Celeste’s Candid Portrayal of Mental Illness


Hey, what’s up? It’s Matt, and this weekend I spent a lot of time playing a new video game called “Celeste” by Matt Thorson and Noelle Berry. You play as a young woman named Madeleine who’s climbing Celeste mountain partially because she doesn’t know what else to do with her life, and also because she just wants to prove to herself that it’s something she can do. And as I played the game, there were a lot of powerful moments about mental illness and personal struggle that really touched me. I want to share my experience with you, and talk specifically about how Celeste’s portrayal of mental illness is fantastic and candid and beautiful. Alright; so the first moment that stuck out to me was when Madeleine and her friend Theo are riding a gondola to clear a gap in the mountain. But in the middle of that ride, the gondola breaks down and they’re kind of just left hanging there, suspended. As this is happening, darkness and evil spikes sort of come in from all corners of your vision. At first it seems like something terrible is happening, like there’s some sort of massive storm or some weird mystical power, but then you see that Madeline’s friend Theo can’t see any of this that’s happening; it’s only us and Madeline who can see it. Madeline is having a panic attack. Theo realizes this, and tries to calm her down by having her focus on the breathing of a feather, and then that’s what you, as a player, do. You try to help Madeline focus on the breathing of a feather, and just relaxing the world around her. Everything goes quiet and still, and slowly we can see the sky and normal background that we had seen before. Now, I really like the way that Celeste portrayed this panic attack from Madeline’s point of view. It would have been really easy to have Madeline just, like, shrivel up in the fetal position, or cry, or sit down and say, “I’m having a panic attack,” and then even bring in the feather thing again, but they didn’t. The developers intentionally showed this scary, traumatic event as if to say, “you might not be able to see this Theo, or other people in the world ,but this is something that’s real,” and I think that alone does a lot to legitimize and help share the perspective of those who do undergo panic attacks. All right now; did you notice the little purple haired, evil looking girl who was on top of the gondola at one point in that panic attack scene? That is Madeline’s dark side. It’s a physical representation of negativity, or stress, or anxiety, that was brought to life by the mystical powers of Celeste Mountain, and as a personification of mental illness, that ‘Darkside’ was the cause of Madeline’s panic attack as well as other issues she had experienced while climbing the mountain. Madeline and Theo make it past that gap and out of the gondola, and as they climb farther up, Madeline decides to tell Theo about her depression and her anxiety, and the physical manifestation of those that Celeste Mountain has now brought out. Talking to Theo about all this makes her feel a lot better, and she decides that she needs to destroy this part of herself before it destroys her. So she sets out to do that, and I want you to watch what happens: There is so much to unpack in that scene. Madeline feels really good about this. She feels, like, ready, she feels calm, she feels able to tackle her dark side, her demons, now. And then speaking with her dark side, she’s saying that she wants to separate; that she’s not abandoning her: she’s setting her free. It sounds about as good as you can imagine, and if this were any other clichéd movie, this would be the happy ending. But that’s not at all what happens; her dark side says, “you’re so stupid! You can’t do this without me. You’re not in control. I’m in control.” You even see her dark side physically crawl out of her portrait frame as if to further symbolize, “I have this power; you cannot contain me.” And then you’re really proud of Madeline, because she’s like, “all right. I’m gonna do this feather thing. I, I can do this; I can control this.” And then while she’s doing it, her dark side says, “no!” she cuts the feather up, she says, “you can’t do this. You don’t have this control over me.” Madeline feels the most prepared and most confident she probably ever has about confronting this negativity inside of her, and then when she does that, she’s totally shut down. She’s thrown down, literally to the bottom of the mountain, and metaphorically to a really unstable and hurtful place. That’s what happened when she tried to confront this, and I think that’s a really, fantastic Portrayal of mental illness, because a lot of times we see narratives, whether it’s TV or books or whatever, where the prevailing notion is just to “will yourself to overcome your demons”, and that’s what will happen, “you can do it!” but this scene says, “no!” you can try your best, and be prepared, and for no reason, you can just be thrown down, and stepped on and hurt, and it’s not necessarily something you can always. control. this scene especially makes me think of a passage from John Green’s “Turtles All the Way Down,” um, specifically talking about how difficult it can be to fight against yourself and just “Prevail” or get over it. In this book, the main character’s friend writes, “I can no more choose my thoughts than choose my name.” The main character then says, “the way he talked about thoughts was the way I experienced them. Not as a choice, but as a destiny. Not a catalogue of