Screenshot from MyFullGames
While others prepare for the holidays, buy gifts for loved ones, or travel with the family, I find myself immersed in a different tradition. While I look forward to seeing my family and spending time with them, another aspect of Christmas and New Year’s Eve that I enjoy is playing Celeste one more time and running through a tissue box.
Since Extremely OK Games released Celeste in 2018, it has become one of my favorite games of all time and one that I return to every year. I doubt I can really explain the meaning of this title, but I’ll do my best to put these emotions into words.
Related: Another year passes and I’m still waiting for the release date of Hollow Knight Silksong.
On the surface, Celeste is about a young woman named Madeline who suffers from anxiety and depression, something I too found myself in during my gameplay while trying to climb Mount Celeste. This mountain is said to have mystical powers that allow one to see the true reflection of it, 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’s Celeste herself. Or, more accurately, her feelings and views of herself, represented by the alter ego Badeline. This manifestation of Madeline’s despair is at Celeste’s heart, and though she initially tries to keep Madeline down, she overcomes her feelings of doubt and self-loathing. Madeline and Badeline work together, meeting various characters throughout their rise while an absolutely jaw-dropping soundtrack plays. lena rain plays in the background (seriously listen to this).
In the end, Celeste not only reaches the top of Mount Celeste, conquering its towering peaks, but also overcomes her anxiety, fears, despair, and worry. And the nice thing is that she did it all by herself, since Madeline and Badeline are the same. Of course, she had a little help from the lively Theo, the mysterious Granny, and the ghostly Mr. Oshiro, but in the end, Celeste’s determination got her to the top of the mountain.
This is a journey that I felt very much on when I played Celeste. She had suffered from depression years before, and even though I got over that part of my life, she never really left. Rather, it became a seasonal sadness that would flare up. While it may sound ridiculous, playing Celeste and following her story literally helped break me out of that cycle.
Celeste and I shared many of the same thoughts, and while I didn’t have a manifested dark alter ego, I felt whole once I left the controller at the end of Celeste’s journey. Part of that was not just how deeply I resonated with Celeste’s story, but the entire package. Celeste relies on simple controls and simple yet beautiful pixel art to tell the story of her and progress through the game.
And works! Her simple approach to telling Madeline’s story keeps you engrossed, and while there is a level of challenge, it’s not impossible. Celeste focuses on a few mechanics that offer depth and allow you to master them. In a way, this reflects Celeste dominating her emotions and her dark thoughts, something I felt reflected back to myself as she played. It took time to get through Celeste’s many levels, just like it takes time to conquer the darkest emotions. But when Madeline got over her feelings, I did the same, crying my eyes out the whole way.
Related: How Dragonflight put the fun back in WoW
And so this brings me to my annual ritual. While I initially played Celeste to get over my feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing, with each passing year, I began to play her as a way to show how far I’ve come. Picking myself up through Celeste’s journey has become my way of coping with this moment in my life that is gone but not forgotten. No matter how many times I play this beautiful and haunting game, I know what lies ahead and that I can overcome it and anything that gets in my way.
As I prepare for another game, I expect to cry like a baby as Madeline and I scale that icy mountain together. I don’t know if I’ll ever get tired of playing this game, but I hope the day will come when I can play it simply for its beauty and joy and not as a way to make sure everything will be alright. Unfortunately, I missed out on Towerfall, but Extremely OK Games has a customer for life in me through Celeste. If your next Earthblade is half as soulful as Celeste, I might just have to add it to my annual trip.
For more on gaming, check out Genshin Impact’s Sumeru Which Is The Game’s Best New Region So Far, And Disco Elysium Taught Me How To Live In MyFullGames.