Celeste & Depression

Oscar Flores, Copy Editor

Mental illness is a mountain to be conquered, an objective to be surpassed, but never to be ignored. On Jan. 25, Game Designers Matt Thorson and Noel Berry released Celeste, a 2D platformer that revolves around main character Madeline as she climbs Celeste Mountain to escape her problems.


As she climbs higher and higher up the mountain, supernatural forces give physicality to Madeline’s depression or the pragmatic part of herself.  She persists despite the mountain’s increasing pressure to confront her own depression – this conflict spikes in the two stages of the game prior to the finale: the Mirror Temple and Reflection.


The tragedy of reality – Madeline, despite her efforts to surpass her dark thoughts, is instead forced to confront her anxiety head on.  Trapped inside the mirror, her repressed thoughts become the foundation for the world she is imprisoned in. While trapped, the music inside the stage features a secret message that when when reversed, says: “Sometimes I…don’t really know…what’s going on anymore. I…I…don’t…know who I am.  I just…look in the mirror, and…don’t know who I’m looking at, or…who’s looking at me. I…think a lot…about where…my train of thought is going…and it’s not always a good place… and that scares me. I don’t… like… scaring myself.”


The Mirror Temple serves as a true representation of depression – a hidden reflection of ourselves, pushed down deep inside but always present, always lingering in the back of our minds as the world plunges deeper into despair.  Madeline is unable to escape the tragedy of the world because it’s always present, always lingering. It is the main reason that the antagonist of the game, a reflection of Madeline, describes herself as realistic and grounded rather than weak or lazy.  The creature of her own design – a one-eyed monster with the ability to fly – represents the crippling anxiety that Madeline attempts to escape from in the first place. Her prison is an exaggerated view of reality, one she is so desperate to escape, but her journey is proven fruitless because she refuses to accept the tragic reality she wants to run away from; the meaning of her journey is lost.  It is not until Madeline leaves the temple that her quest finds new life.


After a harrowing trip through the Mirror Temple, the protagonist’s evil doppelganger ambushes her on the way to the summit (in the next mission, Reflection) and drops her into a bright, blossoming garden filled with life – a stark contrast to that of the temple’s dark, lifeless background.  Now chasing after her own reflection, Madeline acknowledges the reality of tragedy: though we may try to escape our problems, the escape only worsens the problems we seek a reprieve from. It is not until we come to terms with depression that real progress can be made.


The mission, Reflection, separates ignorance from depression.  It allows Madeline and by extension, the player, to deconstruct the stigmas surrounding mental health and understand the problems in a safe space free from reality.  Whereas the Mirror Temple delves into the hyperreality of the main character’s deepest fears and anxieties, the sprawling garden inside the aforementioned Celeste Mountain is an idealistic world the protagonist strives for, but knows is impossible.  The two extremes Madeline is subject to coalesce to form a middle-ground, a true and grounded sense of reality in which two parts of her psyche are no longer battling for control, but work together because they rely upon each other to function.

Hope for a world free from depression and anxiety is toxic because it disregards any problems found in society.  Lack of hope in a bleak world breeds anger and hatred. Both extremes are in a perpetual battle for superiority but in truth, one needs the other as much as the other needs the one.  Accepting depression is just as liberating as understanding the societal pressures behind the mental illness. Though not groundbreaking in its revelation, Celeste offers an ultimately hopeful look at mental illness as it understands the balance needed to surpass the lonely void created in the battle between extreme idealism and realism.