my consciousness, but a refutation of it.” “when I was little, I used to tell mom about my invasive thoughts, and she would always say, ‘just don’t think about that stuff,’ but my friend gets it. You can’t choose. That’s the problem. John Green has talked about his own personal mental struggles, and I just find it really interesting and.. accurate, in a sense, that something you see in Celeste is mirrored so similarly in “Turtles All the Way Down”. In both of these instances, the character isn’t able to control the negativity that is enveloping them, that’s overcoming them. Now, to go back to Celeste, Madeline wakes up from the bottom of this mountain, and she feels like a failure. She feels like she couldn’t do it, like she couldn’t climb the mountain, like she couldn’t overcome her personal demons. She decides to keep pushing forward, however, and she runs into someone who gives her an interesting and new perspective. Maybe this dark side isn’t just a representation of depression and anxiety and anger; maybe it’s also fear. Maybe it’s scared, and that’s the reason it’s lashing out. After considering this, Madeline realizes that maybe her dark side isn’t something she should be fighting against; maybe it’s something she should be working together with. Madeline does eventually meet up with her dark side, and she apologizes for what she did, saying it was wrong to try to get rid of her. Madeline still wants to climb the mountain together, even though she knows her dark side is scared. The dark side, however, really is terrified, and even says, “don’t come near me!” She does, however, and her dark side runs away. Madeline has to chase her throughout this mountain to finally reunite with her. There’s three things I want to point out about this entire sequence, by the way. First, listen to the music that starts playing when Madeline tries to reconcile With her dark side and the dark side runs away: [bass rumble] [minor sus key intense synth slide, choir chanting, “Eh—ey, Ha!”] [chord change, rapid synth arpeggio, synth bass progression] [“Eh-“] [all sounds swell down momentarily] [“—ey, Ha!”] [“Eh—ey, Ha!] [“Eh—ey, Ha!] It’s this intense chanting; it’s what you would hear if someone’s own mind was at war with itself. I think the music does an amazing job of capturing the.. emotional turmoil and intensity that both Madeline and her dark side are experiencing. the second thing is: notice the environment that Madeline’s chasing her dark side through. There are these dark black and purple spikes just like there were before in Madeline’s panic attack. Those are a representation of Madeline’s dark side, and during her panic attack they were enveloping. They were consuming her thought and vision to the point where she couldn’t do anything. But look at this scene: They’re blocking the way forward, and yet Madeline keeps going. And as she goes further, that darkness is pushed back. By trying to confront her dark side and actually deal with it instead of pushing it away like before, Madeline is starting to make actual progress. And then the third thing is: this sequence is the perfect opposite of something that happens earlier in the game. I didn’t show this before, but this is the first time that Madeline encounters her dark side. It’s pretty early in the game, and the dark side is telling her, “You’re not a mountain climber. You can’t do this. You should just give up.” But Madeline says, “no; I’m gonna go on.” And her dark side chases her as a result, trying to stop her, trying to bring her back. In this sequence earlier in the game, Madeline’s dark side is chasing her, trying to get her to stop. But here in the game later on, it’s flips on its head. Madeline before was running away from her dark side, and is now chasing after it. So after this whole intense sequence, Which is honestly one of the greatest things I’ve played in a video game in a long time, Madeline does catch up with her dark side. And the dark side.. doesn’t know what else to do anymore. It says, “fine; you win. I’ll go away if you want me to.” but Madeline says, “no, that’s not what I want. We can climb this mountain if we work together.” Her dark side is skeptical and afraid, But she does decide to try it and go with her. And when they decide to work together, how you played the game changes. See, Madeline could dash in the air once, but now that she’s joined up with her dark side, she can dash twice. Using this new power, she eventually escapes the hole she was thrown down into, and then in the final level the game, manages to climb to the top of the mountain. I thought this was an incredible message for a game. You can’t fully separate yourself from the problems you have, but you can.. acknowledge that they’re there, and work through them to still do something amazing. And I think this is a really healthy and candid portrayal of mental illness that we don’t often see addressed through popular media. So yeah; I think Celeste’s portrayal of all this is just phenomenal, honestly. And I never even talked about the gameplay of the the game, which is also really fun. If you want to check out the game, you can play it on the Nintendo Switch or Playstation or Xbox or PC. So I would encourage it; I really enjoyed it. Aaaand, that’s it. Thanks for watching us! I’ve been gone for quite some time, I know, so to all of those who are here still watching this, still giving me the time of the day, I just want to say thanks, Because.. It means a lot. I appreciate it. And I hope you have a great day. Peace.

