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.