Thank You for Playing is a difficult, but rewarding watch. This heart-wrenching documentary tells the story of one man’s mission to develop a game about his young son’s battle with cancer. Over the past few years there has been one question that has increasingly dominated the gaming scene: are games art? Thank You for Playing provides a conclusive answer to that question.
Given its harrowing subject matter, this documentary is, at times, very difficult to sit through. The audience sees Ryan Green and his family dealing with the terminal illness of his four-year-old son, Joel. Watching a family deal with grief feels a little voyeuristic, and knowing just where this story is heading makes things even more difficult. There are some scenes in this documentary that are simply heartbreaking. but if there is one silver lining, it is witnessing how this family uses tragedy to create something positive. The game, That Dragon, Cancer, is still in development and Thank You for Playing is an excellent advertisement for it.
The documentary skirts a thin line but ultimately manages to avoid becoming overly sentimental or mawkish. There are scenes of Ryan speaking with his wife about just how much “truth” they should include in the game. They wrestle with nitty-gritty questions, like whether it is acceptable to include the sound of Joel laughing in the game, but not crying, for instance. It also provides an interesting snapshot of how indie games like this are made, speaking with those actually coding this unusual game and getting their thoughts on it.
Thank You for Playing also interestingly looks at the Green family’s motivations behind not just developing the game, but also filming this documentary. This allows for just the right level of self-awareness for a documentary of this kind and counter-balances some of the more distressing emotional scenes. Directors David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall do a great job in producing an intelligent, brave and authentic meditation on grief and the artistic process.
Verdict: Four Stars
This article was originally published here.