100 thoughts on “Celeste’s Candid Portrayal of Mental Illness

  1. *THIS VIDEO CONTAINS SPOILER*

    I wrote this too in the video, but could have made it more noticeable. You've been warned!

  2. Man, indie games have made MASSIVE strides to better represent mental illness recently, and that makes me really happy to see.

  3. I personify my depression or dark side as a slender creature called. "Simon"
    Don't know where I got Simon from… maybe..

  4. Thank you for the spoiler warning. I have almost completed the game and I really enjoy the story. So I want to see how it ends on my own time. I'll come back to this video later

  5. My "dark side" is something I embrace. I actually listen to it and take my insults into consideration. Now, I'm a better person because of it.

  6. To me, this kind of feels like confronting your shadow in Persona 4. The dark parts of you that you don't want to see or acknowledge… But in accepting that part of you, you grow stronger! Now I feel like fireing up my ps2 and playing P4… But I need sleep…

  7. To be frank, I got an entirely different retrospect from you on this story, and how Badaline functions.

    I'll preface this by explaining something that I see come into this game a lot personally. The psychological model of IFS, or, in other terms, Internal Family System. This is the idea that the mind has two main sections to it. The active, conscious self, which is in charge of the system. And the parts, which are a collection of smaller operating members of the mind, each one responsible for a function and keeping the system alive and well. Of course… Those parts sometimes tend to overwork, due to plenty of reasons. Childhood trauma, stress, you name it. And, due to that, some are pushed back to protect the system as a whole, which only makes them lash out even harder.

    This is, in a way, what Madeline's other part is, they even state it outright. She clearly says that she's not an evil side, but a pragmatic side, though that statement could be taken with a grain of salt, considering how afraid she is. Regardless, I think that Badaline was, in fact, a part of Medaline. A simplified version of this concept, brought to life by the mountain (Usually there would be plenty more, though don't confuse this with multiple personalities. Those parts are not autonomous and cannot act and think on their own.)

    The important thing to note here is that every part has a function. Even those overdoing it, everyone is needed. Which is why the notion of getting rid of a part is both impossible and doomed to failure, making the scene where Badaline taking over even more powerful with this context. But, when she confronts that part of her, and actually recognizes that she does need it to go forward, she essentially made the perfecte treatment that she needed.

    Overall, I loved Celeste. It's a powerful game with a powerful message, which to me seems to introduce a concept that many aren't overall aware of.

  8. Something really curious, too, is that when you first find your dark side, you actually come across a dead climber. That might've been what triggered her, too.

