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.