Have you ever played a video game that resonated with you in such a personal way that you just couldn’t stop thinking about it? That even after beating it to completion and finishing every challenge that it has to offer, your first instinct was to immediately pick it back up again and play it some more?
I sure have. Many, many times throughout my life. But if I’m going to be completely honest, in recent years I haven’t been fortunate enough to stumble upon such a game again. And it’s not like I don’t enjoy any of the games I play nowadays or anything. After all I’ve acquired a ton of new favourites in the last couple of years such as Breath of the Wild, A Hat in Time and Mario Odyssey, to name a few.
But no matter how good any of the games I’ve played in recently have been, with the exception of maybe Kingdom Hearts III, pretty much all of them have fallen short of connecting with me on a personal level or relating heavily to my own life experiences. In all honesty, it almost felt like the days where I’d find my next Majora’s Mask or Earthbound were gone for good.
Until I played Celeste.
For those who’ve either been living under a rock, or for whatever reason don’t know what Celeste is, it’s an indie-developed platforming game that has you navigating through a series of challenging obstacles using a limited set of movement mechanics. You can grab and climb up ledges for a limited time. You can perform a mid-air dash in the eight cardinal directions to give yourself a boost, but you can only use it once until you touch the ground again. You can sometimes take advantage of your environment to progress further into the levels where it would otherwise be impossible. And… That’s about it, really. It’s a simple game, with simple mechanics, but the learning curve is steep and the game itself can be incredibly challenging, especially in the later levels.
But how Celeste plays and how challenging its levels are, aren’t why this game is special to me. The game is special to me, and many others, because of the story it tries to tell through its gameplay. The game places you in the role of a young woman named Madeleine, who decides to climb Celeste Mountain in hopes of proving to herself that she’s not completely worthless. On the way, she encounters many hardships and obstacles that aim to prevent her from reaching the top, including a “dark” version of herself that is a physical manifestation all of her deepest fears and anxieties.
To put it simply, Celeste is a metaphor for overcoming your own life struggles. You’re tasked with climbing a gigantic mountain full of tough obstacles and Madeleine is forced to face her deepest fears and anxieties in order to reach the top of said mountain. And it’s this metaphor that caused the game to resonate with me on a level almost no other video game has ever managed to do before.
I sympathised heavily with Madeleine’s struggles with anxiety and self doubt, because I struggle with anxiety and self doubt. All the time. I have depression. I sometimes have random moments where I feel worthless and feel empty inside. I find myself waking up constantly throughout the night due to anxious thoughts. I struggle to sleep, no matter how tired I am. When it’s time to get up and start the day, I often feel unprepared to go out and face the world. A lot of the time, I don’t want to because the world and responsibilities tied to it are terrifying to me.
I’m constantly on edge. I’m often scared and anxious due to crippling social anxiety. I have very little self-confidence. I worry too much about everyone else in my life rather than myself, and I often find myself worrying about my future. Half the time, I don’t even know what I’m doing, my brain in a constant haze, unable to focus on what’s right in front of me, always drifting away into static. It all scares me. And it makes me doubt myself. A lot.
And I’ve been aware of all of this for a very long time. For many years now. But I don’t think I was ever willing to admit how big of a problem it really was until recently.
I’ve played thousands of games over the years and many of them have managed to connect with me on a personal level for various different reasons, but I can’t remember the last time a game managed to actually teach me something about myself.
Playing Celeste did something to me. When I got to the end of Madeleine’s journey, it fucking broke me. It made realise that I have a problem. And that I need to do something about it.
Many of the obstacles and challenges Celeste presents through its gameplay, are some of the most difficult and frustrating pieces of platforming I’ve experienced in a video game. They’re honestly among the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. And every time I cleared an obstacle or a screen I was stuck on for hours, I found myself celebrating. It was like a small victory, and it made me feel good about myself. Overcoming difficult struggles through sheer effort and determination is what makes Celeste so satisfying to play for me, in spite of its insane difficulty.
I was so proud of myself when I cleared the final C-Side level, without using Assist Mode. I did it. I mastered Celeste. I played it to completion and beat everything the game was able throw at me.
But simply beating Celeste is just the beginning of a much longer and more difficult journey. Because Celeste is a game that never ends. Even after completing everything it has to offer and putting down my controller, it’s a game I find myself playing every day, in the real world.
The game of life continues, and there’s no pause button. No restart. No second chance. There’s only one, continuous playthrough and sometimes it’s hard. Really hard. Overcoming the obstacles in my life, my anxiety and my depression, can sometimes feel like the hardest challenge, harder than any C-Side level Celeste threw my way.
But if there’s one thing Celeste taught me, it’s that I have to keep trying. I can’t give up. I can overcome my problems and become a better person, like Madeleine. And maybe, someday, I can reach the top of my own Celeste Mountain and become one with my demons.
And once I do, I’ll be able to head out there and be my best self. No matter how hard or scary things may seem, life goes on. My family and friends go on. The world goes on. And I must also go on, because I won’t be left behind…