  9. Watching this video made me almost cry, because of how you worded the whole video and how passionate you were about this concept in the game. I could relate in a different aspect to what Madeline was feeling. I've struggled my whole life with Dyslexia and ADHD and for most of my life I thought that's all I had. But as events happened in my life I developed PTDS but on the side of grief. As well as finally figuring out why I felt so messed up growing up due to my medication for ADHD creating (most likely) Borderline Personality Disorder. The medication make it so that i was emotionless, antisocial, easily annoyed, mean, and aggressive and off it I was a hyper, weird, and loud. As a kid it really messed me up thinking I was broken and that I couldn't be myself since my personality on the medication would constantly arise almost daily. Once I was abandoned by friends on this subject matter for 2 weeks and was constantly alone and emotional unstable, even went to the doctors crying because I wanted to change medications due to it making me feel this way and he said It was all my fault which put me in even a worse state. Which I decided Senior year I would take a break off the medication, which it really helped to ease my true self a little more forward. But what really helped me the most was discovering that it might be due to a personality disorder, since I finally could put a reason behind what I've been feeling and why i felt so broken. Even though I discovered this, I don't tell people about this problem or my PTSD since I see myself as a messed up bottle of disabilities and feel that that people will think I'm more broken then they already see as. Neither have I told my parents since they have focused on helping me with my ADHD and Dyslexia for my whole life, I didn't want to burden them and I really didn't want to hear that they don't believe me. But I guess when its comes to mental illness its something that some people wish to hide and don't want to talk about to other, but know deep down that you might need to tell someone or seek help.

    Sorry for accidentally writing a journal entry, I meant to tell a quick insight point of view and not post it…
    but, some of you might struggle with the same issues and I thought it might be a way to not feel alone and help each other out!

  10. This is great. Really, and the game too. Fighting part of me was never the answer. So many casualties, so much tine wasted. Finally someone did this 😀 and for the first time I know how to deal with this stalemate. Thank you 😀

  11. I'm depressed and struggle with eating disorder and spending and hoarding. I don't know why I just said that.

  12. This is exactly what it feels like with my depression and anxiety. The game did such a great job explaining both, and more. I also loved the graphics and music! The game itself was amazing.

  13. I started using the feather trick, and it works for me! I’m happy that I saw this. I can’t purchase the game myself, so this is great!

  14. What a great game, made by a female game dev I'm assuming?
    I'm aspiring to be a game developer, and have been struggling with mental issues myself..
    This is very inspirational!

  15. I don't wanna buy this game because I wanna buy the Undertale Port and Mega Man Legacy collection, but, this game looks like it had a point.

  16. Mental illness is such a blanket term. People use this wrong all the time. It's like saying Celeste is a game about a human.

  17. This is a really good video. People who refuse to acknowledge the clear message about mental illness have missed the point entirely.

  18. What's great about the soundtrack especially in this game when it comes to representing Madeline's struggles both physical and mental is not just how good it is and how much it gives the player a sense of the moment and drawing them in to feel much of the same emotions. Its also that the composer herself struggles with anxiety and other mental health issues like depression and she composed the soundtrack to reflect her own state of being as well. So we as the player are not just experiencing Madeline's battle, but Lena Raine's as well.

  19. I thought she was about to shout "Persona" at the end. Both seem based on Jungian Psychology. Not sure if that's legit but it seems basically it for this game and Persona.

  20. i was eh about this game because it just looked like generic indie """retro""" stuff and the game presents itself as /r/im14andthisisdeep material but now i want to try it so great job i guess
    i'm still pirating it though because i have no money

  21. I've felt like Madeline at the start of Reflection so many times. I thought I had found a surefire way to cope, or I was finally free of anxiety, only to fall down really deep. There is no easy or fast way for finding out how to live with anxiety and depression. And I love how the game acknowledges that!
    Btw, I totally didn't realise Madelines chase in chapter 6 being a parallel to Badelines chase in chapter 2. I was so focused on the scene itself.

  22. Thank you for presenting this in a easy-to-digest way, so that both gamers and non-gamers can understand. I was able to share this with my non-gaming parents to help explain what sort of stuff I go through with my depression and anxiety.

  23. So I have a paper to write in my first year College English class. We have to analyze and write about a text or speech that gives the audience an “authentic” view on a major world issue. Instead of analyzing a text I thought, “How about a game” so I am writing about how Celeste addresses Mental health.
    This video is perfect for what I am trying to display and you bet I’m going to include this video as a reference for the paper.

