Relating to a character and seeing one’s own story in them, as well as the feelings they elicit, is widely regarded as vital to storytelling and writing. The video game Celeste is one of the best examples of this.
Celeste is a platform game set on Celeste Mountain, a fictional version of Mount Celeste, and following Madeline as she climbs the mountain and makes friends along the way. Badeline, a bad version of Madeline, continues to make trouble for the protagonist on her journey.
As gameplay allows players to immerse themselves into the characters they control more easily than other media, it’s important to focus on how Celeste uses this fact to strengthen its message.
Celeste is known for its exact and crisp movement made with straightforward controls. Madeline’s movements, run speed, climbing, jumping and especially her dash, all make the game feel difficult yet forgiving. It’s not uncommon for each chapter of the game to be completed with several hundreds of deaths.
While the game requires quite a lot of skill to master, it never feels like reaching that skill level is impossible due to the game’s constant assurance that you can do it. Those four words alone could be considered the entire message of Celeste. Everything about this game encourages all who play it to not give up, not just in the game, but in their day-to-day lives as well.
The incredibly cozy yet hostile tone the game sets, the wonderful art and music, as well as the character writing manage to give this game a ton of humanity, making Madeline’s journey of self-acceptance one that isn’t too emotionally exhausting to follow. This message is very clear given Madeline’s main goal in the game which is to climb the mountain. Celeste is named after the mountain in the game that Madeline plans to climb. In doing so, she discovers a side of herself that she has unconsciously been avoiding dealing with. Her journey up the mountain is a simple yet incredible metaphor for her coming to terms with her self-loathing and extreme anxiety. Climbing the mountain is as incredibly challenging as simply living with her feelings.
Madeline originally tries to run away from these feelings, which are personified as a dark version of herself. Eventually, she realizes this won’t help her and tries to work with this version of herself, which allows her to reach the summit. She genuinely tries to accept these parts of herself, as well as the fact that she can climb this mountain and, because of that, she succeeds. The game is challenging, yet forgiving and a brilliantly adept metaphor for the journey of self-acceptance.
Were the game to be much easier, it would dampen the effect of the core theme. Madeline’s anxiety is something that receives particular focus in the game. During a panic attack where she worries about being a burden to the other characters, her friend Theo teaches her a method of handling herself called the ‘feather technique.’ This technique simulates an actual method of reducing anxiety, which in and of itself is incredibly valuable for players to watch.
Showing Madeline experience realistic effects of her anxiety and integrating it into the gameplay is a brilliant depiction of these issues. Madeline being trans-fem can also add to these feelings, as many trans people will likely suffer from self-image issues.
Seeing a representation of mental health issues and having a trans-fem character can help players who don’t have those experiences develop some understanding and sympathy for real people that go through similar mental health and gender experiences.
Celeste reaffirms that people who struggle with anxiety and self-loathing aren’t alone. They’re not “weird” or a burden, they aren’t bad people and, most of all, they can learn to accept themselves. Games that allow players to experience the journey of someone struggling with these kinds of issues can do wonders for those who have the same issues. Spreading and showing understanding and empathy is a very important and admirable goal, and we should acknowledge when games do this well. Celeste is a masterpiece, for all the reasons stated above and more. Please do yourself a favour and play it.