Climbing the Mountain: How “Celeste” Teaches Christian Perseverance

Celeste is a hard game. I’m sure you didn’t need me to tell you that. In fact, Celeste is so hard that its difficulty is one of its main selling points. When you pick up this game, you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into: pixel-perfect platforming, a decent amount of level memorization, and an absurd amount of deaths. By the time I finished the main story, I had died 1,952 times. 

But the game never mocks you for that. It never tells you to “git gud” or throws your death count in your face. In fact, the game outright tells you to be proud of your death count. Why? Because “the more you die, the more you’re learning.” That thread of encouragement runs throughout the whole game, between story and gameplay, tying everything together.

If you know anything about Celeste, it’s probably either its difficulty or its story. But I never realized how intricately connected those two elements are. For a brief recap, Celeste centers around Madeline, a young woman at war with herself who sets out to climb Celeste Mountain. Throughout the incredibly dangerous climb, she comes face to face with the part of herself that she’s been warring with, and has to fight her way to achieve her goal. The story centers a lot on learning to love yourself, how to deal with mental health, personal goals, and more.

What I didn’t expect was the game teaching me that lesson alongside Maddie.

I’ve never been one for hard games. Dark Souls, Ghost of Tsushimaeven the original Mega Man games hold no interest for me. I don’t like games that punish you just for playing them. But something about Celeste prompted me to pick it up. To this day, I’m not sure why. And when I first started it, I got exactly what I was expecting, and I even put the game down for a long while just out of frustration.

Then I quit my job of 7 years.

After 7 years of stability, I had, by choice, entered into a state of uncertainty and instability. I knew it was time for me to be done with my job, but I had no backup plan or even another job lined up. And it was in this liminal state that, for some reason, I decided to pick up Celeste again. In the few weeks I had between jobs, I determined that I, like Maddie:, was going to climb this mountain. The game’s response? “All right then, let’s do this.”

I died a TON. I got frustrated a TON. I came close to tossing a controller a few times, and considered just leaving the game behind again. But I’d set my goal, and I wasn’t going to let a few pixels stand in my way. Every time I got stuck on a screen, I kept at it, realizing that keeping my cool and learning from my mistakes was the best way to find a winning solution. I got good at critically examining my paths and seeing if there was another way to beat the level that I hadn’t realized. 

Above all, I learned to never give up.

That sounds stupid and cheesy, I know. But as someone who has struggled with lifelong self-esteem issues, this was a big deal for me. My default response is to give up the first time I screw something up. I doubt my opinions, thought processes, and my very existence half the time. But here I was, slowly but steadily making my way through a game that I had been convinced I’d never complete.

Celeste is difficult, but it’s not punishing, and there is a difference. Celeste won’t let you by with a half-hearted solution, but neither does it send you halfway back down the level if you mess up. If you make a mistake, you’re never more than 30 seconds away from getting where you were before. You’re always able to learn and grow as the game goes on. In a way, the game guides you into learning its mechanics, then experimenting with them to find new ways to beat levels.

As a Christian, I think the Holy Spirit plays a similar role in our lives. True, mistakes we make in life might set us back more than a few screens, but through our Advocate, we know that our mistakes can be used in God’s greater story. Truly, “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NRSV)

The worst thing you can do for yourself is give up, believing that there is nothing more you can do. There is always a next step, even in the valley of the shadow of death. For those of us dealing with mental health, there is a brightness at the other side of the panic attack or depression episode. It’s those in-between times that get us. It’s when we can’t see the next step, or our mind swirls with panic, or we can’t seem to move a muscle.

It’s when you die for the 30th time on a tiny little screen that you SWEAR you mastered.

The background music for the first area in Celeste is entitled “First Steps.” From the very beginning, the game is training you to focus on each step, knowing that it’s a string of those steps that make up a journey. If you can keep taking those steps, then you’ll reach your destination. If we, as Christians, can keep trusting in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, then we can learn how to live out Christ’s Kingdom here and now. We don’t have to wait for the end of time to see Him; He lives in us, now. We are His lights and messengers. We carry this high calling wherever we go, and it can grow heavy at times.

But keep taking those steps. Keep trying one more time. Keep believing in the work Jesus did on the cross that broke the power of sin and death once and for all. He’s walked this path before, and what’s more, He’s not waiting at the top of the mountain for us to get there. He’s right there with us on the path, encouraging us to take one more step. He sees you, He loves you, and He will not forsake you.

Wesley Lantz

Wesley's first memory of video games is playing through Super Mario World with his mom when he was 3 years old. Since then, he's been a classic Nintendo kid, but has branched out to the far lands of PlayStation in recent years. He enjoys the worlds that video games create and share with their audiences, and the way video games bring together collaborators from so many different disciplines like music, visual art, literature, and even philosophy. He is an advocate for excellency in all things, but isn't immune to a few guilty pleasure games, which may or may not include Disney's Party for the GameCube.

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