  24. So this is all that "art" has become distilled to. Just people bloviating endlessly about their mental problems. No appreciation of things of beauty or attempts to quantify them. No mind expanding philosophical quandaries. Not even something as simple as pleasing the senses. Just game dev after game dev waxing on their self centered problems. Everything now is just a feel good self help book. I see the exsct same message in every western indie game nowadays. "Oh boohoo we all have depression, we have anxiety, these pills arent working, everything sucks, I drink too much coffee". Why has this generation grown so self centered that they can't portray art as anything other than dealing with personal issues? As someone who has experienced panic attacks and depression I'm actually kind of offended by how trite their portrayal of it is in this game. Anxiety is just a dark shadow version of you who pops up when you dont want them to. It's such a low effort metaphor. And the entire game undermines its own premise by the very fact thet you can disable death, giving the impression that overcoming anxiety is just something you can breeze through. This is a stupid game.

  25. as a person who experienced mental illness, that scene is so powerful, so much that left me speechless..
    well done, team

  26. The mission in this game is Madeline's awakening through her integration/healing of past wounds that have contorted into Shadow Madeline. We all have a Shadow self that acts through our subconscious, to hurt those connected to us in ways our conscious self would be ashamed to realize. Not necessarily the kind of mental illness that requires a clinical diagnosis from the western world, but a common element in all humans that we were born to experience here on Earth. The unfortunate thing is that too many avoid confronting themselves and end up leaving this world with more baggage than they had in birth.

  27. Weird how you skipped the entire mirror temple when its literally a manifestation of Madelines thoughts. At the very least I assumed you would have mentioned the reversed voice of Madelines thoughts that play once in the mirror.

  28. at a lot of people in the comments: this IS about mental illness. this is about accepting it and learning to cope with anxiety and depression, rather then trying to ignore it and run away. this isn't just self doubt, it's more then that, and it's even STATED that Madeline has anxiety and depression. And just self doubt also isn't something that gives you a panic attack. this is about learning how to be able to deal and acknowledge your mental illness and despite it, succeed. it's obviously not gone, and it will still hamper on you, but learning to face your problems and dealing with them in a healthy way is important and we shouldn't erase that message by just saying its self doubt and nothing more

  29. In the mountain's heart badeline doesn't appear anymore, madeline aknowledges this and tells the old woman, who responds that she might not be actually gone, just changed in a way the mountain can't morph. and it opened my eyes, you can't chip away pieces of yourself, just rearrange them, change their shape and how they work.

  30. The Madeline with purple hair is not a personification of her anxiety and panic, but reather a rejected side of her personality who she keeps avoiding, and because of that she develops anxiety and panic attacks cause she's not in harmony with herself, and the more she rejects her self,more both get hurt, and later in the game she accepts her self and they start talking and understanding each other

  31. i actually almost cried during the panic attack scene with theo, ive never seen so accurate a portrayal of mental illness and how it sneaks up on you where nobody else can see it. its a painful scene to watch, even moreso to live it, and i think its beautiful how they captured so much emotion into one scene so accurately.

  32. This game reminds me of how twenty one pilots talks about mental ilness to. In a very self aware and confronting way. It would be cool if you talked about this band too.
    Love the video

  33. I disagree with your idea of Badeline being her 'bad side', the whole game was building up that it was just a part of her that she needed to confront and accept, not an evil side of her or her bad side, it was just A side to her. She amplifies this negative side and thoughts and it overpowers her, it's not a bad side per se, the whole thing is about her coming to terms, finding the balance etc. This is why the last section involves you combining together to level up as the game puts it, she becomes whole, she becomes balanced.

  34. I can’t speak for everyone, but this game really felt like it understood what anxiety is like to deal with. Really touched me personally

  35. I love this game. The only thing that really frustrated me was while playing it on switch sometimes she would dash in the wrong direction because I wasn’t pointing the analog stick exactly correct, and as you know, if you make one small mistake in this game usually you die. But overall the rest of the gameplay was fun and the story absolutely incredible. Great video man.

