While others prepare for the holidays, shop for gifts for loved ones, or travel with family, I find myself enveloped in a different tradition. While I look forward to seeing my family and spending time with them, another aspect of Christmas and the end of the year that I enjoy is playing Celeste again and browsing through a box of tissues.
Ever since Extremely OK Games released Celeste in 2018, it’s become one of my favorite games of all time and the one I come back to every year. I doubt I can really explain the meaning of this title, but I will do my best to put these emotions into words.
On the surface, Celeste is about a young girl named Madeline who suffers from anxiety and depression, which I too found myself in the middle of my game as she attempted to climb Mount Celeste. This mountain is said to have mystical powers that allow one to see their true reflection – something that terrified me at the time.
But playing through the game quickly reveals that it’s not the mountain that’s the antagonist; it is Celeste herself. Or, more precisely, her feelings and her vision of herself, represented by the alter ego Badeline. This manifestation of Madeline’s desperation is central to Celeste, and while she initially tries to hold Madeline back, she overcomes her feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing. Madeline and Badeline work together, encountering various characters throughout their ascent while an absolutely stunning soundtrack by Lena Raine plays in the background (seriously, listen to this).
Picture via games extremely OK
In the end, Celeste not only reaches the summit of Mount Celeste, conquering its towering heights, but also overcomes her anxiety, fears, despair, and worry. And the beautiful part is that she did it all on her own, because Madeline and Badeline are the same. Granted, she had minor help from chipper Theo, the mysterious Grandma, and the ghostly Mr. Oshiro, but in the end, Celeste’s determination got her to the top of the mountain.
It is a journey in which I felt very much playing Celeste. I had suffered from depression years before, and although I was past that part of my life, it never really went away. On the contrary, it became a seasonal sadness that would arise. Although it may sound ridiculous, playing Celeste and following her story has literally helped me break free from this cycle.
Picture via games extremely OK
Celeste and I shared many of the same thoughts, and while I didn’t have a dark alter ego manifest, I found myself healed once I put down the controller at the end of Celeste’s journey. Part of that wasn’t just how deeply I resonated with Celeste’s story, but the whole package. Celeste relies on simple controls and simple yet beautiful pixel art to tell her story and advance gameplay.
And it works! Her straightforward approach to telling Madeline’s story keeps you captivated, and while there is a level of challenge, it’s not impossible. Celeste focuses on a few mechanics that provide depth and control. In a way, it mirrors Celeste mastering her dark emotions and thoughts, something I felt reflected in me as I played. It took time to overcome Celeste’s many levels, just as it takes time to conquer her darkest emotions. But as Madeline got over her feelings, I did the same, crying my eyes out the whole time.
And so, that brings me to my annual ritual. While I first played Celeste to overcome my feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing, with each passing year I started playing it as a way to show how far I’ve come. Rebuilding myself through Celeste’s journey has become my way of coping with this bygone but not forgotten period of my life. No matter how many times I play this hauntingly beautiful game, I know what awaits me and that I can overcome it and whatever stands in my way.
As I prepare for another game, I can’t wait to cry like a child as Madeline and I climb this freezing mountain together. I don’t know if I will ever tire of playing this game, but I hope the day will come when I can play it simply for its beauty and joy and not to reassure myself that everything will be fine. Unfortunately, I missed Towerfall, but Extremely OK Games has a customer for life in me thanks to Celeste. If their next Earthblade is even half as emotional as Celeste, I might have to add it to my annual trip.
For more game info, check out Genshin Impact’s Sumeru is the best new region in gaming yet and Disco Elysium taught me how to live on ps4 games.