I have written once or twice in the past about Ryan’s work developing a video game about Joel.  If you missed those posts, I’ll try to be brief in catching you up.

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When Joel was first terminal, four years ago, we weren’t sure how much to tell Caleb and Isaac about Joel and death and heaven and what the doctors had told us.  In a tear-filled phone conversation with my dad, as I walked around the hospital parking lot, he told me, “If Joel does die, it would be really great if your boys could know that Joel fought well and God said he earned his rest.” (Of course since it’s been four years I’m not sure those were his exact words, but it was something along those lines.)  Ryan and I talked about this and began to tell the boys a bedtime story about the warrior Joel who was fighting a fierce dragon named cancer.   We told the story a little at a time, but we always left the ending hanging.  If Joel wins so much the better, if Joel loses, the stage was set for a conversation about a valiant, courageous fight that ended in God saying “well done, you fought hard, welcome to paradise.”

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Of course, Joel lived four more beautiful years, and in that time, our boys outgrew our bedtime story and were able to digest more of the reality we were all facing together, but the fairy tale we had begun had a place in our hearts and we talked about wanting to create something out of it.  We talked about a film, or a book, but in the end Ryan’s friend Josh agreed it would make a great video game, and told us he was willing to take six months and work on it with Ryan, unpaid.

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In November of 2012 Ryan and Josh began working on “That Dragon, Cancer” a video game about Joel, our family, and an epic fight with cancer.  It was always more art-piece than game.  A way to express the hope we felt in the face of death.  I had planned on Ryan working on the game for about two months, but after that I knew he would need to find more freelance programming work.  It would be irresponsible for us to let our savings dip too low, while Joel was still fighting cancer and we had insurance premiums and a mortgage to keep up.  Two months came and went, and I realized I really believed in what Ryan and Josh were doing.  I could see Ryan stepping into his calling, using all his gifts and talents to craft a story that could show people the grace of God in a tangible way.  I couldn’t imagine him going back to work for other people on projects that didn’t mean anything to us.  In a giant step of faith, we decided he could just keep working on “That Dragon, Cancer.”  We would live on our savings and trust God to provide for us before we ran out of money.

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Ryan and Josh took a demo scene from the game to a conference in California in March of 2013.  (At this point we had gone from about six months of savings to around two months of savings, making our finances stretch a little through contest winnings, very small side-projects, and generous financial gifts.)  The scene was a portrayal of Ryan and Joel in the hospital, based on a night when Joel was very dehydrated, but vomited anything we gave him.  That specific night always stuck with Ryan because he felt so desperate and helpless, but ultimately God met him in that hospital room, giving Joel peace and Ryan grace.  When members of the media played this demo scene they fell in love with the game. Ryan and Josh had succeeded in capturing the emotion of that night and letting gamers step into Ryan’s shoes for a few minutes. Much of the success of the demo was due to the help of a local composer, Jon, who volunteered his time beginning one week before the conference and in that short time elevated the demo to new heights; he has been an essential part of the development team ever since. We were shocked by the attention that simple demo scene received, and  within four months Ryan and Josh had funding for the game for a year for a team of four developers (which has now turned into five developers.) Our two months of savings had stretched that four months because of even more generous gifts of friends, family and even strangers who believed in what we were doing.

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Since July of 2013, Ryan has been able to work on “That Dragon, Cancer” as his full-time, paid job.  We always believed as they crafted the game they were building a stage for an incredible testimony that was still unfolding.  It was exciting to believe that God could use the medium of video games, and the instrument of personal testimony to change people’s hearts.  The development team took the game to more conferences and shared it with video game enthusiasts who frequently cried and hugged them and talked about people they had loved and lost.  It was an amazing experience for the entire team to be able to connect with strangers in such an intimate way, all because of a video game.

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Now I’m not sure what “That Dragon, Cancer” will be.  God has opened so many doors, and provided so much unmerited favor as the project continues to be in development.  I know His heart is behind this game, but I also know now that it will not be the stage for a testimony of an unbelievable healing.   However, the new identity it has taken on in the last three weeks is a way for Ryan to memorialize his son, to mourn and create and remember.  He wants to capture what it was like to love Joel, and introduce Joel to the world.  Ryan gets to be paid to mourn our son.  It is a grace I can not appreciate enough.  He gets to make his work a tribute to Joel.  I don’t know how Ryan would have been able to go back to any other job.  At this point, even if the game were a total flop that no one ever played and that never moved anyone’s heart closer to God, it would still be one of the biggest miracles of my life that Ryan was able to spend this year and a half creating something that reflected his love for Joel and his love of God.  I can’t imagine what this season of our life would be like if he were doing anything else right now.

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A small film crew has followed the development of the game and our family since June of 2013.  They spent the last three days of Joel’s life with us.  They are dedicated to telling the story of this game’s creation.  They have just released a very short teaser of the documentary.  We wanted to share it with you.  They are hoping to release the documentary to coincide with the release of the game.  You can be praying for both the game and the documentary, that their productions would go well and that God would use them very specifically to draw people closer to Him, even though now, it is obvious that they will reflect our sorrow.

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The website for the documentary is:  http://www.thankyouforplayingfilm.com/

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The website for the video game is: http://www.thatdragoncancer.com

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Here is the teaser for the documentary:

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Thank You For Playing – Teaser from Thank You For Playing on Vimeo.

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