  36. I know that feeling…. that feeling that your mind constantly wants to fight you and your ultimately pointless attempts to resist . This game is one of the best representations of drpression, anxiety, self doubt, panic attacks, and mental illness in general I've ever seen in a video game to date it is such a beautifully told story that i highly reccomend you experience

  37. Markiplier has some great playthroughs of some game's portraying many very similar & sad issues.
    Like in: Fran Bow, That Dragon Cancer, and To The Moon… (Warning you WILL need tissues) T_T

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9-3N383eRY&list=PL3tRBEVW0hiDWl-_j3AJnyKgXKITNxoTe

  38. A lot of people in the comments are talking about mental illness but don't seem to understand that Madeline has long standing depression, panic attacks, and more importantly behaves like her other when stressed. Depression often involves SELF DOUBT but much much more. Notice her other is an stronger version of her impulses and responses as a whole through the game, mental illness in this case would often cause your emotions to be, as I call it "spiky" which is the best way I can describe it having a MI myself. You tend to snap a bit more, panic on the spot over small things and big things cause panic attacks.

    Similarly though things like Self Doubt can be overcome or people can learn to ignore it and live without it… mental illness typically sticks around. It might go away, but unlike self doubt it is literally a part of everything you do, even breathing. When self doubt gets to the point where it becomes indistinguishable from mental illness… that of itself means you've most likely developed a mental illness.

  39. You would think that the final level of the game is its climax. No, its the falling action. The Badeline boss fight is the climax, as we can clearly see.

  40. 9:28
    Water is wet?
    How many plots in the world have the protagonist run away from the antagonist, then have the protagonist chase down and confront the antagonist? Games, books, movies, etc there are SO MANY.

  41. Celeste but it's something else i think

    Prolouge:Ok Who's Grandma is this?

    Chapter 1:Doopety Doo Time To Start Climbing this mountain

    Chapter 2:Ok Where am i- NOPE NOPE NOPE GET AWAY FROM ME

    Chapter 3:Oh God Ghosts

    Chapter 4:Oh God Wind AND WHO'S THROWING THESE SNOWBALLS AT ME!?!?!? IS IT THAT GIRL THAT WAS CHASING ME???

    Chapter 5:Nope That's a lot of mirrors

    Chapter 6:NOW LOOKS LIKE THE TABLES HAVE TURNED GET BACK HERE YOU

    Chapter 7:Oh god this is so sad that its over..

    Chapter 8:Wait Wat…this thing is a thing and why can't i get my dashes anymore

    B(adeline) Sides:Ok now This Is Hard

    C(eleste) Sides:OK WHO MADE THESE!?!?!?

    D Sides(which is just a mod):Ok why does that girl lift me up 20 meters and im already at the mirrored temple

  42. Two more things about the song that plays during the Madeline v Badeline sequence: 1; the song's title is "Confronting Myself," which is a very blatant expression of what's going on throughout this sequence. Madeline must confront her failures, her faults, her imperfections in order to be at peace with them, not push them away. Going along with that, 2; the synth that leads "Confronting Myself" after the chanting fades out sounds – if you listen – VERY much like the synth used for Madeline 'voice' (and Badeline's to an extent). This is another great example of just how much heart and soul was put into such a short and simple soundtrack, and how much emotion it carries.

  43. I really like your opinion. I watched this video couple of times, and i can say, you really caught the spirit of the game. I love this video.

  44. My invasive and disruptive thoughts involve rage arguments that never happened. I deal with by taking a 5 mg tablet of a generic version of Lexapro every morning and afternoon and it works to keep me from feeling enraged because of something that never happened or is not happening.

    I will add that in one scene, the girl talks about how she does heavy alcohol consumption and gets angry at people online which makes me think she posts on /R9K/ on 4chan and 8chan.

  45. I really like how they handle mental illness. I've never had panic attacks, but I did try to fight myself, well it was more like two parts of myself fighting each other, with me caught in the middle. But yeah, every time the light filled me with hope, the dark would soon throw me right back into despair, and then I'd soon be filled with hope again. It was a constant back and forth war that no side could win, and I appeared to have no control over, it sucked. Fortunately, the light and dark in me have ended their war and do appear to be working together, or at least came to a compromise

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