Climb That Mountain: Celeste, the video game that just made me tear up

As you may know if you have already read this blog, I have previously written about video games and their attempts to tackle the weighty issue of mental illness.  I now have a new game to add to that group: Celeste, an incredible platformer that tells a powerful story.

Warning: Story spoilers below

First of all – and maybe most importantly – Celeste is an absolutely incredible game. It stars Madeline, the pixalated heroine, who is seeking to climb Celeste Mountain. You jump from obstacle to obstacle, beating levels, meeting new characters and advancing to the summit. The game’s mechanics are simple but there is so much meat on it’s bones. The more you play, the better you get, and new mechanics are introduced with each level at a perfect difficulty curve.

As the story progresses, you find out more about Madeline. She is driven to the point of depression and wants to climb the mountain seemingly to prove something to herself. Madeline climbs the mountain, overcoming obstacles along the way, but after a couple of levels meets one of the game’s main villains: The “Part of me” that makes enemies out of friends, alters the environment and tortures Madeline. She has the same avatar as Madeline, just more evil looking. It’s clearly a metaphor for the part of each person that hinders us all, drives us mad and generally is our own worst enemy.

On a different side of the spectrum is Theo, who Madeline meets while she is climbing the Mountain. Theo is on a journey too, but for different reasons. They are yin and yang: Madeline is goal-oriented. Theo wants the experience but seems adrift and lost.

The game breaks up it’s platforming by telling a story via conversation and dialogue. That led to what I would say are the most powerful moments I’ve experienced with it so far, including these snippets of dialogue after Madeline spends a level saving Theo from a monster of her own creation:

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That leads to this incredible description that I know will ring true for many:

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Even more impressively, the story is told via gameplay. At one point, Madeline’s Part of Me stops a gondala, causing Madeline to have an anxiety attack. Theo – who has some experience in dealing with this – makes Madeline imagine a feather that is kept afloat by her exhales and inhales, and the player simulates the breathing via controller inputs – thus stopping the anxiety attack. In another level, Theo – who is a little selfie-obsessed – must be thrown into an eyeball in order to complete a level.

Another metaphor: I’ve never died in a video game more than I have here. In the last level I completed, I died a whopping 335 times. And no, I’m not the greatest video game player in the world, but this is normal here, I swear. Indeed, as the game reminds you at one point, in-game deaths are good! They provide for learning experiences and bring you that much closer to your ultimate goal of beating the level. The message here is clear: Learning comes from pain. Pain brings you closer to where you need to be. And as long as you don’t give up, you can get there.

I’m not done with this game. But the exchanges above legitimately brought tears to my eyes. They reminded me what a powerful medium video games can be. This game made me feel validated as someone who suffers from depression, and I highly, highly recommend that you check it out if video games are your thing.

I never thought I’d care so much about a platformer. This game is worth exploring.

 

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