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Reascending Celeste’s mountain

Brian Edwards finds the inner resolve to scale Madeline’s intimidating peak

I’ve been replaying Celeste, 2018’s darling indie platformer, for the upcoming Cane and Rinse recording.

I played Celeste on my Switch back in 2018 and adored it.  It did several incredible things, most of which I will hold onto to talk about during the recording, but it was a success on almost every level.  Controls, story, music, feel.  It all just felt right.

It was no surprise that when I went back to it recently I felt most of the same things.  It had that nice feeling of revisiting an old friend or walking the halls of the school you used to attend. Familiar yet different, comfortable and fresh.

However, as Madeline and I ascended the mountain for a second time, it became clear that something was different.  Something had changed.  The mountain had changed.

celeste

It almost feels cliche to talk about how hard 2020 was (still is?) and yet I somehow know that it can’t be overstated.  2020 was hardYou see that?  Bold and italics. That’s how you know I’m for real.

The fact remains that the last calendar year was one of the hardest on record for a lot of us. Although it felt like there was this swell of positivity leading into the new year, as if the clock flipping from 11:59 on December 31st to 12:00 on January 1st 2021 was going to somehow wash all of the pain away. It was a nice and convenient fantasy.

The reality is that not much changed. In fact, some (me) would argue that it has never been worse. The Covid-19 pandemic still rages and vaccine rollout in my native United States has been slow. Governmental response to this has been frustrating at best and infuriating at worst. I thought that this was the low, the last gust of the coronavrius storm before the vaccine is available and things start to level. Things can only get better from here.     

celeste

January 6th, 2021. I, like most of the world, watched as domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol Building of the United States of America, the country in which I live. I was horrified and disgusted, but I was not shocked. I wasn’t shocked that the hate spewed for the last four years had manifested itself into a throng of malcontents hell bent on destroying the foundation of the nation that they claimed to be defending.

I was furious, shouting at my television like so many others, shouting for reason and some goddamned accountability and consequences for those who caused this.

The rage wouldn’t subside. I couldn’t calm down. I became a husk, a vacant container for the fury I had at those who had caused these senseless and ignorant actions.

I needed an outlet. I needed a release. I did what I normally do when I feel this way. I picked up a controller.

I finished my replay of Celeste’s campaign on Friday, January 7th. I spent the majority of those two nights climbing up Mt. Celeste, revisiting old places, seeing old friends.

As I watched the credits I was happy, but I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted more.    I looked at the trophy list for Celeste and saw that I only had 31% of the trophies unlocked.

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When I played through the game originally, I was aware of the B-Side levels, crazy hard remixes of the original stages, and decided that they weren’t for me. I saw strawberry collectibles during my playthrough and would casually get them if I wanted, but never made them a priority. I looked at that trophy list and I saw 31% and all I could think was that I could do better. That I am better.

I started the first B-Side and immediately hit a wall. I was determined, but death after death was discouraging me from carrying on. The problem wasn’t the solution, I knew how to solve these puzzles, the problem was in the execution. I knew what to do, but I just couldn’t pull it off.

This is normally my ceiling for these games. I get to a point where I become convinced I cannot do any better and I give up. Something was different this time.

I remembered what Madeline and her shadow discussed on their ascent up the mountain. How she hated herself and blamed herself for all of her problems. How she got in her own way. How she sabotaged herself. How she didnt believe in herself.

I picked up the controller with a renewed sense of resolve. I’m not trying to be melodramatic, I know I’m describing myself playing a videogame, but it felt more significant than that. I decided, in that moment, I wasn’t going to be beaten. I wasn’t going to let myself fall off the mountain.

At the time of writing this, January 11th 2021, I have completed four of the B-Side levels and have collected 90% of the strawberries. I have achieved the elusive 1-Up trophy, a trophy that requires you to collect six strawberries without stopping your momentum. I am at 68% trophy progress. I am going to Platinum this game.

This probably wouldn’t have happened without the current state of the world. I would have probably given up, decided that it wasn’t worth my time to do. Celeste has served a very different purpose for me in 2021 than it did in 2018. It has become a symbol of personal perseverance. It has also been a means of escape.

This last year has been a lot to take. There has been so much tragedy, despair, and uncertainty that it has become impossible to exist without being constantly aware of the current circumstances. This last week was what pushed me to the edge. I was angry.  I was sad. I was furious. I was devastated. I felt like I didn’t have anywhere to go to feel good about anything.

So I went to the mountain. I felt the cool, crisp air. I challenged myself. I succeeded. I failed. I learned. I tried. I tried to carry on. And, these days, what more is there?

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