Celeste & the Struggles of Mental Illness | Storyteller’s Notebook

Celeste & the Struggles of Mental Illness | Storyteller’s Notebook


For as rage-inducingly satisfying as
Celeste’s gameplay and level design are, it’s the game’s story that caught my
attention. It follows a young woman named Madeline as she goes on a journey to
reach the summit of the titular Mount Celeste, whilst trying to overcome her
insecurities. It’s a nice little story filled with fun characters that, admittedly, wears the themes on its sleeve, being a thinly veiled metaphor for someone
dealing with mental illness. But it takes a surprisingly nuanced stance on the
topic that subverts our typical expectations of how story like this
would go. And it’s why, in this episode of the Storyteller’s Notebook, a series in
which I analyze various storytelling techniques from various creators and
various mediums, I want to break down Celeste’s themes and find out what it’s
trying to say. And yes, spoilers ahead. To start, let’s quickly summarize the story
of Celeste. As mentioned before, you play as Madeline, a young woman with some undefined mental health issues looking to climb
Mount Celeste. As she climbs, she runs into various characters and several
unique locations, but she soon starts to realize that there’s more to this mountain than meets the eye, as it begins creating physical manifestations of her
insecurities and worries. Specifically, the manifestation of all the negative
aspects of Madeline’s personality, referred to in-game as that ‘Part of Her’ but known
online as Badeline . . . Whoever thought of that deserves a medal. Badeline tries to
get Madeleine to give up on her journey in a variety of ways, going so far as to
knock her down to Mountain. And Madeleine almost gives in, thinking it would be
better to just go home instead of dealing with her other self, until, after
having an insightful conversation with the Old Woman of the mountain, she
decides to try and work with Badeline instead of fighting her. She’s reluctant
at first, but Madeline is eventually able to change her mind,
and together they climb back up the mountain and push through it’s many, many,
oh so goddamn many challenges, and finally reach the mountain’s summit. Even with
that short description, it’s kind of obvious what this game is going for. It’s
about mental illness, and more specifically, how to cope with it. The
game starts with Madeleine telling herself to calm down and wondering why
she’s so nervous about going on this climb. She has a history of panic attacks,
as we learn from her phone call with this unnamed character and her mother,
and even has a few of them throughout the game. But, for as much
trouble as she’s having, she sees climbing the mountain as the only way to
deal with these problems, and to prove to herself that she can overcome them. Though it’s never specified what exactly Madeline is going through, it’s heavily
implied that she has some kind of anxiety disorder, or even depression. This
is exacerbated by the introduction of the aforementioned Badeline, a physical
manifestation of her anxiety who acts as the game’s main antagonist. Madeline’s
character and her relationship with Badeline establish a thematic through line of
finding a way to overcome one’s mental health problems. And it’s a conflict that
Madeline is desperate to win, lest her anxiety consumed her. This is where Mr.
Oshiro comes in. Mr. Oshiro is the ghostly owner of the Celestial Resort, a
once renowned hotel that has fallen into disrepair. He’s a lonely and insecure man
riddled with self-doubt. He mutters to himself about how poor a job he’s doing
with the hotel and despairs over the fact the Madeleine doesn’t want to stay,
and thinks it’s his fault. His insecurities have gotten to the point
that they manifest as strange black blobs all across the hotel that Madeline
has to carefully dodge around as she makes her way through it. Mr. Oshiro’s
character not only serves as a representation of how badly an anxiety
disorder can affect a person, leaving them isolated and unable to function in
the outside world, but also sets the stakes for Madeline’s journey, showing
what she fears would happen to her if she were to fail. This is where the game
begins to ask what can be done to help with such issues.
Madeleine does her best to help Mr. Oshiro, trying to reassure him,
complimenting the hotel and even helping him clean up the place. But, none of it
seems to help. In fact, it only seems to make him more paranoid. It reaches a
boiling point when Badeline intervenes, snapping at Mr. Oshiro and creating an
escape path from Madeline to get out of the hotel. She then mocks the pair of them for being pathetic and Mr. Oshiro reacts
violently to the comment. He turns into a monstrous version of himself and hunts
down Madeline, thinking she’s the one who made fun of him. She’s only able to
escape when Mr. Oshiro caves in the roof of hotel and asks her to leave so he
can repair it. Madeline did her best to bring about
some kind of change in Mr. Oshiro, and failed. It shows that you can’t force
