Articles, Blog

Celeste’s Candid Portrayal of Mental Illness

December 5, 2019

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.


  • Reply Conjecture February 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm


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

  • Reply HaiSuShi June 28, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    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.

  • Reply ShermTank7272 July 4, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    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.

  • Reply Ernesto Torelli July 6, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    It's not even about mental illness, it's larger than that.

  • Reply MetalWolf ZX September 8, 2018 at 2:54 am

    i'm saving up for a nintendo switch & as soon as i get it i'm getting celeste.

  • Reply SiahSneaka October 27, 2018 at 1:04 am

    I don't think it's Mental Illness tbh.

  • Reply Patrick Hughes November 3, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    John Green and Celeste – are you me in 5 years?

  • Reply Teigan Theisen November 7, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    thank you for not showing the dialogue at the top of the mountain

  • Reply Axalu November 8, 2018 at 4:04 am

    This hit really close to me as well because I'm actually going through being depressed right now.

  • Reply Mudkip 3258 November 14, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    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.

  • Reply PsychoJosh November 19, 2018 at 10:15 am

    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.

  • Reply Nate Cavenmiller November 26, 2018 at 10:48 am

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

  • Reply Matthew Peterson November 28, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    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.

  • Reply RainyMatrix December 1, 2018 at 7:03 am

    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.

  • Reply Vicente isaac Lopez valdez December 2, 2018 at 8:14 am

    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.

  • Reply Liam Yoshimura December 2, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    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

  • Reply Abi ThePerson December 6, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    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.

  • Reply Arthur RP December 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    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

  • Reply MrFilgueiras December 14, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    What about the Core? I think while it's just extra, the fact that her dark side left her kinda confused me

  • Reply Michael Coombes December 14, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    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.

  • Reply Fred Man December 18, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    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

  • Reply Eva Marias December 19, 2018 at 1:28 am

    Madeline: would you like some tea? ÓuÒ
    Dark Madeline: [pimp slaps tea across the room] BITCH FUCK YOUR TEA

  • Reply Pohler Express December 20, 2018 at 4:58 am

    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.

  • Reply joao marcos dias December 24, 2018 at 4:35 am

    It’s like babadook

  • Reply AnotherKS December 24, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    Yep, not watching past 1:24, seems like a game I'll be playing.

  • Reply raging fox gaming December 29, 2018 at 6:39 am

    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

  • Reply Veng3r January 5, 2019 at 7:58 am

    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

  • Reply James Slomian January 6, 2019 at 11:07 am

    I would like this video a million times if I could

  • Reply gferrol118 January 13, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Madeline is basically a redhead version of me

  • Reply shshshshs January 14, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    Who would portray better?

    -a millionary company doing a book adaptation


    -an indie boi

  • Reply Giovanni January 15, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Celeste is a beautiful, complex, amazing game. I will never forget the privilege I've had to play it.

  • Reply Dragoonsoul7878 January 16, 2019 at 12:54 am

    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.

  • Reply The Exotic January 17, 2019 at 4:33 am

    i'll add this video to my collection thank you very much

  • Reply MrTesla1231 January 24, 2019 at 12:55 am

    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.

  • Reply Jimmy Roberts January 24, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Well done video. Feel that Celeste is a great example of what one may go through in personal shadow working also.

  • Reply Zaxton Hong January 29, 2019 at 10:37 am

    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.

  • Reply Napsta Blooky January 30, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    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 5:Nope That's a lot of mirrors


    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

  • Reply NightFuryis11 Games February 4, 2019 at 5:46 am

    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.

  • Reply The Snatcher February 5, 2019 at 1:32 am

    anxiety is basically you can hear the enemies music but you can't see it

  • Reply Matt Luerssen February 24, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    When I (Matt) watches matt talk about a game by Matt….

  • Reply Jordan GG March 30, 2019 at 8:22 am

    8:30 the music reminds me of "enter the gungeon"s soundtrack

  • Reply Mechalonic 1 April 4, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    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.

  • Reply Roizad Nuri April 14, 2019 at 5:16 am

    this game remind me of tower fall.

  • Reply GrizzledBer April 18, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    im mentally insane, and i feel good

  • Reply Auxiliary Infantry May 4, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    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.

  • Reply Musab MASRI May 21, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    Great video!

  • Reply shahilagh June 18, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    I wanted to cry watching this. It resonated with me a lot and I felt oh .someone understands.

  • Reply Extremely obnoxious Person July 6, 2019 at 9:39 am

    I remember seeing failboat plays this game

    He named Madeline failure

  • Reply StirlingJohn612 July 8, 2019 at 12:41 am

    don't forget the pico-8 original

  • Reply Cursed_wanderer769 September 2, 2019 at 4:15 am

    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

  • Reply Alvin REDDELTA September 8, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    Oy greatest enemy is our selfs

  • Reply Legend Carisso September 8, 2019 at 7:48 pm

    That's not Madeline's "Darkness". It's her self-doubt. Good god man, get it right.

  • Reply Joseph Beltran September 25, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    This is one of my favorite takes on the game so far. 🙂

  • Reply OrchidAlloy September 27, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    The game got a free expansion recently!

  • Reply Chaotic Neutral October 2, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Dark Madeline has become mental illness, but I believe she is what psychology calls the ID first. It seems she's supposed to represent parts of the human psyche that have been continuously repressed until Madeline has registered it as dark and not her own, Madeline berates herself, puts herself down or pushes herself too hard. Dark Madeline is the result of this, that's why when you work with her you're able to achieve greater feats.

  • Reply A random piece of internet trash October 8, 2019 at 4:31 am

    My coping mechanism for fear is to characterize it. It started with the dark. Then it was eternity and authority. Then I did it with my biggest fear, my own violence and the fact that I don't have control over my actions. That one didn't work. I never even tried it with agoraphobia, as that's already characterized through real people; and all it does is make it worse.

  • Reply Ed Wheezer October 8, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    0:55 This bit of dialogue hit me pretty hard. As someone who used to have nightly panic attacks, I can confirm that that's how it goes. You start out trying to deny it, saying "I'm fine, I'm fine," but the panic quickly overwhelms you and you have to backtrack and say "I'm not fine." This game is so accurate in its representation of panic attacks. It really does feel like something terrible is happening that no one else can see. Good job, Celeste.

  • Reply Electro Phoenix October 11, 2019 at 10:46 am


    That is one of the most important parts of the game, as it represents how it's hard to get over the loss of someone and all the stages that someone goes through to finally accept that loss (even though Maddie is mostly in denial)

    It's one of the most important parts of the game in so many ways that I can't really explain all of it properly through my own words, but it's amazing either way

    And I just realised I commented this for no frikkin' reason, but eh

  • Reply stevenstrumpf7 October 13, 2019 at 1:26 am

    Mental illness is 90% enviornment.
    And environment is 90% social landscape.

  • Reply XxxdanornaterxxX xxXslayerXxx October 31, 2019 at 11:45 pm

    I kinda like how (can i just call her a part of me) a part of me starts to take her body out of the icon box
    Just a littlw detail that helps make games better

  • Reply GalvatronMurder November 20, 2019 at 7:53 am

    2:49 one of the most effective cutscenes in a game I've played. This game is one of the best of all time, honestly

  • Reply j t November 25, 2019 at 4:03 am

    honestly one of the greatest games i've ever played. not only was it fun and challenging, but the storyline was super engaging, not to mention the genius that was the soundtrack.

  • Reply Eevee :3 November 28, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    I honestly don’t understand this. I don’t know how since I have mental illnesses but… I’m still lost here.

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