Spotlight: Celeste

Section: 

The pixel-precision platforming to the top of Mount Celeste is a stunning depiction of living with anxiety and depression. It is a beautiful allegory of the quest for self-acceptance and personal integration. I know this game holds enormous meaning for a lot of people, and those stories are theirs to tell. The only story I can share is my own.

It began at the end of chapter 4, after the intense challenge of traversing the wind-blown Golden Ridge. Madeline and her friend, Theo, board an old gondola, when it suddenly stalls, swaying violently. Madeline’s intense reaction overtakes everything—darkness encroaches on all sides, the music turns deeply chaotic and discordant, sheer alarm punctuates every gasping breath. But this moment of terror wasn’t Madeline’s alone. It echoed my own experience of the uncontrollable inner stampede.

Theo named it almost instantly: a panic attack. As he coached Madeline to control her breathing as if to keep a feather aloft, a feather appeared on the screen for me to control. Breath by breath, Theo escorted both Madeline and me to the safety of the calm. It was a deeply precious moment to share with these characters, as my own panic attacks had only ever struck when I was alone.

At the time, I was already in therapy, working through traumas with the help of a kind and skilled therapist. And the gondola experience folded neatly into my broader healing. But Celeste still had more to teach me.

Failing uncountable times on the small screen of my Switch, respawning instantly at generously-spaced save points, I saw how each repetition brought me one-less-fail closer to an eventual, if momentary success. That experience helped me create space within myself to embrace my own countless failures, knowing that they, too, would bring me closer to a breakthrough, however small.

The parallels were exquisite—guiding Madeline through some of the most challenging and frustrating platforming of my life, while I was guided in therapy through the shadowy caverns and wind-worn cliffs of my psyche. I nearly quit Celeste during the brutal, final stretch to the summit, but I persevered—not because I wanted to finish the game, but because I needed to know I could make it. It wasn’t just a pixelated mountain anymore, it was the story of my own healing. And I needed to reach the top so I could believe that one day I would also reach my own personal peak.

These days, Celeste is long-returned to the abyss of uninstallation and my formal therapy is long-ended in success, but my personal journey continues. There are more pitfalls I’ve discovered, more caverns that need my light, more moments of doubt and disbelief and panic.

But I know better now how to make it through. And when it all overwhelms me anyway, I can remember the feather floating before me.

Inhale. Exhale. Let it float up. Let it float down. Inhale. Exhale.

And if I still fail—just respawn and try again. Because I’m one failure closer. And closer still.

Comments

We talked while you were working on this, but I just want to say again that I think this is beautiful. Thank you for writing it.

Really need to play this

Stele wrote:

Really need to play this

It's absolutely a must play. And it's very generous with its "assist mode" settings to allow for increased accessibility at any time. It's just a beautiful design and a wonderful platformer on top of it all.

TheHarpoMarxist wrote:

We talked while you were working on this, but I just want to say again that I think this is beautiful. Thank you for writing it.

Thank you.