We need to talk about Celeste. The first video game I’ve played which places mental health at the heart of the narrative. A platform game in which the hero, Madeline, seeks to climb a mountain. A great metaphor for the daily struggle many face with their mental health. 

This is a game in which there are no baddies. The only obstacles you have to overcome are the environment and yourself. Madeline’s dark side steps out of a mirror and hounds her when its least helpful. These battles ring painfully true, perhaps because of the lived experiences of game designer, Matt, and composer, Lena.

The MIDI soundtrack is eerily beautiful, and like the game, has emotional breadth, capable of evoking the loneliness of a snowy mountain and the intensity of a panic attack. The pixellated sprites evoke nostalgia, and the anime used in dialogue are expressive and relatable.

I’m only a few hours in, but I already know this game is a great tool to teach self-care. It draws attention to the negative self-talk we impose, and gently highlights the harmful comments well-meaning loved-ones can make. Theo, a friend Madeline makes on the mountain, demonstrates how to be with someone who’s having a difficult time.

This is a fiendishly tricky platformer. The game, like life, is difficult. You will fail hundreds of times before you make it to the top of the mountain. But Madeline has chosen this challenge because she wants to prove to herself that she can do it, and so will you. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey that we remember. This game celebrates that to succeed, we must fail.

Some use videogames as a form of escapism. A way of providing goals, structure and momentum in a comparatively safe environment, where nothing can hurt the real you, and if you die, you go back to the last save point. I’d like to see more games, like Celeste, asking players what they are running from, and providing them with the tools to face it.

Celeste. Where great game design is being used to open up a conversation about mental health, self care, good habits, social networks and what to do when we don’t feel OK. Madeline is my kind of hero.

For a short time, Celeste is available for free download over at epicgames.com.


Running Crews- A History

HaroldHunterBridgeRunnersX_Akira Ruiz
Mike Saes captured by Akira Ruiz

With the global explosion of running crews, it seems like there’s a Bridge the Gap event most weekends. With this expansion the message can be diluted, and the origins and reasons behind the movement can be lost in the mists of time. Mike Saes is the godfather of crew running, as sure as Afrika Bambaataa is the godfather of hip hop. One of the commandments of hip hop is that you pay respect to those who paved the way. To quote Saes, “It came from gang culture to boogie crews, popping crews, b-boy crews and now it’s running crews. It’s the same exact hip hop energy which we find through running.” Continue reading “Running Crews- A History”

Adventure Playground

Adventure Playground

I love the adventure playground at my school, Blackhorse Infants. The gnarly wooden fort has two levels, with wooden slats and a slide for getting up and down. It’s the terrain over which we scramble when playing Cowboys and Indians, War and sometimes Kiss Chase.

On the top deck, I feel like King of the Castle as Miss Nelson rings the bell. Craig slides down to the playground, but I need one more moment. I turn my back and look across the yard at everyone getting into line. Behind me, I hear several feet clambering up the slats. Continue reading “Adventure Playground”

Growing Up

Dean Mamo upended John Barham for no reason, just as Miss Weekes rang the bell.

“Are you alright, John?” Chris asked. John was bent over, winded.

“Hurry up, boys, break’s finished,” bothered Miss Weekes.

“It’s him again, Miss. Aren’t you gonna do anything?”

Chris’s heart raced as he glowered at the fourth year, who eyed Chris back with a look that said he’d be next.

“Well, I didn’t see anything, so you’ll have to go in. If John’s hurt, take him to First Aid.” Continue reading “Growing Up”

Black Widow

A chill wind blew through the partly open window as Margaret Ann led the visitor into her bedroom. The veiled stranger, dressed all in black, seemed out of place within these off-white walls. Turning as she reached the wooden bedstead, Margaret Ann faced her guest.

“Have a seat on the bed, please.”

There was no chair to offer in these cramped quarters, plain as the smile, stitched like a lie, across Margaret Ann’s wrinkled face. A spider made its way across wooden floorboards.

“I’ll stand,” replied the veiled woman, her gloved hand quietly closing the door.  Continue reading “Black Widow”