sad. And if I'd known about it ahead of time, like Maudlin, I would not have listened. Somehow, in the presentation of the story I did not realize Joel died. Or I did not anticipate it. I somehow assumed he lived and when it comes out that, no, he has not - it somehow made it all that much more -hard.

Still, I listened to the whole amazing, strange, horrible, sad thing. I realized I would never in a million years think to make a 'game' of something like this. And the prayer meeting was also deeply poignant - there was a quality to it that was almost atavistic, as though by wanting/hoping/praying enough...I'm not christian or any religion. I envy people who have faith, though and this was why. To feel as though perhaps they could find sense through their religion for what happened - well, I sincerely hope the parents were able to find some succor.

It would be considerate to mention in the description of the episode that the story is about the death of a child.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:16 AM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Podcast: Serial: S02 Episode 0...   |  Book: Three Moments of an Expl... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments