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The Cathedral

Monday, December 28, 2015 - 02:54 PM

Ryan and Amy Green were facing the unfaceable: their youngest son, Joel was diagnosed with terminal cancer after his first birthday. Producer Sruthi Pinnamaneni tells the story of how Ryan and Amy stumble onto an unlikely way of processing their experience fighting alongside Joel: they decide to turn it into a video game. In the end, they find themselves facing what might be, for a game designer or a parent, the hardest design problem ever.

Correction: In the original audio we stated that the survival rate of childhood AT/RT cancer is 50% over five years. But studies suggest the survival rate is 50% over two years. The audio has been updated to reflect this change.

For an extended version of this story and a bunch more incredible stories, go check out Reply All.

Special thanks to Eilis O’ Neill, Jon Hillman, and Josh Larson. This episode included audio from “Thank You For Playing,” a documentary film about the creation of That Dragon, Cancer by David Osit & Malika Zouhali-Worrall. You can learn more about the film and where you can see it, at For more, we suggest reading Wired's "Playing For Time."


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Comments [177]

Joey Suggs from Chicagoland

It shouldnt be surprising how many commenters here hated this episode. Their strong negative reaction shows some important things about life and about the modern world.

1. Life is complex and often painful.
2. Life throws things at us that challenge our world views.
3. We hate having our world views crushed.

The couple were deeply religious and had faith in a miracle that did not come. Painful. Worldview challenged. This multiplied their unhappiness.

Listeners who love to have pleasant and stimulating and emotionally neutral podcasts to entertain them are faced with religion that they hate and a story that is tragic. It exposes them to painful reality and a worldview not their own. They hate it.

This story leaves no one untouched and no one unchallenged. Well done, bravo. Best podcast. Keep challenging the narrowness that new orthodoxy among your listeners!

Dec. 19 2017 11:38 AM
Jessica from Cleveland, Ohio

I usually don't mind the crossover episodes, but this really diverges a lot from the usual Radiolab fare. I'm accustomed to highly-informative, well-researched, and thought-provoking material. This long, drawn-out episode does nothing but indulge two delusional parents extending their child's suffering to satisfy their own emotions, and lacked any real informative potential. I will steer clear of Reply All, to be sure, and I'll be very disappointed if Radiolab continues on this path.

Dec. 01 2017 09:44 AM
AR from Miami, Fl

I love the Radiolab podcast.. I first got into Radiolab because of the science theme, this one in particular is not the usual type of material I'm interested in but man was it great.

This is the only podcast that has ever made me cry.. I listened to it twice and I never want to hear it again, it's too hard to listen to, it's emotionally devastating and I can't bear it.

Amazing work.

Nov. 12 2017 03:27 PM
ct from Busan

Morgan Stanley? Unilever?

Robert you are a corporate whore.

Oct. 20 2016 07:02 AM
Leslie from Charlotte

I have been a pediatric intensive care nurse for almost 40 years, so I have walked this walk with children and their parents for almost 40 years. It's not just cancer; it's heart defects, trauma, infections, suicide... I have lost track of the number. I will say that we can ease the suffering of the children with potent medications, and we do. Most children just want their parents to be with them. They just don't want to be left alone, living or dying.

We cannot ease the agony of these parents; their very souls are being ripped in two. All we can do is walk with them and support them in anything non-harmful they need to do to cope with their grief. I am grateful to these parents who have found a way to show the rest of us what we would rather not see. I am grateful for the tone created by Cathedral, because the passage from this life to what lies beyond (no matter one's beliefs on the "beyond") is a sacred time. Something profound and humbling happens here.

Sep. 24 2016 07:35 AM

Pretty incredible way to cope. Nice of them to share this with us.

Sep. 01 2016 12:35 PM

This was so sad to hear. I had a hard time being okay, and trying to remain non judgmental about what these parents were doing. I'm glad I was able to stick with it, as I was able to appreciate the manner in which they tried making sense of the worst thing that can happen to parents.

I have never cried so hard listening to RadioLab. My thoughts are with them.

Aug. 09 2016 04:42 PM

I don't mind stories involving the faith of the humans featured. But it seems that the content of Radiolab, in recent years, has been really heavy with Christian themes. I seriously wonder if Jad or someone else involved with the show has had a major conversion. The tone of the podcast has changed.

Radiolab used to be my favorite podcast, but I'm usually disappointed in the episodes now. This story is gut-wrenching, but I'm not sure I understand the point. A couple has a child die. Part of their grieving process involves creating a video game in which the only way to "win" is to put your faith in god in order to find peace. Aside from the fact that this is really heavy-handed, I'm struck by the fact that the "point" of the game is to care for the adult- to make the adult feel better, to make the adult understand the world. That's important, but it's worth noting that nothing makes the child feel better. The child suffers and dies. If you can find peace in a God that allows babies to die slowly of cancer, OK. We all find peace in different ways, I guess.

Jul. 15 2016 04:01 PM
M. Lee from Wisconsin

This story was brilliant and heart wrenching. Thank you for sharing.

Jun. 23 2016 01:17 PM
Chloe from Vancouver, writing in from France

Holy smokes! My first time reading comments. Is this a normal level of maudlin comment-zone rabble-rousing at RL or is the disagreement here worth a follow-up episode?

I work with Holocaust Testimony. You don't have to enjoy hearing something to appreciate it's significance. Oy vey.

Jun. 06 2016 01:23 PM
B Lee from Seattle, WA

What is up with all the posts complaining about other commenters? Complaining about someone saying that don't like the episode is ridiculous. So allow me to return the favor. You hating on them just because they don't like the overtly religious theme and the total lack of any critical thought about it by the hosts is childish. Everyone is sad for the loss. Nobody is being mean or disrespectful. If you're not a long-time listener of the show then you probably can't begin to understand how substandard this episode really is (even in comparison to other recent poor shows). The show peaked long ago just about the time the hosts used their power from that peak to taken on stories of personal interest. It's just frustrating watching a long-time favorite podcast nose-diving into the ground. And for no good reason.

May. 12 2016 03:42 AM
Jack Bowie from Earth

I feel for the family and their loss. But this was a 5 minute story at best and probably best left for print. So why? W.T.F. is going on at RL?

Just brazenly blowing 30 minutes to flip off all that RL was founded on is really effed up. It's not appreciated. Eff you too.

May. 12 2016 02:44 AM
Qwence from Edmonton, AB.

A heart-breaking story... What a raw and creative outlet to express the grief and pain for the parents. I admire their ability to find an outlet in this way and in the process create a small legacy for the person the Joel was. It is clear to me that this game is about getting their pain out, much like one would through a means such as poetry or dance. And as a witness to this story through the Radiolab podcast, Joel will remain eternal through you and I.

Love and prayers to Joel and his family.

May. 05 2016 11:44 AM
ashley from Boston, MA

Using videogames as a storytelling device for highly emotional stories is the headline of this story - but that is not really that new, and there are probably better examples to tell that story. The REAL story, for me, was about the paradox of the parents. The fact that this highly emotionally manipulative game is based on a true, lived story is tragic and gives it more depth than the Lifetime Movie of the Week feel it could potentially have, depending on perspective. However, there is a paradox: the death of a child is so tragic, so wounding; why would one want to keep retelling and reliving it over and over? Why would one hitch their wagon to that creative ballast? I find the level of self-promotion and total lack of privacy on the part of the parents confusing.

I have never lived through anything even close to the awful situation that bore this game. In my current perspective, I can't imagine I would want to share that story with the entire world, promoting the telling and retelling of it through the creation of both a game and a documentary about this deeply personal loss. But everyone goes through pain in their own way. Perhaps this is the best way for this family to go through it - sharing it and having others understand a shred of what they were feeling.

Mar. 28 2016 11:59 AM

I am completely mystified by how much publicity this "game" has received. So much so, in fact, that I think whoever is behind the marketing of it is some sort of evil genius. I'm almost inspired to make my own indie game about some half baked idea that popped into my head while dealing with a particularly difficult emotional period of my life.

In the context of the original podcast I can understand how this became a show. I like Reply All. I think PJ and Alex occasionally tell a good story, but often times their own concept of being "a show about the Internet" cripples them and leaves them quite obviously grasping at straws when looking for new material. I heard this on Reply All, rolled my eyes, occasionally laughed at the absurdity of this poor couple and their atrocious coping abilities, but overall left feeling as if I had just listened to a one hour advertisement. LOW POLYGON GRAPHICS! SCREAM-PRAYING PARENTS! COMICALLY DISINGENUOUS TUGGING AT THE HEARTSTRINGS! BUY OUR GAME! LOL! no thanks.

It's OK, I expect this from Reply All. They're a new podcast still finding their footing and right now it's kind of a gamble on whether or not an episode will be really interesting. When it is interesting it's worthwhile, so I take the good with the bad.

When I heard Radiolab was rebroadcasting a Reply All episode my initial reaction was "oh awesome, good for them." Then I heard which episode it was and verbally exclaimed "WTF!?" I did not expect out of all the episodes they could have chosen, for it to be a hollow shell of a boring indie game promotion. I brought this up to some friends who also listen to Radiolab and they were equally as shocked. Was Reply All's episode on the moral ambiguity of SEO technology not "sciencey" enough? Why choose the one about the game designer who probably should have left the tragedy of his child's death as a footnote or easter egg in a larger game about overcoming difficult obstacles in life like a real grownup?

Other commenters have suggested an alternate objective/deconstructive take on this podcast would have been more inline with the theme of Radiolab. I couldn't agree with them more.

Mar. 10 2016 09:47 PM

I have listened to RadioLab podcasts for years. I tuned in for science, art, history and interesting people stories, told in an intelligent way that could challenge my thinking. I did not tune in for emotionally manipulative glurge disguised as an IT developer story. I get enough of that on Facebook. Thank you, though, for keeping me from spending money on a game that I had seen and considered purchasing. As a cancer survivor who has lost several family members to the disease, I think extending an infants life through treatment with such a poor prognosis, when such a low quality of life is maintained, is abusive and selfish. I would have been even more frustrated and angered when playing the game than I was when trying to finish listening to this episode.

Mar. 08 2016 07:12 PM
Neefer from Livermore, CA

Thank you for doing this story. My brother & SIL lost a child, and even though I was with them during and after, I never really got that brother & SIL felt like they were (constantly) making a choice to not be with Diego and to keep on living, even when they said things like "I just want to die and be with Diego." Your closing section of the episode brought back those memories and have helped me to have a little more insight on what they are going through.

I wish that no one had to lose a child, ever. It is the most awful thing.

Mar. 05 2016 06:25 PM
Laura from New York

If you haven't already, please check out the award-winning film Thank You For Playing, which goes inside the lives of Ryan and Amy Green as they create That Dragon, Cancer. The film will be released in theaters and digital platforms next month, and they launched a Kickstarter to raise the crucial funds needed to do that. The campaign ends in 5 days and they have $11K left to raise. They would appreciate ANY support. Thank you.

Feb. 28 2016 01:20 PM
Beth B from Missoula, MT

As an child and family therapist who sometimes uses cognitive behavioral therapy to help people process trauma, I think this is an amazing tool. What a wonderful idea, that a family gives themselves some semblance of control over something so terribly traumatic as the death of child. This is a powerful. I also don't get the sense that people playing it would be engaging in something like voyeuristic exploitation, but rather walking with the family who is in pain and bearing witness to the hardest events of their life. Wow.

Feb. 22 2016 04:20 PM

I found this fascinating. Everyone needs to find a way to cope with the most horrible things life can throw at you - this was an usual way to cope but valid none-the-less. I suppose we never know how others would use or respond to the game until it's out there, but i would think this could be an incredible resource for some people including those going through grief who cannot find a way to express it. Also possibly as a training tool for professionals who work with parents of sick children - as this is one powerful portrayal of a family's experience of the illness and death of a child.

Feb. 21 2016 09:08 PM
Jeremy from Michigan

The simple existence of a "game" where you are subjected to the unstoppable crying of a dying baby is disturbing. But what is more disturbing is that the game has been a success and that people are willingly subjecting themselves to parents worst nightmare in some kind of sick voyeuristic role playing. Even if the game isn't enjoyable, and there is something intriguing about a game you cannot win, who in their right mind wants to experience these feelings.

It would be easy to say that as a parent who has dealt with young children who have been in pain and hysterically scared because they cant make sense of the pain I cant understand why anyone with kids would want to subject themselves to this sort of thing and be done with it. But honestly, what healthy person would want to shoulder that burden - parent or not.

What bothers me most is that by playing the game one is essentially choosing to be a fly on the wall during someone's darkest hour, choosing to experience the authentic horror of futility trying to comfort a doomed innocent. Even though the creators of the game seem to have put it out there as art for therapy's sake, we should have the common decency to look away.

Feb. 19 2016 12:22 AM
Lauren from NY

I'm sure this was unintentional on the creators' part but the whole game is really grim expression of the futility of prayer. It's so sad that Joel had to die but equally sad that the parents spent the last precious days of his life begging and screaming to the void where they thought god would be instead of actually allowing themselves to feel and process their grief. As you approach the end of the game the religious themes get stronger and it seems to be building to a miraculous recovery... but Joel just dies and the game is over.

Feb. 17 2016 03:15 PM
TM from NJ

So why exactly is it considered ok to use personal tragedy as material for a book or album or screenplay but not a game? The fact that this family's expressive medium of choice was game design doesn't automatically make the product of their grief inferior to a song or novel or movie that told the same story.

I'm an agnostic atheist and I haven't yet played the game, but I think my fellow non-believers dismissing the game because of its religious themes is a real shame. This is a great opportunity to potentially gain some understanding of the people who have to reconcile their faith with the unfathomable sorrow of grief in what is most likely a godless universe. How do you keep believing in your invisible daddy-figure in the sky when you have to choose between acknowledging that he's either never been there or that he made your child suffer and die? I've never been able to wrap my head around that way of thinking and I hope to gain some insight from this game.

Feb. 17 2016 01:09 PM
J from Hudson, MI

I think the idea of making a game out of the illness was interesting. . . . Interesting, but not necessarily healthy.
The problem lies in that they 'documented' the child's death on the game.
I think this may be counter-productive. I think having this permanent reminder that they can watch continuously will allow them to not move on to the next stage of mourning. They may have trapped themselves in a sad time period forever.

Feb. 15 2016 10:57 AM

I thought this was a beautiful/terrible story, that illustrated how differently people handle grief & loss. While the idea of creating a "product" based on their son's illness made me uncomfortable initially, I realized it was the process that was helping them deal with the grief and loss. I don't think anyone should judge what a parent has to do to get through something as awful as what they went through. Stand in awe that they are still able to get up each morning and live after losing their little boy.

Feb. 15 2016 07:53 AM
The Reasonable Atheist from NC

Sone of the negative commenters here are the type of people who give atheists a bad reputation. How low do you have to sink to berate and look down upon parents who have suffered immense loss and are just trying to cope? It's sickening to see people sneer at those who rely on God for emotional support in tough times. If you hated the episode purely because it had the AUDACITY to include people with a different belief system than you, I am appalled. Their religion shouldn't matter; what matters is the story they tell.

That said, while it was a touching story, this type of stuff isn't why I listen to Radiolab. I'm frankly dissapinted at the lack of science-oriented content lately. That's really what I like, and it seems as if Radiolab is trying to put on a badly constructed "This American Life" costume. I'm about ready to call it quits, actually. I'm sure there's other podcasts that are actually science related.

Feb. 14 2016 05:52 PM
Aisha from Los Angeles

Does anyone else feel that Kanye was inspired by this when he was creating his video game about his mother going through the gates of Heaven? Just a thought

Feb. 13 2016 01:29 AM

The final choice to walk away or remain in a fantasy (or deny....the root of many mental illnesses) is difficult. As I type this, it seems so easy; but a few moments more are so powerful and seductive.

Feb. 12 2016 06:13 AM

I've long enjoyed Radiolab until today. This story is better suited for nonsense like the 700 club. I hate the 700 club. The story highlights the benign indifference of the universe and the absurdity of God in general. Should have been presented as such. Very disappointed.

Feb. 11 2016 10:50 PM
Ayala from Baltimore

Why is it surprising that the game was sold?

They spent all their savings working on this game. The game was backed by investors from the beginning–if the game wasn't going to be sold, it wouldn't have been made. Green spent many months working on the game, and they have other children to raise and care for.

Feb. 11 2016 07:57 PM

I listened to this podcast as I was driving with tears streaming down my face. As a father of two young children I cannot conceive how one deals with such a tragedy. My feeling was that the Greens were trying to process their loss and keep on living through what they do: write video games. Although it didn't leave me feeling comfortable I think there was an incredible bravery in this which is less about making sense of than finding a way to come to terms unimaginable loss. I think it would be mean-spirited to condemn them either on the basis of their religious beliefs or that the game is being sold.

Feb. 09 2016 07:31 AM
R. Roberts from Family House SF

I hope Radio Lab does an update to this story. The Green's have sold the game (for a profit) to a for profit company called Razor. It's really sad to see they are using the unfortunate death of their child to make a profit off as well as Intel, IDG-Accel, Heliconia and Temasek who are also making money from the death of Green's child.

Didn't the Green's state in the show they would be giving the proceeds from the sale of the game to two charities, Morgan Adams Foundation and Family House SF. Well it turns out that's not what the Green's are doing.

If you purchase the game your money goes to Razor. When or if Razor gives money to the two charities Razor can use this as a tax write off.

Radio Lab I hope you continue this story and give your listeners an update on how the Green's are using the unfortunate death of their child to make a profit.

Feb. 07 2016 04:48 PM
Trung from Hcm city Viet Nam

I'm sad to hear about your suffering but Be calm and keep trusting in God. He is always with you in every happy or sorrowful moments. Let your sorrow in the prayer to Our Lady of Rosary. All your suffering will become joy in God. Love

Feb. 07 2016 07:00 AM

I was very disappointed and disgusted by this episode, which basically ended up being a 30-minute, FREE advertisement for this game and giving these people national publicity. I have my qualms about these parents' religious views, but that aside, it just rubs me the wrong way that the producers would give these people a level of publicity that will benefit them in a significant way financially.

It all just leaves me with the impression that this episode was a huge ad cloaked in a sad story of parents losing their child to cancer. Pretty sick.

Feb. 07 2016 04:29 AM
Sanjo from NY

The tragedy of this story is that the parents were thinking of themselves and not what was best for the child. Instead of bringing the child home and loving and caring for it to the end, they tortured the poor thing, leaving it in a hospital, giving it drugs that caused more pain and suffering. this is not a story of love, but a story of selfishness.

Feb. 03 2016 03:17 PM
MT from Japan

I almost died... CURSE YOU RADIOLAB...I was on my bicycle, heading to work on this shiny cold morning of February... the more I listened to this story, the more it gets intense and heartbreaking... at the last minutes of the episode, I couldn't hold it: when I heard the father crying.... I broke out into tears as never before... I lost my breath while cycling... I was almost hit by a truck... CURSE YOU RADIOLAB

Being a father myself, this story was amazingly ... I cannot even find words... CURSE YOU RADIOLAB... but I LOVE YOU so much! If you drop by here let me know I will be your guide!

Feb. 03 2016 02:44 AM
Long time listener, first time caller from Sydney

I'm not religious. I know that there are people who hate the religious because they view them as unquestioning, uncurious, smug, unempathetic, complacent bigots. And yet I come to the Radiolab comments and find exactly the same unquestioning, uncurious, smug, unempathetic, complacent, bigoted qualities ... in people who hate the religious.

Since when did science replace empathy? Since when did science replace the curiosity and openheartedness to learn more, whether it's the physics of the universe or the ending of your universe when your child dies?

Yes, as a non-religious person, I was uncomfortable during the religious parts of this podcast. But not because they were proselytising — they weren't. They were merely presenting their own, very personal, very specific experience, which included religious things I found hard to listen to. If I only stick to what I'm comfortable with, I'm not expanding the scope of my knowledge and experience. Isn't that what all lovers of Radiolab aspire to do?

To those saying that they used a tragedy to make money, and from a game no less. Would it bother you if they had written a book? Made a film? Was Joan Didion 'sickening' for writing 'The Year of Magical Thinking' or John Green for writing 'The fault in our stars'?

Perhaps the problem is with the word 'game' — it's associated with 'play', 'fun' and general frivolity — the 'games' industry is comparatively young, and we might need a new word for the kind of experience That Dragon, Cancer is. Maybe you could think of it as an immersive story, because this kind of interactive experience, done well, has the power to drag you deeper in than the equivalent book or film.

Jan. 31 2016 10:55 PM

By far the absolute worst RadioLab episode ever.Just absolute biased religiousity. The Sloan foundation should pull their funding of this crap.

Jan. 30 2016 09:29 PM
Lb from Virginia

I wanted to thank you for such a beautiful story. I am a doctor and listening to this story just touched me to the core. I was crying throughout almost the entire episode. I could feel the horrible struggle of these two parents and their desire to comfort their child who just didn't have the ability to communicate back. I don't know how I feel about the video game but if it helps other families be able to deal with death and dying then even if it doesn't become a best seller it will be a win.

As both a parent and a physician who sees and takes care of sick and dying people on a daily basis it was extremely touching and very real!

Jan. 29 2016 02:47 PM
Harry from Forest Hills, NY

As a two times cancer survivor I was drawn to this podcast. Religion aside and speaking personally; I had refuse certain treatments due to unknown side-effects, quality of life degradation and questionable success rates.

This is my own take on a video game medical treatment synthesis.
1. Have a shoot 'em up game
2. Use an electron microscope or real-world real-time scan of a living patient.
3. Current Radiology treatment use Quantum Theory and randomization to send the beam into a patients body. With this system [if developed] using a one molecule gun [not a beam] targeting individual cells; there would be minimal at worst collateral damage to surrounding healthy cells.

What was described in this episode is a helpful psycho-spiritual placebo [something also needed to win this battle] not what could be developed as thoughts I had had this past year led me to

Jan. 29 2016 10:58 AM
Faith from Vienna, Austria

Listening through this podcast was extremely difficult. Not only was I at work trying to pass the time while analysing data, but I am also the mother of a 1.5 year old boy. Just the thought of going through what these parents went through and hearing the laughter and cries of their child is just heartbreaking. (After the second tumor, I would have stopped the chemo, quit my job and spent the last months with my child on a beach somewhere!) Their faith in God is so intense and pure that I was hoping that somehow God would heal their child. I was initially confused that the father would think of making a video game of his experiences. And who the hell would want to play this video game? But in the end, it brought them closure and that is what is the most important. Perhaps less tragic human interest pieces? I can't be seen sobbing at work!

Jan. 29 2016 10:12 AM
Mr. Abiff from The Dungeon

I suppose not enough money was raised in their PBS style fundraiser to put another episode out on time. Curious thing a podcast supported not only by private endowments such as Sloan Etc..and their listening audience but you must also endure ads also you might think the $ in the coffers would add up to a gaggle of new years podcasts. One of the few podcasts that seek revenue in this egregious manor. PS- last podcast which was a REPLAY was quite distasteful IMO quite awkward. Love radiolab not their politics. Amen.

Jan. 28 2016 08:02 PM

This was like a terrible trick. Worst thing I have ever listened to.

Jan. 28 2016 02:04 PM
chad from michigan

By far the worst radiolab lab I have ever listen to. A true testimony of my patience for completing this trashy religion filled episode. My trust in radiolab's quality, and moral compass has eroded. Next time I want to waste a hour of my life listening to Christian propaganda I'll go to church.

Jan. 28 2016 04:45 AM
Ellen from US

I have listened to every radiolab episode. This is the only episode I have every paused halfway through and thought, should I keep listening to this? This episode was terrible and I learned nothing by listening to it. Please please bring back the well-researched material!!

Jan. 27 2016 02:15 PM

As an art student who has always dismissed video games as trivial, this story helped me to understand the potential of video games as a media. In fact, life often seems like a situation where we have the possibility of winning or loosing depending on our choices, but ultimately circumstances prove that we are powerless. All we can do is make the best of the hard things we are given. I think that is an offensive message in a culture that promises we can make ourselves happy no matter what. In the game was no suggestion of an easy way out, or failure to confront death, and I think that is powerful.

Many of the other comments seemed to have a visceral reaction to the presence of religion in this story. To me the couple's faith is a huge part of the story. A relationship with God is a very real experience for many people, so why should it be offensive to hear about that? Is it really that hard to imagine that people have different beliefs, and difficult to empathize with those people?

Jan. 26 2016 05:15 PM
Manda from Toronto

Hey guys, great episode (I know that the comments above say otherwise but I was drawn in).

Actually, seeing the comments on here got me thinking...would you ever consider doing an episode about the transformation of video games? From the sounds of it, neither Jad or Robert had ever even considered that someone would tell a very painful story through a video game medium. And it got me to realizing that this is probably the vast majority of the population.

The industry has begun to go through a huge shift. Much like film, which also simply began as a fancy new technology designed purely for entertainment, those that grew up with video games are now finding ways of expressing their stories through the medium. There are things that a video game can do that books or movies cannot (and vice versa). Some fascinating work has been coming out as a result. The term "game" is starting to be replaced in some genres with "interactive fiction/media". But there is still a stigma that video games could never be art.

For those who are actually curious/skeptical, check out something like Her Story or Gone Home. These two really showcase how a video game can tell a story differently (differently, not necessarily better) than other artistic mediums.

Jan. 26 2016 02:48 PM
John from US

I was initially drawn to Radiolab because it was so much better (and more interesting) than human interest podcasts like Snap Judgment or This American Life. Between this and that pathetic ice cream story, I may have to hunt for a new podcast.

Jan. 26 2016 12:54 PM
Bill from Philly

These posts are yet another reminder that the average IQ is 100.

For those that are slow - the podcast is not about gaming or religion.

Now let's see if you can figure out the rest.

I know you can do it. I'm routing for ya ;)

Jan. 25 2016 08:27 PM
Brandon Hawes from Portland, OR

It was a very well told story, and I was brought in quickly by how it flowed. And unlike others that didn't see how this was a RadioLab story, I disagree, it was incredibly so. It explored how science and technology is part of our human experience in a new way.

But the end... luckily I wasn't driving. I have not sobbed in this way for years. Thank you for bringing this story to another audience.

Jan. 24 2016 02:59 AM
Krishna from NYC

I listened to this podcast when it aired originally, and I left it with very mixed feelings. However, today I watched JackSepticEye play That Dragon, Cancer on his YouTube channel, and I feel somewhat differently. At a certain point in the game, the player realizes that Amy and Ryan are dealing with Joel's bad prognosis in different ways. Amy is coping by throwing herself into prayer. Joel is drowning in depression. Neither parent really gets anywhere with either of these behaviors, but they end up sitting together in a lighthouse, waiting to say goodbye to their son. The game is not religious propaganda at all, but rather shows how different people cope with serious tragedy. When people are scared and grieving, they may not even consciously be choosing their coping mechanisms, but it is only human to do something in the face of tragedy.

Also, I really recommend Jack's walk through of the game. I have always liked his channel, but I think he presented the game's material in a really sensitive way, and talks about his own experiences with grief. A lot of his viewers are very young kids, which he definitely knows, and I think his authenticity and his responsiveness to the story enhanced the game a lot.

Jan. 23 2016 03:44 PM

Really disturbed by the amount of negative comments here, especially considering that this family made themselves so vulnerable to share this story.

For people criticizing the game, or criticizing the parents for making the game, I have news for you: THE GAME WASN'T FOR YOU. YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT.

This is about how art and creativity help people process grief. The end product is not the goal. Art has many functions, and not all of them serve the viewer or consumer.

As an artist, I was extremely moved how this family used their art and their faith to move through grief. I'm experiencing the terminal illness of a loved one myself, and dealing with those emotions is an impossible mountain to climb. The fact that they channeled their grief in such a productive, healthy, and beautiful way is amazing.

I seriously cant believe so many people decided their take-away from this is that this wasn't entertaining enough for them. like the entitled brat below my comment who harps about how this wasn't "worth her money".....I never liked Car Talk, but I still donate to NPR and don't expect them to accept my editorial advice because my privileged ass gave them $20.

Processing grief is a harrowing job, and a nasty bit of business at that. These people decided to make their corner of the world a little brighter. GET OVER YOURSELVES.

Jan. 23 2016 11:33 AM
Paul Salvitti

Dear RadioLab,

I'm a poor graduate student, but I've still managed to make contributions in the past. I was looking forward to graduation and a job that would let me make regular contributions, but if you continue to publish garbage like this episode, I will take me allegiance to another show.

I've read some of the comments here and those that criticize the criticism are missing the point. Those of us who have listened to the entirety of Jad and Robert's work over the past several years recognize that this most recent piece of trash is so unlike them that we're scared we've lost my favorite podcast. I understand this is a rebroadcast, but so much of creativity is taste, and this episode is utterly tasteless.

A few people mentioned in the comments below Robert's piece on Abraham and Isaac from a few years back. I personally loved that piece, much like I love so much of what you used to do, because you poured your heart into it, and I love what is in your hearts, Jad and Rob. Please bring your hearts back into this production! If you must rebroadcast something, make it worth our while, like the episode about the apartment. THAT was some amazing storytelling, and worth listening to. "The Cathedral" was so, so, so not worth my time. And money.


Jan. 23 2016 09:05 AM
Jonat from Reno

These comments are incredibly disappointing. I just recently played the game and it seems like many of the people commenting think they have too by listening to this episode.

I think a lot of people are misunderstanding what video games are and can be. That Dragon, Cancer being a video game doesn't mean upbeat songs and high scores, it carries the same seriousness you'd expect out of a book or movie on the same subject. This is just a very raw and vulnerable telling of their son's experience by the parents, the medium doesn't change that.

Part of that story is their faith. They didn't make this game to evangelize or convince anyone of their faith, but their Christian background and Christian coping methods are just an essential part of the story. The Christian elements that are there only demonstrate the sense that they depended on God and he wasn't there. I don't know much about evangelism but I'm sure that's not the face of your faith you want to show if you intend to "force it on others".

They made this game to immortalize the memory of who their son was, and convey how they handled his illness. This game does that beautifully. When I finished, I felt this strange feeling of affection for this deceased child I'd never met. Those parents should be proud of how they've honored their son with this game.

To call the focus of this game religious is not only missing the point, but straight-up incorrect. The focus of this game is Joel Green, a kid that likes water and pancakes and has the most heart-warming giggle you've ever heard. If you're using the Christian themes in his parent's side of his story to justify this weird outrage, I truly feel sorry for you missing this one-of-a-kind experience for such a silly reason.

The whole game takes an hour and a half. If my comment bothers you, pick it up or watch someone else's playthrough of it and prove me wrong.

Jan. 23 2016 06:29 AM

I really don't understand the negative reactions to this story. In what way is it grotesque? It's not about religion, or faith, but life and death. So a game is made that isn't some clone shooter. It's about real suffering, where death is an unavoidable part of gameplay and isn't stripped of all meaning like in so many others.

It's art and life and death. Nature.

Jan. 22 2016 03:15 PM
Kat from Colorado

Yuck. I find it incredibly creepy, exploitative and actually horrifying the way these parents shared their child's life and death in a video game. Not to mention self-indulgent, and disrespectful to the individual child. I think it was probably a coping mechanism to try to digitize their experience and their child's life in an attempt to gain some control over it. But in doing so, in my opinion, they reduced the experience and the child himself to a minute fraction of what it and he actually must have been. I wish them the best in their grieving process. I cannot imagine who would play this game other than horror movie/horror game enthusiasts. I think the podcast would have been more interesting if it examined the weird coping mechanism from a more objective perspective, rather than simply telling the parents' story. Totally creeped out and disturbed by the way the adults handled that tragedy.

Jan. 22 2016 02:36 PM
Sad Wizard

This episode really bothers me. Very un-Radio-Lab story (well obviously). It doesn't really leave us with anything other than a sense of "bittersweet" Hallmark Sorrow (TM).

The whole story is really one of denial and an almost petty sense of entitlement. This is the kind of religious thinking that I think is wholly destructive. Instead of coming to terms with their child's absolutely inevitable death, they deny the possibility until his very last breath. They even went so far as the financially bank on his survival -- yes, they did not expect their dying son to pass on during the years-long development of their non-game.

Amy says something along the lines of "we never got to prepare for his death in the normal way" even though they had many years warning in advance. Amy and Ryan simply refused to see the horrible truth and instead wanted to interpret their son's "miraculous" survival as some kind of eternal, God-given life. Once again, they even went so far as to bank on it.

The game itself embodies that message of denial and entitlement. The idea of a "game that cannot be won" almost sounds interesting -- if only as a thought experiment -- but in practice, Ryan decided that the game CAN be won and the only way to win is to pray to God for help. But ultimately, in the real world, not even that worked. It's a shame they invested so much money on their non-game rather than spend it on giving their two healthy children better lives. But I suppose that's typical "pious" behavior -- seek out suffering so that you can try and conquer it with the power of God, then you yourself can be worshipped as a saint and sell a million copies of your sad little non-game.

That being said, I wish Ryan, Amy and their kids good health and a happy future. But I hope their horrible little game flops. Its message is sickening.

Jan. 22 2016 01:40 PM
Matt from New Jersey

That made me so sad! F*** you!

Jan. 22 2016 11:30 AM
Matt from New Jersey

That made me so sad! F*** you!

Jan. 22 2016 11:24 AM

Did not enjoy this episode. I feel for the parents. Cancer is a dragon and I want to slay it for good, but this was just strange. I want science more than religion, but I will take religious stories from time to time. I even enjoyed the In Silence episode. I agree with other posters, this was just weird. An awful "game" about a baby you can't make stop crying? Praying to God for help with the crying, the same God who allows your baby to suffer? The same God that could ease the baby's suffering and end the crying but won't, unless you ask nicely? I'm supposed to be moved by that? Supposed to believe in that God and what's more - love him? Further, babies cannot ask him for help themselves, they rely on their parents. Not all babies have religious parents, so by that logic, those innocent children are destined to suffer because of the chosen beliefs of their parents? It's conflicting logic at best; not something I find in any way inspirational. Plus, it just made me sad. I hate the sound of a baby's crying, especially one that we cannot help. I like my podcasts with a little more hope. Let's get an episode on the promising cures for cancer and, despite the long odds, the reasons we might actually win this battle. Let's give people reason to hope, reason to donate their money to this fight.

Jan. 22 2016 09:42 AM
Jandy from Chicago

I'm not very religious myself, but I enjoyed this episode because I had never heard of the game that it covered (also most games that cover these topics drive the material in a black humor direction). It's been a while since the last episode where religion was a major focus of the episode (I think the last one was about Abraham and Isaac). But considering that Radiolab is a show about science, philosophy, and fresh storytelling I think this topic is appropriate. So great job Radiolab.

Jan. 21 2016 06:22 PM

Worst non-RadioLab episode of RadioLab.
Not sure what the point of this episode was other than to attempt to tug at heart strings. A "game" with a endlessly crying baby dying of cancer? Sounds more like the worlds most cruel prank. Maybe he should create Root Canal Simulator 2016 while he's at it.

I'm a live and let live kinda guy. If you want to talk to your imaginary friend, I don't care. But I'm always struck by how a person can remain religious in the face of your god torturing your perfectly innocent child. Apparently god is willing to stop the baby from crying (only if you ask nicely!), but he can't stop himself from giving your baby cancer in the first place.

The whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Jan. 21 2016 04:15 PM
Che from Sacramento

This story was featured in SoulPancake (by Rainn Wilson).. Just listening to the beginning made me stop. I can't cry again at work.

Jan. 21 2016 02:45 PM

I used to think Radiolab was above these religiously tainted stories.

Jan. 21 2016 12:37 PM

I think a lot of people missed the point here and since its the internet they have to turn something produced beautifully into a negative due to their own beliefs or just needing attention.

I am not religious, not one bit. This episode was beautiful. I think everyone copes with death in different ways. Its very unique to see a family cope this way and create something like this to illustrate their experience and their helplessness.

The family being Christians has nothing to do with anything. All it shows is that these parents were so desperate they had no one else to turn to except the supernatural, for comfort.

This family went through the WORST tragedy possible. Once again, great job Radiolab. You guys know how to tell a story right.

Jan. 21 2016 11:11 AM
Stan from Europe

I listen to many different podcasts, many of which are American. For the most part, they sound the same. Occasionally, however, an episode comes along that reminds me of the massive disparity between Northern Europeans and Americans; a belief in a god, which permeates the entire culture.

The story moved me, and the game sounds very interesting (there seems to be more and more art in games), but the one thing I got out of this episode was a reminder of the curious differences between the two continents. I wasn't angry in any way, just frustrated now and then. I prefer good old-fashioned Radiolab, but I have no problem with a few episodes like this too.

Jan. 21 2016 10:20 AM
mauflem from Toronto

It was difficult for me to hold back my emotions while listening to this on the subway this morning. The Greens have suffered an unfathomable loss, and have exercised their faith to cope emotionally, and their creative spirit to tell their story to others. The game is about death, rebirth, and redemption, essential ingredients of their beliefs. However, the game is a mere shadow of what they actually believe has happened to Joel. It should not surprise anyone that the story has polarized the comments of Radiolab listeners. Radiolab is incredibly courageous in posting this story.

Jan. 21 2016 08:46 AM
spencer from az

What a devastatingly tragic story. Being a new father, nothing terrifies me more than losing a child. Thank you Ryan and Amy for being so brave and sharing your story with the world. Much love and blessings to you and Joel. And thank you radiolab for producing a more poignant and sentimental show. It shows you have a heart.

Jan. 21 2016 04:27 AM
Castun from Denver

A very moving episode. This episode had me in tears on my way to work, particularly the ending. As someone who just had their very first kid, it's hard not to empathize with the parents losing their child.

And I can't believe some of the hateful comments here. Some of you people need to get over yourself.

Jan. 21 2016 01:04 AM
Darryl from WB from WB

I went to a list of most popular podcasts on itunes...I subscribed to Radiolab, as it was rated high. I heard The Cathedral episode and thought it was dreadful. Unsubscribed.

Jan. 20 2016 06:49 PM

Im not sure i fully understand the use of time here. If my son, or anyone i loved for that matter was terminally ill, I would be with them the majority of my waking hours. Video game development takes a long time, and all that time I would guess is not being spent on your loved one. Not sure I understand the ethics of making a video game emulating an unfortunate situation in which people have to go through..

Jan. 20 2016 05:34 PM
Grant from Connecticut

I'm gonna make a comment myself to counter the critics. I'm not religious myself and am kind of disgusted at how angry people are that religion has such a strong prominence in this story.

Human experiences aren't created through the lens of partisanship. Some people are moved and inspired by their faith, and it is a disservice to tell their story in a way that ignores this.

Also, praying is just like hoping except with a specific destination that the hope is pointed towards, so saying people are stupid to pray is like saying it's stupid to hope. Everybody hopes, and I can't imagine the pain that I would go through if I always ignored the potential for good to be come into my life. It's a very effective way to cope, even when you know in the back of your head that your hope will go nowhere. I really don't see how it is suddenly idiotic when you throw God in the mix.

Thank you to everyone for this story, I greatly appreciated it and was moved.

Jan. 19 2016 07:08 PM from Illinois

I am saddened but not shocked at the level of blatant unkindness displayed in the comments, written by young narcissists who can only relate to stories that mirror their own brief and self-centered, selfie existence. They are oblivious to grief or its dark workings. A child's suffering and death that could drive a parent to seeking any method of creating meaning for the life of the lost child. The callous stupidity of many of the comments is beyond the pale. Selfish, shallow, twits.

Jan. 19 2016 02:32 PM

A fervent radiolab listener. This was my least liked episode ever. I can empathise with the human tragedy but I came to radiolab attracted by everything that this episode lacked

Jan. 19 2016 06:55 AM
Ruan from South Africa

Wow, right in them feels. Looking forward to the game.

Jan. 18 2016 04:40 AM
Robert Miller from California

As someone who financially supports Radio Lab I thought they missed the whole meaning of the story. Here's a couple who from all accounts sound like loving parents and believe in God.

Isn't the real story how God played a dirty trick on them by giving them a baby who would die within a few years? As they prayed and put all of their trust in God, how did God respond? He made their life like hell by making their child sicker and sicker. (What kind of God would do that to such a wonderful couple.)

The science here is that the doctor’s prognosis for their baby was correct, death. God did not intervene as scientists would expect and there were no miracles. The couple instead of accepting the science didn't listen and continued their belief in God who ultimately punished them by killing their child.

One would think since their God was so evil in taking their child’s life they would get a clue and abandon their religion, but they didn’t. Why? This is contrary to what they should be doing.

Anyone else think this is a bit macabre. They are making a game using their dead child's voice not only for themselves, but also for their investors. To me this loving couple has now become creepy.

As Christians they and their pastor must have read Proverbs 23:4 many times. Remember and mourning the passing of a loved one is human. But making a profit off of a dead child for oneself and others isn’t Christian.

Jan. 18 2016 02:25 AM
Jarno from Helsinki, Finland

It is very disappointing to read some of the comments here. I am an atheist myself, and frequently quite critical of religion, but irrespective of my religious views (or lack thereof), this was ultimately a story about human suffering, and how this particular family dealt with the unbearable.

So to my fellow atheists who get their knickers in a twist at the mention of "god" - loosen up a little, and allow yourself to place yourself in the shoes of another. Empathy. That's the important stuff. Show empathy, rather than uncharitable knee jerk lashing out, and you tend to get a better response from people to your atheism too.

There's a place for fighting against religion, and contesting the claims of the supernatural, and then there's a place to recognize that sometimes life throws people into situations so cruel, that the decent thing to do is to leave the discussion of their follies for another time, and just empathize, share a kind word, and a hug if possible.

An earlier comment took the least charitable possible view of the game, having the family callously turn the death of their child into profit. Maybe that commenter should listen to the episode again without that chip on their shoulder. This was a family that went through a nightmare of a situation, and dealt with it as best they could.

Jan. 17 2016 06:55 PM
Gregory from Colorado Springs

Thank you to all involved for this story. I have lost three loved ones in the last two weeks to cancer and this story helped me to pull my feelings into focus for the first time in a long time. I will always listen and donate to your show because your show portrays life in all of its imperfection and beauty. Your show inspires listeners to ask big, uncomfortable questions. Your show inspires its listeners to be more informed and connected and it does not go unnoticed.

P.S. - Caution, slight rant:

To those who ask, as many do when these type of stories are featured, "where is the science?", I ask, do the producers owe you science? Are the producers contractually obligated to stick to shows about geology, chemistry, biology, and astrophysics? I believe that the producers are storytellers. They are here to narrate and allow us, the listeners, to think and feel what we will. Radiolab doesn't owe you the stories that you want. They are not a corporation selling a product.

Jan. 17 2016 02:27 PM
Jay from San Diego

Thank you Radiolab. Not only did I feel compelled to comment for the first time but also buy the game. My heart goes out to the Greens. While I may share none of your religious convictions, this story touched me as a father, video gamer, and programmer. I'm watching 'Mozart in the Jungle' and the Maestro character talks constantly of putting "the blood" into his art. What this father has done is put his blood into this game. So many games are touching, inspiring stories where you eventually feel for the characters you play in new ways. I've spent more than my fair share of watching the closing scene and credits of video game. And in case, this person could easily be me. Gamer, programmer, father.

Jan. 17 2016 12:09 PM

a game that deals with their grotesque experience in such a simple way and one that is linked with God -- well it feels like the cheap version of Christianity preached at megachurches. I also don't think that the parents seemed to fully appreciate the suffering caused by surgery and chemo.

Jan. 17 2016 02:09 AM

This show betrays what I think radiolab is about, which is the intersection between science and mystery. This show is about neither. There is no science, that much is clear. There is no mystery either because these people believe their son is having a picnic across a river with all of his favorite toys. It's pretty pathetic and of course the video game is a hit because "Christianity" and your son's death is all grist for the capitalist mill. Everything is a commodity nowadays. You just have to figure out how to package it and there's no better wrapper than Jesus.

Jan. 16 2016 04:49 PM
michael from Brooklyn

This may be the single worst, most obscene radio story I've ever heard. Ever. It makes me wish I could get my contribution back. I just could not believe my ears. For a minute I thought it was some sort of misguided satire, but alas, it was not. What could have possessed you to fashion a story like this? Just appalling.

Jan. 16 2016 10:31 AM

I got about half way through this episode, and thought, "This might very well be one of the lamest things I have ever heard." But, having faith in Radiolab, I continued. Boy was that ever a mistake. I was very disappointed. I guess I need to trust my suck-o-meter more, and not waste my life with rubbish like this.

Jan. 16 2016 09:51 AM

Somebody here said it was the creepiest and most grotesque thing they had ever heard on Radiolab. Well put, couldn't say it better. What a disturbing show.

PS: Who would play such a weird game -

Jan. 16 2016 12:12 AM
Noah brook


Jan. 16 2016 12:09 AM
KyleM1701 from Kansas

I was initially disturbed by this episode because it appeared to be a story about how prayer was working for some religious nuts. That turned out not to be the case. Yes, the parents are religious nuts, but they also understand that their religion didn't allow them to properly emotionally prepare for their son's death. The wife says as much.

As for the game - Some people make movies about their painful experiences. Others write articles or entire books. Some paint. These people made a game. I don't see how this is any less of an artistic outlet for suffering. It's not my cup of tea, but it still makes sense.

Jan. 15 2016 04:23 PM
Matt Underwood from Sacramento, CA

This was a stupid story about stupid people. When the woman said that she thought that god would "raise" her child I lost all hope for this episode. At this point the storyteller is just taking advantage of their stupidity. Irresponsible journalism at best, exploitative at worst. I really do expect more from Radiolab and it was shocking how out of touch this story was.

A note on game design: I love narrative based games that don't have strong gameplay elements. These are common as of late and can be done very well. This game is obviously terrible just from what you can hear in this episode. That voice over is the most cringe-inducing thing I have heard in a long time. Look to games like Kentucky Route Zero or To The Moon if you are interested in this type of material—not this drivel.

Jan. 14 2016 04:36 PM
DPendraig from Georgai

I could not get over hearing the "Like, oh my god" voice over and over again. She sounded very dumb (and annoying).

Jan. 14 2016 04:11 PM
KRingg from Texas

Despite having listened, multiple times, to every-single RadioLab episode created, I've never taken the time to comment before this one. Interestingly, my remarks have little to do with the episode itself, which I felt was very well done (as always) and very much in the RadioLab spirit of curiosity.

Rather, I feel the need to express disappointment in the RadioLab listening community (or at least those who post here). The number of "OMG they mentioned God, those crazies" and "religious mumbo jumbo" remarks speak to an ironically closed-minded perspective. Pain and suffering are intrinsic to the human condition and, as such, must be dealt with. History has lead us to countless means of tackling these subjects, traditionally by way of religious expression.

Irrespective of your world-view (Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Baha'i, etc.), I expect from all peoples (especially those with the intellectual curiosity associated with listing to a show like RadioLab) to exhibit respect and tolerance of one another's perspectives. There are countless ways to cope with loss, and this was a beautiful story of one family's unique approach.

PS: Stories of mystery and faith go back to the earliest RadioLab episodes (e.g. Robert's exploration of the Abramatic (Jewish, Christian, & Islamic) story of Isaac). This episode's handling of "big picture" material rings true to the RadioLab I know and love. Thanks guys!

Jan. 14 2016 01:35 PM
Brendan from Toronto

My favourite author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery had two great things to say about technology:

"The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them."


"But in the machine of today we forget that motors are whirring: the motor, finally, has come to fulfill its function, which is to whirr as a heart beats - and we give no thought to the beating of our heart. Thus, precisely because it is perfect the machine dissembles its own existence instead of forcing itself upon our notice."

I think there are a lot of people on this comment board who feel that technology is an end in its own right. But it isn't. It's dangerous for us to think that it is. Technology exists exactly so that we can live more enriching lives. It brings us together. It allows us to share. It delivers presents to kids.

I think that this story works well because it's a rare example of technology as a tool for empathy. I think it's so rare that it's impossible for me to think if another instance of it.

We all know about the thousands of years of invention and the many billions of dollars poured into the machines that made that empathy possible. But here, we all seem to forget about it. We just see this new and unexpected place where faith and science, emotion and binary computation, winning and losing, all collide.

the best thing about this episode is how it brings sop many important questions to the surface. It doesn't answer them for us - it can't. But it does point them out, and I think that's really amazing.

Jan. 14 2016 11:06 AM
Pratman from South Carolina

I hope I never have to live through what the Greens did. Having said that, how does this game help those who have lost and comversly, those who have not? What good comes from immortalizing this experience to be relived over and over? If there was a point from the Greens, it was lost on me. Was this topic expanded on in the original Reply All show?

Jan. 13 2016 08:02 PM
Rob from Portland OR

Tough call on this podcast. I found myself angry at the parents at times. especially during the prayer vigil part. God made Joel stop crying? Why give him cancer at all? Why don't they blame their all powerful for God for creating this pain in the first place? Oh, because all good things come from God, all bad things come from somewhere else. Unassailable baseless belief. What a sad commentary, even if it is the delusion they need to protect themselves from the pain of this loss.

Then again I tried to be open minded about whether a game could be used as a medium to convey the heartache of loss of a child. We certainly use literature, movies an music for this, why not video games? On that front I found the story mildly interesting. Up to what I expect from RadioLab? Not even close. High school paper level insights.. woo hoo!

After the frustratingly inept performance with the lion hunting story perhaps Robert and Jad need some better production help. They need a much stronger supervising producer.

I will try RL again, but any more of these weak stories and I will look elsewhere. Based on the comments here RL should be a little concerned... it sounds like they might be losing their audience.

Jan. 13 2016 06:15 PM

To Jason from NYC - As someone who is in no way whatsoever religious, I think implying that the Greens are mentally ill is incredibly insulting and ignorant. The imagery of the tubes and the organ are *supposed* to be unsettling - it's symbolic of the last moments of Joel's life. It's not in any way "masochistic," and honestly I'm baffled as to why you would use that word in this context. That Dragon Cancer is very much about celebrating Joel's life, not dwelling on his pain. You seem to have completely missed the point somehow. You might want to actually watch the cathedral scene on youtube or something to understand this instead of declaring these people "nutso."

Everyone saying religion has no place in Radiolab are missing the fact that this is very much a story about technology, about a couple using technology to share their own personal experiences. And it just so happens the couple is deeply religious, so of course the game is going to be heavily influenced by their faith. I played the game last night, and honestly I found it enlightening to see how the Greens justified their faith in a kind and loving God despite Joel's ordeal, which is definitely something I could never do. I think it's important to respect other people's beliefs, regardless of whether or not you believe in them yourself (which, in this case, I definitely do not).

Jan. 13 2016 03:21 PM
Tim from Orlando

Radio lab, please stick to science related subjects. There are plenty of "religion/meaning-of-life" podcasts out there. Not a fan of this episode at all.

Jan. 13 2016 02:13 PM

So religion and computer games are an escape from ugly unfair heartbreaking reality.
I kept waiting for a twist at the end, so listening to this episode made sense. But it never came.
I find this story disturbing as it reminds me of torture in several ways.
Makes me appreciate good and balanced health of mind and body.

Jan. 13 2016 01:59 PM
Laurie W

Incredibly heartbreaking. Crying at my desk.

Jan. 13 2016 01:42 PM
Mike from Cleveland

Serious need for a NSFW tag. Excellent piece.

Jan. 13 2016 01:23 PM
sarah from new york, new york

So many idiots here it's almost unbelievable.

Jan. 13 2016 11:56 AM

Sheesh, have these people played to the end of Earthbound?

Jan. 13 2016 03:32 AM
Brandon Yu from San Leandro, California

RadioLab, I wonder if you will address the question/issue of what encompasses religion and what encompasses science. Are they conflicting or can they coexist as different aspects of being human? Why are we so adverse to it? What is its purpose?I also felt a bit unnerved only because I was afraid of what bringing in the topic of religion into the spotlight might inflame.

I am a product of games who were my babysitters since I was a toddler. I am glad to listen to a podcast about the forefront of games now experimenting with the emotional quality of your choices based on your own actions. The imagery of the Cathedral was a necessary and great icon to represent the intimately connected community of the couple presented in the story. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Jan. 13 2016 03:04 AM
Billy from New York

I'm a certified atheist and I have no problems with an episode just because it features the perspective of a religious family.

The story describes an unusual situation, with technology and design among it's core elements, so I think the episode fits perfectly well within the Radiolab parameters.

The "science" if you will, of this installment, was in the unique way these unfortunate individuals processed their tragedy through the creation of a new form of interactive storytelling

If "That Dragon, Cancer" can make you better relate to other people caught in an extraordinary situation, have you feel more empathy and also gain an added understanding of the plight of others, then it is a good game and a piece of art in the truest sense of the word.

If this material is too raw and emotional for you, then retreat back to safety and go and watch another Disney movie. The choice is yours.

Jan. 12 2016 08:13 PM

Perplexed by some of the comments here. Thought this was a great, moving piece.

Grief is a complicated emotion, and a complicated process. A terminal diagnosis insists that that process begins while life continues. Who are any of us to dictate the grieving process of these parents?

As to religion - it's part of many people's experiences, and certainly part of many people's grieving processes. I'm not religious, but I can understand why, in the face of the imminent death of a loved one, you might be moved to pray.

I look forward to playing this 'game'.

Jan. 12 2016 07:39 PM
Jason from NYC

This was probably the creepiest, most grotesque thing I've ever heard on Radiolab. That part about the baby hooked up to neon tubes and a big organ where you can actually play and fiddle around with... Holy moly. Coming back from the dead? Christ almighty.

I hope they use the money they make from profiting from their child's death for psychotherapy for the entire family. I truly feel bad for the other kids in this nutso family. For me, the child's unfortunate end was inevitably lost on me by the absolute gruesomeness and masochism of these two sick individuals.

I'm all for whatever you want to believe in, and I think video games are more versatile than one thinks. But this is straight up disgusting. I'm literally nauseous after hearing this episode.

Jan. 12 2016 04:48 PM
chaser from Grand Rapids, MI

Grown man balling at my desk. My co-workers are growing concerned.

Jan. 12 2016 03:50 PM

Great episode. Had me in tears at my desk (luckily I work from home).

For all the naysayers, this is RadioLab subject material IMO. Humanity story? Check. Technology? Check. Twists and turns? Check.

Also, specifically for the atheists complaining about the religion in the episode / game, get over yourselves. The story isn't about you, or trying to convert you. It's about Joel and his family and their journey.

I say this as a hard, capital 'A' Atheist. Too many atheists are petty, religious bashing jerks and need to get over it.

Jan. 12 2016 01:25 PM
arth from here

Yes, it's sad that this kid has cancer and everything and how emotional the parents are, but this podcast is not one I would listen to again. The game just seems lame, unless you like those sort of games, and their obsession with Christianity is off putting. I commend you for trying to do something different, but this wasn't a good one.

Jan. 12 2016 11:23 AM
MMC from Madison, WI

I didn't mind the episode so much, but I didn't understand if this was a Radiolab episode or a copy of the other podcast episode.

Jan. 12 2016 09:56 AM

What a boring episode !

Jan. 12 2016 08:53 AM

The less attention we give to these ancient superstitions the sooner they will die out and the world can become a more tolerant and peaceful place.

Jan. 12 2016 06:06 AM
Ash from Sydney Australia

I was disappointed in this radiolab episode. It really just felt like an attempt to advertise some bizarre video game about a suffering and dying. Radiolab you could have at least added some layers to this story instead of just being in my honest opinion a mouthpiece for a misguided and grieving evangelical Christian parents.
Why not explore who could possibly want to play such a game? Or how about do an analyses on how the parents can continue to believe and pray after the experience they went through on their child suffering so unnecessary and then dying in the end. How do they reconcile the power of prayer and benevolence to the horrible child cancer?

Jan. 12 2016 05:04 AM
Adam from New York

As a "hard" atheist who gave up Christianity at 12, I'll go ahead and say that this was the most moving episode of Radiolab I've ever heard, and I've probably heard them all. The comments on this episode are incomprehensible.

Jan. 11 2016 10:49 PM
Cynthia from TN

I love your show. This one in particular had me weeping on my way to work. I had to tell myself to get it together in the parking lot. I also made sure to hold my sweet toddler a little longer tonight. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

Jan. 11 2016 10:31 PM
D from Knoxville

I'm wondering if the people who say "hey stop complaining about religion being in Radiolab, its not a science podcast its also about the human experience" would be instead complaining if there was a storytelling episode about the harm of Christianity. Perhaps having whatever the anti-theism equivalent of laying hands and real audio invoking god to revive their dead child would be. Maybe some satanic chanting and screaming? Come on Radiolab, think of the rating! "The Cathedral" is clearly the most controversial episode you've had so far, and you didn't even make it!

Really thinking most are missing the big point that we listen to Radiolab to learn, not listen emotional doses of storytelling. There are other podcasts for that, like Reply All apparently.

Jan. 11 2016 09:02 PM
Adrienne from San Diego

Too much of a personal interest story with religious connotations for me. As a nurse I empathize with the human plight, cancer and the pain these parents experienced. I think what they did was probably healing and a bit genius for them but I don't feel it's Radio Lab material. It would have been more appropriate on another program.

Jan. 11 2016 08:28 PM

Seems wrong to criticize a program about a dying kid, hopeful parents and a gamer who wants to help others with his game. But this was heavy-handed on religion being the framework of the story. Namely, Christianity. No critical questions or analysis of the parents' viewpoint. Along the way, you felt uneasy questioning the whole premise of the story as heavy doses of God, prayer, and Christianity is provided while the child is dying. This was a feature that should have been for their church, not to audiences of Radiolab that may not hold the same fundamental beliefs as this couple about Christianity or death and dying. You can do better Radiolab.

Jan. 11 2016 07:22 PM

I am deeply saddened by many of the critical responses to this episode. Radiolab is one of those rare forums where humanity can be presented as it is, with all of its complexity and simplicity, and without judgment. In their stories we are exposed to many different things: stories which intrigue us, make us laugh, deeply move us. The repertoire is varied and dynamic, just like human existence. One element of human existence is discomfort, sadness, and grief. Another is creative expression and the formation of unique ideas. This story presents both of those elements. Yes, the format and content is a bit different from the "typical" Radiolab episode, but that doesn't mean it's garbage.

Simply experiencing discomfort or being exposed to religious expression should simply not be enough to critique this episode.

Jan. 11 2016 05:10 PM
Emily Huck from Chicago, IL

Uh, guys, I'm going to remind you all what RadioLab is about, per their own about statement quoted word for word here:

"Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience."

Science is only one of those words. The others - curiosity, philosophy, human experience - all fit into this episode in spades. It would be wonderful if RadioLab's listeners could open their minds to accept that perhaps their own philosophies and experiences aren't everyone's, and that for some (most, still, if I'm not mistaken) religion is a primary philosophy and experience. As are grief, cancer, video games, and coping, to name a few.

RadioLab - superb episode, yet again. I look forward to more examples of what it is to be human.

Jan. 11 2016 04:49 PM

I got behind on my podcasts, so I just listened to this yesterday. I know you guys were actually showcasing another show (Reply All), but I'm going to comment on your particular take. It seems to be common for public radio coverage to treat video games as trivial, shallow entertainment. I'd like to point out that video games as a medium have been around for around 40 years now. Two generations have played these games as children and adolescents, and grown to adulthood still playing them. They have raised their children to love games as well, so we now have a third generation which has never known a time when there weren't video games. I'd also like to point out that all narrative media we know today--novels, film and TV particularly--started out being seen as trivial, shallow entertainment. They have also been seen as "corrupting our youth". Even Shakespeare was seen, in his own day, as pandering to the common masses.

I could write an entire essay about all the video games which are worthy of being called "art". "This Dragon, Cancer" is far from being a unicorn. "The Talos Principle" and "Everyone's Gone to the Rapture", for example, examine the nature of humanity, and what legacy we might leave behind. "Life is Strange" and "Until Dawn" explore the "butterfly effect" and the consequences of player choice--using completely different plots and even different genres. "The Stanley Parable" and "Undertale" subvert the veteran game player's expectations in order to make statements about the medium itself (albeit in very different ways). "Journey" is an art design masterpiece, and is more a meditative experience than a typical game. In more mainstream games, the story in "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" shows a narrative complexity and emotional impact comparable with the finest novels.

I'd like to see you guys at Radiolab do a little more research into video games, and portray them as the blossoming narrative media form that they truly are. I believe the video games of today, and those to come, can stand next to the greatest examples of theater, novel, film, and television.

Jan. 11 2016 04:27 PM
Jeff from WV

Thank you for this podcast. It was beautifully done and won't be easily forgotten.

I think the people who are upset may not understand that games can be every bit as artistic as traditional poetry, music, literature and art. They've managed to use their talents to create a tribute to their greatest tragedy. I imagine if he was selling a novel instead of game people wouldn't find it so shocking. Games as a form of expression was the lesson that some of the audience seems to have missed or weren't ready to embrace.

I purchased the game and expect I'll probably sob the whole way through it.

Jan. 11 2016 01:06 PM
Luther Gaylord from Utah

Allow me to add my voice to (what appears to be) the majority opinion here: This was a terrible episode, and I cannot understand why Radiolab decided to produce it.

Since the simplest explanation is usually the most likely -- and because I am a cynic -- I believe this was probably a friend doing someone a favor. Someone associated with the video game (scheduled for release on January 12th) likely has a connection with someone at Radiolab, and thus we got an hour-long commercial advertisement instead of thought-provoking radio.

I am disappointed, to say the least.

Jan. 11 2016 11:55 AM
JJ from Durham

I think this was a great episode. It was raw, emotional and just told the story of this unique experience of a family coping through a horrible part of their lives.
I've lived with a cousin who has had Cerebral Palsy for ten years of my childhood. Her mother died and my aunt cared for her. My aunt passed and my mother cared for her. The work is heartbreaking demanding and thankless. All the times the doctors thought she would not return from a seizure or stroke she fought back.
I thought about how hard it is to care for a sick loved one with such limited ability to help or meet their needs. It takes years off of a person's life.

I feel that the religiousness was just a backdrop of how raw and emotional the experience of caring for a chronically sick child. "Video games" are an avenue into an unknown World. Although, many would not like to know of this World of pain, loss, and constant fear of a kids health; this story would not appeal to them.

I am grateful that Radiolab is willing to take different viewpoints to present a fresh story that may or may not be accepted by their target audience. To share a families raw emotion on tape is one thing but to allow the parents to tell the story without judgement is another. The parents chose to share this experience through a game and in a sense Joel's memory is found in the code that makes up that game. We all mourn in different ways but these unique expressions rarely get out to the public.

Jan. 11 2016 11:20 AM
Nate from Sioux Falls, SD

What did we learn today? Somewhere out there is a family that is coping poorly with the loss of a child. I can't imagine what that's like, but I can't help but feel they are dealing with it incredibly unhealthily.

Jan. 11 2016 10:22 AM
Anna Thompson from Central PA

I think the think that got me about this episode is how voyeuristic it felt into incredibly personal and painful territory - that really advanced nothing.

The scene where they are in the hospital room and the crying just gets more and more intense... I understand it wasn't really Joel (who would've recorded that) - but it felt too much. As a parent, it was horrible to listen to and that sound has stuck with my for days.

Additionally - during the prayer service in their home (which why was anybody recording during that time?) those prayers were so guttural, personal, desperate and painful - they should never have been shared.

I don't believe that just because something makes you feel a certain way, or is uncomfortable, that it's necessarily "bad." But, damn, I hated listening to this episode.

Jan. 11 2016 09:48 AM
JK from USA

I feel for the family and I can't even imagine the pain that they went through and continue to go through. Very sad and I wish them the best.
With that said, I (like many of you) listen to radiolab to be fascinated, inspired, intrigued, educated, or simply entertained. At the end of this podcast, I am just saddened, confused and disappointed.

Jan. 11 2016 05:56 AM
Alyson from Los Angeles

I listen to most if not all RadioLab episodes and this one just made me so very sad. I am not entirely sure what the point of it all was besides to describe this new type of gaming and how it helped this very religious family attempt to cope with what they were going through (which no one ever should have to go through) - was it also a way to help marketing the game??? I listen to my podcasts in the car and the "bubbles" at the end with the music just made my skin crawl and I just felt so much sadness - not in any kind of good way - just in a way which made me realize I need to thoroughly read the description of of the episodes moving forward.

Jan. 11 2016 03:22 AM
Zevek from Michigan

Wow, a thoroughly terrible episode. Nothing in this episode was driven by curiosity, but just by emotional pity and religious exploitation. I am so sad that something like this came out of RadioLab. Hopefully this is not the beginning of a steep decline.

Jan. 11 2016 12:00 AM
Petticoat Philosopher

Using the medium of video games to document and process experiences like this certainly is an intriguing idea but this episode didn't really convince me that it could really work in practice.

Plus, I am not on the "religion is always evil" bandwagon--I think religion is as complex as the humans who created it. But, I have to say, for me personally, all of the evangelical Christian content was jarring and took me out of the story. I get that it's an important part of this family's life and worldview and informed their experience and, therefore, why wouldn't they include it? But I think it will limit the people who would be possibly interested in this game even more. The cathedral sounds like a beautiful idea, but I don't want to hear people shrieking prayers and I don't think anybody does unless they're already someone who thinks that's a good way to spend an evening. For the rest of us, it's just uncomfortable and for ex-evangelicals who experienced evangelicalism as abusive or traumatic--and there are a lot of those--it could actually be re-traumatizing. Especially for people who lost their faith during a personal tragedy and felt guilt or were criticized for their faith not being strong enough--there are a lot of those too.

So, basically, it seems like the audience for this game might be people who have dealt with the terminal illness of a loved one, are current, practicing evangelical Christians, and like video games. Well, if they want a niche audience, that's fine, but that's definitely what it is. I would never recommend this to a grieving person who doesn't share the Greens' beliefs.

Jan. 10 2016 10:05 PM

This episode is the beginning of the end for Radiolab.

Jan. 10 2016 08:45 PM
Karl from Minneapolis

I found myself cringing and grimacing throughout this episode because of its Christian bent. Ugh, WORST radio lab episode ever. A commenter above said "maudlin", exactly.

Jan. 10 2016 08:03 PM

To all the people complaining about this episode not being about science, Radiolab isn't a 'strictly' science podcast. "Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience." from their 'about' page. There are other podcasts which focus only on science and I suggest you all go listen to those if that's all you want, but be prepared for some boring content because science, in and of itself, is boring without the human connection. That's why Radiolab is so successful.

Jan. 10 2016 06:20 PM
J276 from AUS

I've commented a few times in the past when Radiolab had veered away from science and toward emotional TAL territory. This is the single worst episode of Radiolab ever- the reasons have been repeated over and over in these comments. It would make me avoid Reply All if I had not already listened, which actually has some episodes that I like. If you have no Radiolab appropriate content, just take a week or two off... Please stop ruining your podcast and make your own content.

Jan. 10 2016 06:16 PM
tunkin from US

At risk of sounding heartless, it sounds so unhealthily maudlin..."Terry Gillium on steroids..."...But I suppose that is the point. No doubt some cancer families will find enormous support with this game, even if it's not for everyone. It sounds a very creative way to process grief.

Jan. 10 2016 04:15 PM
Damon from Portland

I'm a bit flabbergasted at the comments. I'm not religious at all myself either, but I still could very much identify with their pain. This story just wrecked me, thanks for putting it together (no sarcasm).

Jan. 10 2016 03:37 PM

Beautiful story. I liked it very much. I had to stop in the middle of the grocery store to give it my full attention. Makes me want to find out how to donate to you, and to buy and play their game. I'm an atheist and didn't mind hearing about their faith as they struggled with their son's illness and death and grief. Won't mind seeing it in the video game either. The game trailer on their web site looks fantastic. I've not had anyone very close to me go through cancer or another serious illness but I know people who have and maybe this will help me to understand just a little bit better. I like the mix of stories on Radiolab by the way. I've never seen it as just a science podcast so I wasn't surprised or disappointed.

Jan. 10 2016 03:28 PM
Esther from Boston

Radiolab, please leave this type of boring, one dimensional, overly spiritual podcast others. There's so many topics you could still cover that can help your listeners understand the real world around them better

Nothing like the usual Radiolab we all love. :(

Jan. 10 2016 02:08 PM
Daniel Gronow from York

Interestingly, Raymond Carver wrote a collection of short stories called 'Cathedral', one of which detailed the response a couple had to their child being rendered comatose after being hit by a car. Not an exact parallel to this story, but an odd instance of sychronicity nonetheless.

Jan. 10 2016 12:12 PM
Mark from Nantwich, UK

There has been a fundamental shift in the type of programme that Radiolab puts out, this last being I think the farthest from what I remember as being the 'Golden Age' of science-based podcasts. I'm assuming that the market for science listeners is smaller than those who are interested in emotional or religious stuff. Let the market decide.

Jan. 10 2016 03:12 AM
D from Knoxville

I actually enjoyed the episode "In Silence" about Abraham and Isaac, which was obviously one of Robert's pet episodes and Jad was audibly salty about having a religious theme without any science. And this is coming from an atheist. It was interesting, compelling, and emotional. Which is why "The Cathedral" in comparison is so ridiculously terrible. There is no analysis, no exploration, no interesting topic.

"Child has cancer. Parents have a hard time dealing with it. They make a video game to express themselves. Child dies. Parents try to cope with it, but the video game and their own religion makes it difficult." How did this make the cut when people were discussion potential episodes? Where is the science? What is the take away? How are we wiser from listening to this, other than an oddly toned cautionary tale about what not to do? The only reason I can possibly think that this got support is because "video games are art too" but there are so many better cases than this.

Seriously, I listen to Radiolab for interesting and quirky scientifically related stories. I am not here for pretentious video games, delusional parenting, evangelical Christianity, and feel bad child terminal illness.

Jan. 10 2016 02:25 AM
Manolo Matos from Benton, KY

I listened to the Reply All episode and now this one. I like both podcasts, and will continue to listen to both podcasts. I have two sons myself that are about the same ages as Joel. The story is compelling, and I don't find the idea of the game a bad idea. People tell their stories in many ways: documentaries, books, videogames... I felt sorry for what the family went through and I can't imagine the pain they experienced with their kids cancer and death. The sadness of the story is nothing to me compared to the sadness of seeing how can religion, as Hitchens said, really poisons everything. Religion is such a delusion that it can even make people believe their son will not only survive illness (which is possible), but that their son will come back from the dead (WTF). It's sad to see how a belief system could be so strong and damaging as to prevent a family from confronting the reality of their son's impending death to the point of not being prepared to face that fact when it happens. That is what it's truly sad about this story.

Jan. 10 2016 12:52 AM

Wow, I didn't realize Radiolab's fanbase consists of primarily angry judgmental atheists. Who knew?

Jan. 09 2016 11:44 PM
Summit6 from Portland, OR

Very disappointed in this episode, the only thing it made me do was not want to listen to Reply All. I am admittedly not a gamer but I really couldn't understand why someone would make this game and then think others would be interested in experiencing it....I just don't get it, and this episode did nothing to explain who would play this game, why they would play it, and what is its purpose? Why would anyone want to listen to a child cry as part of a game? It just seems like a very self-serving game created by a grieving father.

Jan. 09 2016 11:23 PM

First, my deepest, most sincere condolences to the family. I cannot even begin to imagine what their ordeal with their son was like.

Secondly, I, too, lament the recent direction this podcast has taken. I agree that video games can - and often are - moving pieces of storytelling, sometimes even comparable to an emotional film or book. Where I disagree, though, is the over-the-top religiosity of this episode, which seemed to border on proselytizing. Religion is a part of many people's lives, I understand ... but spending so much time on what s subset of humanity shares (religion), vs. spending time on what we _all_ share (the fact that we're _human_), really, _really_ turned me off.

Jan. 09 2016 10:52 PM

There used to be a science show called Radiolab. I miss it. I won't miss Religiolab. The show has been going downhill ever since the podcast episode about Abraham and Isaac. Goodbye Radiolab.
At least I'll never have to hear Robert's disgusting, snorting mouth noises that pass for laughter again.

Jan. 09 2016 10:05 PM
Eli from Canada

Wow, Radio Lab and Reply all (I love both podcasts) but this episode really stunk. It goes without saying that it's very sad their child suffered from a terrible heath issues resulting in his death, but why would either one of your podcasts have any interest in this story?

Where is the science here??

It makes no mention as to who actually paid to have this game developed, and how they plan to release it. And of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with whatever supernatural beliefs any of the people in this story have. They are free to live how they want and spend their time and money on the most messed up "game" I've ever heard of. But why is it on either one of your podcasts? And out of all they reply all podcasts to cross-feature... This one??

I'm sure this is a blip and I'm certainly not unsubscribing but this episode really got my goat.

Jan. 09 2016 07:03 PM
N from Canada

I am surprised and dismayed by the number of people commenting that they feel the game in this story is some kind of crass money-grab playing on people's emotions and the number of commenters supposing that it's trying to "force" Christianity down people's throats.

First, as one other commenter pointed out, video games can be a form of creative expression, an art form. People create things from their own lives and experiences - songwriters pen songs about stuff they've had happen to them, novelists write books informed by their own experiences, etc. People don't read a novel about someone dying and yell about how the author's bio says they experienced the death of a loved one once so this book means the author is trying to capitalize on that tragic experience.

And second, people telling you that religion is part of their lives does not equate to them trying to shove it on you. This family's religion is part of their story, so leaving it out would be silly and wouldn't be telling the full story. People don't have to keep their religion to themselves, just like you don't have to keep your love of painting, or soccer, or bird-watching to yourself. You can and probably do tell people that you love doing those things and why without desperately trying to convince them that they need to do and love those things too. Telling someone that you are religious or including some of those details in a story about a life event does NOT equate to trying to convert people to your religion.

And hearing about other people's beliefs that run counter to your own will not harm you, nor, if your own beliefs are strong enough, will it harm those. Beliefs in general do not suffer from being questioned and challenged - rather they either grow stronger, or they change. We shouldn't be afraid of or angry about hearing beliefs that are different from ours.

Radiolab, I think this was a very worthwhile story to share, and one of the things I appreciate about this show is the diversity of stories and topics it presents. I don't need to always hear about things I already know about or agree with or understand. What on earth would be the point of that. Thank you for sharing this on your site. My thoughts and condolences also to the family, who have clearly gone through some of life's most heartbreaking experiences.

Jan. 09 2016 05:20 PM
hunny from portland

I am truly dumbfounded and annoyed after listening to this horrible episode. This is nothing more that a giant plug for the worst Christian video game ever that exploits the pain and suffering of a child so I can "Feel God's Grace?!?!" Um, no thanks. Oh and p.s. I don't believe in god. Can we please get back to NON RELIGIOUS CONTENT?? I'm liking Radio Lab less and less which is a total bummer.

