‘That Dragon, Cancer’ Pancake Party — A GameCell Recap
by M. Joshua
That Dragon Cancer just released today on Steam and Ouya. It’s the most profound game about faith, suffering, love, and hope. And so I wanted to make sure the group of guys that meet in my house (called gamecell) would have a chance to play it.
Now the developers of the game, Amy and Ryan Green, requested that folks celebrate pancake parties at the game’s launch. Cancer and pancakes might not seem like they go together, but that’s because pancakes were their son Joel’s favorite thing. And the game is really about their son and the things he loved. The titular cancer, is more like the setting than the focus. So since Joel loved pancakes, and since the game is about things our loved ones love, that was our theme for our Pancake Party!
We gathered together around pancakes and answered this core question:
What is the one thing or activity that the person you love loves?
We would get to that answer in a bit. Before we do that, here’s a silly short video I made about the evening on my phone:
When you say, “we’re eating pancakes,” everybody comes out. Including myself and Vince, there were fifteen of us. Somehow we fit Alex Hively, Jason, Alex Carter, Tim Russell, Tyler, Tim Hilbert, Scottie, Greg, Seth, Garrett, Vince, Dan, Josh, and Mark (the new guy!) into my living room, and then my basement for when we played the game.
Jason and Alex Hively showed up early to be the chef and sous chef for the evening, crafting pancakes with precision.
With this large of a crew, my plan for loosely focusing on a storytelling theme went right out the window because there wouldn’t be enough of a focus on the one guy talking. So I went back to my default questions to bring everybody onto the same page. “What’s your name and your favorite game? Don’t overthink it?” I said. Our new guy, Mark said Mario 3! I also welcomed Mark as it’s rare that guys bring their dads, but I love it when they do (he’s Daniel and Josh’s dad). Everybody else shared their favorite game.
I asked, “Anybody get to spend a good time with loved ones over Christmas and New Years?” I wanted to set the tone of the evening on stories about loved ones, and I think this worked. Alex Carter shared about how he had a great New Years with his two closest friends, playing videogames and enjoying beer (sidenote: he may be 23, but I’m still not used to the idea of him being old enough to drink). Scottie talked about hanging with us on New Years. And Tim also talked about hanging out with us at our Christmas party. It was kinda funny how much our “loved ones” were our friends. So I turned the conversation to a little more focus:
“Who do you love? The one person you love the most?”
This is a fun question for a group of guys as young as fourteen. Not everybody had an answer, but for those of us who were married, the answer was too easy. The follow-up question got a tiny bit more challenging:
“What do they love?”
Vince talked about how his wife, Heather, loves volleyball. Mark said his wife loves baking. Many of the guys shared things their moms loved. Some shared things their dads loved. Garrett and Seth shared what their grandfathers loved.
Before we got to our final question, I check the kitchen to see how Jason and Alex were doing with the pancakes. They seemed ready.
We served up the pancakes. Then while we were eating, I had a final question:
“What stories do you have about the things your loved ones love?”
Garrett shared about how his grandpa loves sleep and how one time they were walking somewhere and sat down for a moment to catch their breath, but his grandpa fell asleep on the curb. Vince shared the story about his wife coaching volleyball and how hard it was when she couldn’t coach anymore. Jason shared about his mom’s love for HGTV and how they have a random window in the dining room that doesn’t go anywhere. Alex Hively shared about his little sister who he loves to watch cartoons and Let’s Plays with.
I pulled back the curtains and explained that we were having pancakes because of Joel and because the game we’re playing is about celebrating the loves of those we love. Somebody in the room said, “that’s depressing. I feel terrible.” And I tried to counter by saying, “No, don’t feel terrible, this is a good thing. This is a celebration of life and love.” I spoke over our crew my hope that they would grow in noticing and studying the things that others love, and become good at loving others by celebrating them. Then Vince prayed over our time together before we headed downstairs.
That Dragon Cancer is only two hours long. So it was just the perfect length for our crew to play.
Unfortunately, when I got to the basement we couldn’t play the game. An update queued. It needed to update in order for us to play and it would take half an hour. I panicked for a moment. Fifteen guys piled into my basement and I couldn’t play anything on Steam because that would keep the update from downloading. I opened up my itchio library (games loosely downloaded and organized by me from itch.io) and found a game that we hadn’t actually played as a group on an official gamecell night, Super Rock Blasters.
Super Rock Blasters saved the night, as it was the perfect local multiplayer game to get everybody a chance to play. It was also a fantastic way to kill half an hour while That Dragon finished updating. Massive thanks to my buddy Christian Plummer for letting me know about SRB and for hooking up our crew with the game many months ago while it was in an earlier form. I highly recommend the game as it’s a fantastic arena deathmatch version of Asteroids. It’s on itchio for $3.
Then we got to our main event.
That Dragon, Cancer
I really didn’t know how our crew would handle a game that explored the joys of a young boy’s life as he and his family battled cancer. And since we had fifteen guys gathered around the game, we had about fifteen different responses. Universally, everybody loved the colorful surprises that the game offers. And the more harrowing parts of the game caused some guys to step out of the room. They came back, but it was clear that some of the action game junkies of the crew were uncomfortable.
Our younger guys didn’t understand the audio-driven scenes that didn’t show as many characters as we heard. But over the course of the game, they got a more robust and complete vision of the experience. At one point, Tim Hilbert saw that the “pickups” in a scene were chemotherapy treatments, to which he could only say, “Man, that’s wrong…” Meanwhile, a similar scene had the whole crew laughing.
We passed the controller from one player to the next between the fourteen “levels.” This turned out to be the perfect number since everybody got a chance to play that wanted to.
The best moment in the game came when we saw a whole stack of pancakes in the game. Suddenly our whole crew let out a collective, “Ohhhhhhhh!” It fully connected why we ate pancakes earlier that evening. Vince had the controls for the end of the game, and he wasn’t clear on how to end the scene. Once he figured it out, he had a giant “ah-ha” moment that spoke to the unity of the game’s themes and how he was playing.
We all sat intensely taking-in the credits. We knew it was over, but I don’t think anybody wanted to leave. Unfortunately, we had to clean up and I needed to go to bed. Thankfully the crew helped me deal with the pancakes and batter everywhere. Note to self: next time plan better for cleanup.
Considering a Pancake Party of Your Own?
All you really need is a copy of That Dragon, Cancer, pancakes and something like these questions:
- “Who do you love? The one person you love the most?”
- “What do they love?”
- “What stories do you have about the things your loved ones love?”