In This Video Game, You Are Cancer

Cancer is a pretty horrific illness - and being diagnosed with it is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Even with modern medical technology, the disease can be a death sentence - there's never a 100% guarantee that you'll be able to survive. Worse, in spite of the fact that we've been researching it for the past several years, we're still not particularly close to a definitive cure. 

What's more, although researchers are closer now to understanding the illness than at any other time in history, among laymen it's still something of a sinister boogeyman; a mysterious and threatening shade. We have no real comprehension of the disease itself. 

I mean, we've a general idea of what it does, and how. We know that it generally causes its victims to slowly waste away to nothing; we know it's a terrible, slow, and agonizing way to die. But beyond that?

"Cancer" is like some primal force of evil.

A company by the name of Thwacke believes it's high time that changed. To that end, it's developing a game in which players will step into the role of a cancer cell. No, that's not a joke - it's anything but, as a matter of fact.

"You play as cancer," Thwacke co-founder Sebastian Alvarado explained to Polygon. "You start as a single cell that circulates the human body and is given specific challenges that require you to divide and invade." 

Alvarado and his team aren't developing the game as a cash grab, nor are they making light of the topic. They - and by association - are all about the science behind the illness. To that end, the experience they're creating is intended to teach its players about a very difficult, very frightening topic.

"This teaches you cancer, transformative metastasis and the variety of ways in which cancer invades the body," Alvarado continued. "We have a very rich amount of source material and access to a lot of surgeons and research. We are hoping to set the bar in educational games." 

Taking the form of a 2D puzzle game, the title hopes to demonstrate to users that cancer is neither malicious nor evil. 

"It's a cell that doesn't know its own rules," Alvarado explained, "Most cells know when to stop, when to follow the rules of the tissues that they exist in. Cancer doesn't. It grows and conquers and looks for more nutrients." 

"Our approach," he continued, "is to align real biology with a game mechanic. We believe that invading and taking over territory is a very easy-to-adapt mechanic which aligns a lot with the science of cancer. But we restrict those mechanics to within the way cancer operates. We want to present the player as the disease for the sake of learning about it and understanding it." 

In the process, Alvarado and his team hope to empower both victims of cancer as well as their friends and families - that by developing a deeper understanding if the illness, they'll be less inclined to treat it as some unbeatable monstrosity. 

"It's almost easier to yield against a thing that is evil, but the more you understand it, the less you are inclined to feel helpless."  

That said, the team understands that everyone deals with the illness in their own way - and with that in mind, there are going to be people who won't be willing to play their game. 

"As a scientist it is my job to understand things," he concluded. "I am the kind of person who would want to understand things. I think it would help but I completely understand that it is not for everyone, but I do hope that it encourages discussion and learning." 

Although this is the first game they've developed, the games industry is hardly a new frontier for Thwacke. The business was originally founded to provide scientific data and research to game developers, both to help them make their own creations more realistic and to explore new concepts in the world of science. In the past, they've contributed on Wasteland 2 and Outlast, and even served as an advisory firm for Marvel.

The game - which is currently unnamed - does not yet have a solid release date.