“Celeste:” Scaling the mountain of depression


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The 2018 video game “Celeste” delves into the sensitive yet ever-present topic of depression.

“Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life.”


With these statistics from the American Psychiatric Association, it is no wonder that depression has appeared in the media in many ways throughout the years. Rather than a movie or TV show, “Celeste” utilizes the video game format to tackle this complex subject.


“Celeste” was written, directed, and programmed by Maddy Thorson, with a team of seven helping her develop the game. It was released initially as a small, four-day game jam project made by Thorson and Noel Berry. However, she later decided to make it into the fully fledged platformer we know today. While these two versions differ wildly on every level, the critical difference is the addition of a story.


In “Celeste,” we follow Madeline—a determined yet troubled young woman set on climbing Celeste Mountain. Fighting any mental illness can feel like climbing a mountain, so making the game center on this struggle sets up a physical metaphor that mirrors Madeline’s growth.


Near the beginning, after setting camp for the night, we are introduced to “Part of Me” (also known as Badeline by the fanbase). She is a part of Madeline’s subconscious that escaped in Madeline’s dream through the mountain’s magic, and is this game’s representation of her insecurities and depression.


Following her breakout, she confronts Madeline. Badeline expresses concerns, albeit passive-aggressively, about Madeline’s capability to climb Celeste. She chases Madeline after being rebuked, trying to get her to give up and go home. This segment firmly establishes Badeline as the main obstacle for Madeline to overcome.


After this point, we start getting hints that Madeline has depression. She showcases low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and indications that her home life was not a happy one. With this, we also see Badeline’s interference with Madeline’s progress.


The way Badeline interacts with Madeline through the climb mimics how depression attacks. She is volatile, highlights Madeline’s flaws, and underestimates her. Those with depression do the same to themselves, which leads to the lack of energy and unstable emotional state that is often associated with depression.


At first, Madeline tries to ignore and run away from Badeline, in the way those with depression can embrace denial. While she does learn a coping mechanism and grows as a person during her travels, she still does not confront her depression directly.


It is not until Madeline runs into a character that she opens up about her issues. This character gives her the thought that Badeline is just a destructive coping mechanism given form by the mountain. Taking this into consideration, Madeline finally decides to try and set her mind free of torment.


But when she confronts Badeline, she is cast down below her original starting point. Madeline is understandably frustrated. She worked so hard to get where she is, and she was so close to the summit. In reaching rock bottom, she is forced to reflect on how this came about.


Madeline ultimately realizes that Badeline is part of her, whether she likes it or not. Running away or denying her depression is not going to work; it is just going to make things worse. This finally lets Madeline consider talking with her to try to work with Badeline and confront those fears.


Thorson and her team put a lot of care into the production of “Celeste,” from its story to the gameplay. It provides a good challenge and has many tools to make it accessible to all kinds of players. Its soundtrack and art add to the game’s charm. The characters are fantastic, and the narrative does an excellent job of portraying Madeline’s struggle.

“Celeste” can be found on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch for $19.99.