Thank You For Playing is a wildly uneven documentary about a deeply sympathetic story. Looking at the film (and the game) simply as a vehicle to illustrate the ways the Greens cope with Joel's illness, this is a moving and uniquely tragic story about the ways humans use art to communicate. As a movie, Osit and Zouhali-Warrall's film leaves something to be desired, failing (unsurprisingly) to find much of a structure in the unpredictable series of treatments and struggles the family encounter over the two years the documentarians were present.
It would be natural to expect the film to contain a number of interviews with both Ryan and Amy talking about finding out about Joel's cancer, the genesis of the game, and explanations of the scenes contained within it, but perhaps both parents and the filmmakers felt these things were already best expressed in Ryan and Amy's personal art (both the game, and their book, He's Not Dead Yet). Instead, sit-down interviews are sporadic, with the film consisting mostly of fly-on-the-wall footage where the subjects interact with the documentarians at random. These sequences include recording sessions for the game, development of the occasional level, various experimental treatments, and a scene where Ryan brings the game to Seattle's PAX convention.
During these sequences, Osit and Zouhali-Warrall capture some choice moments -- Ryan and Amy reading a particularly harsh comment on an interview they did about the game, Ryan recording voice-over for a sequence with his other two boys, chatter from some of the other developers on the stress of working on the project, and of course, plenty of footage of Joel himself, which allows the viewer to see how Ryan incorporates his son's personality into his project. On the other hand, some notable stones remain unturned -- there are brief references to the family's faith that are never expounded on, and no reference at all to the family's financial or employment situation. In preparing to write the review, an article came up noting that Ryan had staked the future of his Christian video game company on the success of the game. Perhaps the filmmakers felt this created an artificial narrative in which some sort of catharsis would come from the game being a hit, but it feels like a huge omission.
From an editing standpoint, it hardly feels as if two years pass during the film, despite Ryan and Amy both talking about how long Joel has survived past his initial prognosis, and the eventual deterioration of his condition. Osit and Zouhali-Warrall include plenty of footage from the game itself, but some of it has a tendency to feel "incomplete" as an experience, because of course, the game is meant to be played. The film is certainly emotional, especially when literally capturing the emotions of its participants on-screen -- there's no question that viewers will be moved by it. Whether or not they might be just as moved experiencing Ryan and Amy's struggle from their own perspective, through their own work, is another story.
The Video and Audio
An original theatrical trailer is also included.