someone with these issues to recover, and doing so will just make things worse. As the Old Woman says later, you have to let people heal on their own schedule. The best thing you can do for them is to simply be there for them, and to be patient, just as Theo is for Madeline when she’s
feeling down. Similarly the game suggests that we
can’t force our own issues to simply disappear either. Throughout the game, as
Madeline faces off against all sorts of perilous dangers and obstacles, including
the lovecraftian nightmare that is the Mirror Temple, we see that she doesn’t
just want to cope with her anxiety, she wants to get rid of it completely. Of course, when Madeline confronts Badeline with this idea and tells her
that she doesn’t need her anymore, things take a turn for the worst. Badeline throws Madeline down into the caves of the mountain, leaving her both
literally and figuratively at her lowest point. The game subverts our expectations
here, building up the idea that Madeline will be able to leave her problems
behind, only for it to fall flat on its face. It’s a simple touch that reflects
real life, as many mental illnesses are long-term problems that those suffering
with them may have to deal with for the rest of their lives, and that don’t just
‘go away’. I can tell you that firsthand. It’s a disheartening revelation, and one
that the game isn’t afraid to shy away from. However, it does offer some hope. After wandering through the oddly vibrant caves of Celeste Mountain,
Madeline runs into the Old Woman again, who suggests that Badeline is simply
scared, and that Madeline should try to talk to her. And, after a finger cripplingly difficult boss chase with Badeline, Madeline asks her other self to work with
her instead of fighting her. Badeline is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees
to help, and together they’re able to reach the mountain’s summit. After failing
to get rid of her insecurities, Madeline instead decides to embrace them. It may
seem like a strange decision, but, as is constantly pointed out the game, Badeline
is still a part of Madeline. She’s not some ghostly demon haunting her psyche,
at most she’s a self-defense mechanism gone haywire. She’s just trying to
protect her, in the most roundabout of ways. And of course, the advice itself
comes from someone that the game implies has been through the same experience,
showing that you can still live a full life even with these issues. The game
suggests that, though you may not be able to rid yourself of your problems
completely, you can still achieve great things by accepting and coming to terms
with them. Celeste’s story, though simple, is a surprisingly nuanced exploration of
mental illness, specifically anxiety and depression, and how to cope with them. It carefully examines the struggles faced by those suffering with these
problems, showing how badly it can affect them, and the many ways in which they try,
and sometimes fail, to manage them. And in the end, it says that the best way to
deal with these issues, whether it be you or someone close to you, is not to fight
it or force things to change, because doing so will only end up making things
worse. Instead, you should embrace it, and seek to understand it, because only then
will you be able to find a way to cope. After all, if you waste too much
energy trying to change how you’re feeling, you won’t have enough left to do
anything else. And yeah, those are my thoughts. Tell me
what yous think, if youss agree, disagree, what part you got stuck on in Celeste, if
this game’s message has been able to help you in some way, etc, and thanks for
watching! If you enjoyed this, and want to see more, check out my last video, where I
talk about The End of the F***ing World, and why its quirky characters, humour and
presentation make it so fun to watch. Or, check out my video on Doki Doki
Literature Club and OneShot, where I compare and contrast two different ways
they break the fourth wall. And don’t forget to like, comment, share and of
course, Subscribe to Come Fly With Me! You can also follow me on Twitter for updates
about this channel other stuff, and hopefully, I’ll see you later!


5 thoughts on “Celeste & the Struggles of Mental Illness | Storyteller’s Notebook

  1. Also, it is a hard game. Just for reference, it took me 3 1/2 hours to beat the last chapter in my first run of the game, so, that was fun . . .

    For people who're curious to see how that went, I'm also working on a sort of super condensed let's play of it for the Rambles channel, so be on the lookout for that 😀

  2. Madeline has anxiety and depression not some undefined mental illness. This kind of plays out later in the game and you do figure it out.

  3. I am an avid #MentalHealthAwareness advocate and performer, and I love this so much. I travel the country trying to bring that awareness on stages, in classrooms, hospitals, and on my YouTube channel, so I get excited when I see other advocates. 💙❤

  4. Love your in-depth description of this. Sharing it around the internet, more people need to see this. Thanks! ❤️

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