Jan. 09 2016 04:07 PM

Actually there is something to say.
It´s deeply sad to read so many religious triggered opinions. Comments that reflect how little time we give for taught, for actively listen to our others. I´m not a believer myself, but it seems to me that we are far to easy triggered by key words like religion and we impulsively throw up undigested conclusions. We have a long way until we reach the point where we can dressage without hating.
My condolence for the family.

Jan. 09 2016 02:27 PM

I can say nothing but thank you.

Jan. 09 2016 01:48 PM

What's really sad is that their son didn't have to die. Chemo is poison. They should have looked into alternative treatments like cannabis or more specifically CBD oil. There is strong evidence that cannabinoids in cannabis causes apoptosis in cancer cells, even the most hard to get at cancers like cancers of the brain. All this with little to no side effects. Peace and good luck.

Jan. 09 2016 12:01 PM

Jay,its good you want to understand. And yes, if these parents are not healthy and careful, their other children may struggle. That's true of any family that loses a child. But hold off on that judgement. It's not a forgone conclusion, simply because they made this game. Assuming the worst possible outcome for the other kids...well...that's, frankly, not for you to say. Let their friends and community do that, if its needed. I also wouldn't assume they haven't asked for counsel, about the game and their grief. They sound like they have. They talk like people who've asked for help, know how to receive it, and can admit mistakes.

I think its best if you really think of this game as a work of art. Humans have always found solace for their grief by making art, and in that way, this game is kind of normal. The father's medium just happens to be game design. If he was a painter, he may have just painted Joel's portrait. A musician, he might have written a song. But beyond that, its looks like its good art, true and beautiful.

I would argue that the game is an accurate illustration of what counselors seek to do with the grieving over time: to process and confront their feelings - the good, the bad, the frightening, the ugly, all of it - and then, when they are ready (and EVERYONE moves at their own pace) to walk away, preserving a memory of the best of the loved one, and with an acceptance of the loss that can't be recovered. That last God, its a perfect picture of the bitter sweetness of healing from grief, of moving on. Did you know people grieve their grief? They feel like letting go is betraying the dead. Its an awful experience, one that is likely the last big hurdle each grieving person has to overcome. And it happens long after the condolences stop.

This game can stand alone as a work of art, and hardly needs justification as such, but sometimes art is useful beyond just its own emotional expression. We can use art to comfort, to confront, to rejoice, to empathize. As to the objections about the commercial aspect...sigh. If the great artists who made the best art about grief had never shared it in the world, I know I'd be poorer for it. Artists always trade in their emotions. That is their calling. It is not vulgar, and it means we have the benefit of their work, and the help it may be to us when grief strikes us. And it will strike all of us, many times, for all of our lives.

Jan. 09 2016 11:47 AM

I found this to be the worst radio lab episode I have listened to and I am a long time listener. There were no layers to this story. It was not an "onion" story. There was no meaningful conclusion. There was no suspense or surprises. It was odd, and weirdly disrespectful towards their dead son.

If someone has a dying child and they want to make it a video game, they need counseling, not encouragement. And to actually make it and attempt to profit from it is sickening.

I found the show to be boring and weird. I would definitely not subscribe to "let's play" after this. And I found the parents in this show to be very off putting.

Jan. 09 2016 11:40 AM
Robert Riggio from Rapid City, South Dakota

Powerful, powerful stuff guys. My heart goes out to the Green family. I applaud your ability to create a hauntingly beautiful piece of art from this tragedy. You guys at Radiolab did a phenomenal job as usual. I'll probably never listen to this episode again because it's so heartbreaking, but this story will stay with me.

Jan. 09 2016 11:20 AM

So... They used their kids illness to make a video game... to make money... in order to push their religion on people... a religion that did nothing for them in the end.

Dislike. So much dislike.

I get it, video games can be deep. And meaningful. To The Moon taught me that in a much less slimy way.

Jan. 09 2016 10:40 AM

It bothered me that they used that tragedy to make money. I was cringing through the whole episode thinking there'd be some further explanation and justification, and there wasn't.

Radiolab, please stick to science based stories.

Jan. 09 2016 04:27 AM
Rich from Portland, OR

I have two very young kids so stories about losing a child always touch me, and I can't begin to relate to parents who've lost a child. That being said I feel like this 'game' is unhealthy for them, and has probably hindered their ability to heal and move beyond this tragedy they experienced. Creating a game that replays the most terrible parts of your life so you can relive it over and over again doesn't sound like a good thing to me.

Also, to each their own, but I was struck by how much ignorance to reality they repeatedly showed with their religion. Apparently their god can find the will to perform the miracle of stopping their son from crying, but decided to give him cancer to begin with. Even all the way to the end... That's some blind faith right there.

Jan. 09 2016 03:00 AM
Dale Eltoft from Elandale Farm

Spoiler Alert !!
As a Reply All subscriber I wish your podcast had included a spoiler alert. I appreciate the cross pollination. I've discovered many podcasts that way. In theis case given the emotional intensity of this subject I would rather have avoided listening twice.

Jan. 08 2016 11:54 PM
Roq from Seattle, WA

What an incredibly moving story - I've been feeling recently that we're on a precipice in gaming history that will shape both leisure/entertainment and art for generations to come - call it participatory cinema. This incredibly personal game elevates the medium even further. True art, and magnificent.

Jan. 08 2016 10:54 PM
Stephanie from Chicago

This was strange and uncomfortable. And I say that as a 25 year-old girl who lost her 54 year-mother to cancer after a 3 week battle just a few months ago. I was devastated to lose my mother so abruptly, but I understand that we all grieve in different ways. Regardless, this episode feels like it's forcing itself upon you, and it's falling flat. Can I have my regular Radiolab back? This is a story that belongs on a different podcast, not Radiolab. And really, it is from another podcast anyways...

Jan. 08 2016 09:18 PM
David Gordon from Standish, Maine

Beauty born of crushing powerlessness. One can almost taste it. All so magnificently human. Witness the song of life, capture, and present it to the future with what is at hand as has been done down through the ages. Thanks for the jolt.

Jan. 08 2016 06:54 PM
David from Bay Area

Gaming as a 21st century art form has received the attention of artist, currators, musuems, and players throughout the world. Understanding and coping with death, family, faith, and hope have always been the themes of art. That Cancer Dragon appears to follow this tradition, and like art has the potential, for those willing, to come to a deeper understanding of being human.

Jan. 08 2016 06:19 PM
Fredy from Honduras

I really could not get into this episode, I wish they would drop the religious and new-age-ish stories I think these do a disservice to the whole radiohead archive

Jan. 08 2016 05:20 PM
Willr from Houston

I've lost faith.... That Radiolab will do a show about science. Do you guys have a second job or is this show running on auto pilot! Make your own content please.

Jan. 08 2016 04:49 PM
Lindsey from Illinois

Guys, you tell great stories, but I really miss the science. Please do some more science episodes.

Jan. 08 2016 03:00 PM
--- from US

Once again, introducing someone else's podcast.

With a side of vocal fry.

Jan. 08 2016 02:25 PM
Carl from Sweden

News flash he died what a shocker. Religious mumbo jumbo as usual "spit in one hand and make a wish in the other; which is the one that gets filled first" don't get me wrong its horrible to die and death should be eliminated altogether but dressing it upp in fairy tales and bronze age mythology don't serve any one. And its kinda creepy to use your dead son as a cash cow for a computer game, although that depends what they do with the money they make from it. That being said I will probably play the game anyway.

Jan. 08 2016 02:08 PM
Kat from Seattle

@Jay - the surviving 3 kids will be fine. See this video game as their method of grieving, remembering, honoring, and moving on. It's beautiful. Video games have become a way to illustrate stories in an immersive and moving way more and more these days. I'm sure that they will be inspired by the playfulness of their other children some day enough to create something imaginative in the future.

Jan. 08 2016 01:34 PM
michelle from Oxford, UK

I hated this episode. Religious mumbo jumbo! The mom was hoping her child would be raised from the dead, creepy. There is nothing wrong with human emotions and struggling with death, but I don't think this story was a good example of how to grieve. Sorry Reply All/Radio Lab, you lost me on this one. I hope this isn't a sign of stories to come.

Jan. 08 2016 01:32 PM
Molly Anderson from Washington

Beautiful story. The family and doctors fought hard to save this boy. I'd like to try the game and see how it feels. I'd also like to express that, although I understand hearing the words palliative care and end-of-life were part of a dark, dark moment for these parents, and presented as such, hospice and palliative care for children, fully realized and in a home-like environment, can be a small miracle when the big one fails. Sadly, we only have two such hospices in all of America.

The link leads to a project in Seattle where an oncology nurse, and my friend, is trying to build a nonprofit children's hospice, the first in the Northwest.

Jan. 08 2016 01:15 PM
Dan from Colorado

Disturbing. I'm stuck on the personal tragedy being integrated into a game and sold to make ones living.

Jan. 08 2016 12:45 PM
komo71 from Madison, WI

Jay, this is a journey of loss to processing moving on with your life. I would guess that the other kids know very little about this game. The parents have to teach their other children about living with death in such a personal way.

What a touching story, wish I hadn't listened to it at my desk though. Pretty hard to not just break down and weep for this family. I trust that theirs is a story of hope and they are living full lives now.

Jan. 08 2016 11:17 AM
Niklas from Gothenburg

I don't have any children either. But I cried like a baby when you talked about the drowning and the end of life care – and even more so over the ending. I absolutely don't want to play the game, but only because I don't think I could handle it emotionally. Thank you for this podcast <3 Haven't been this moved in a while.

Jan. 08 2016 11:12 AM
Jay from Seattle

I don't have children, & I'm not trying to be crass. I genuinely don't understand & would appreciate any help. They have 2 healthy children that don't have games made for them. That seems like it might be hard for the siblings to deal with. No matter what they accomplish, they'll never be the child that died.

Jan. 08 2016 10:17 AM

Thanks Jaison. We've fixed the link.

Jan. 08 2016 09:45 AM

Incredibly moving. If you have kids you will have this urge to cry

Jan. 08 2016 07:44 AM
Jaison from UK

This was amazing - I don't usually expect to burst out in tears listening to RadioLab. This seems like a wonderful way to showcase the breadth what humans can turn into Art.

Technical note: your link to the site: is not quite right, it's redirecting to the WNYC Outlook Web Access login portal, shouldn't be a security risk but worth fixing :)

Jan. 08 2016 05:39 AM

Woah. This is deep. I want to play the game when it comes out but I think it will break me. We'll see...

Jan. 08 2016 03:05 AM
Kyle from Chicago

It's fascinating that video games are becoming a lot more than just "fun". This will get especially interesting in the near future as reality and a virtual augmented version of it strt to blur into one.

Jan. 07 2016 07:17 PM

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