Why You Should Teach With Celeste

What's going on everyone?


I actually created this lesson a couple of years ago, but never got around to actually writing up a full post here about the activity. Celeste is one of the most important games to come out this decade. It is an indie screen by screen platform game developed by Matt Makes Games. Basically, on each screen you need to figure out how to jump across from one side to another. At its core, the gameplay is really simple, but developers use this mechanic to tell a really sweet story with an incredibly important message. The plot of the game is about a girl named Madeline trying to climb a mountain named Celeste. You play as Madeline and work your way up the mountain. As you progress however, it becomes clear that the mountain is a metaphor for anxiety, depression, and other mental wellness issues that Madeline faces in her life. It is the perfect game to teach about failure, overcoming adversity, and what it means to have a growth mindset. You can find my full lesson plan for Celeste here.


Madeline is attempting to climb Celeste Mountain as some sort of proof that she can accomplish something. Along the way she will meet and help people who are also dealing with their own issues. Theo, who helps Madeline on her journey, is obsessed with social media and self image. He wants to make sure people always see the pleasant parts of his life. The two will interact and learn a lot from each other over the course of the game. Mr. Oshiro is a lost soul who manages a resort that he has become completely neglected. The area is littered with trash and laundry everywhere and Madeline will need to help clean up. And Badeline is a mirror image of Madeline; a physical manifestation of all of Madeline’s insecurities.


Many people will instantly relate with Madeline as a protagonist. She suffers from depression, anxiety, and will endure several panic attacks during the events of the game. She constantly doubts whether or not she can actually scale Celeste Mountain. Despite all of her challenges, she is also very strong willed and with the support of her friends, is able to overcome her various adversities. These are real things that people deal with on a daily basis in the real world. It is actually quite remarkable how much video games, especially on the indie scene, have started incorporating aspects of social emotional health into their gameplay and narratives.


Most people know this game as an incredibly difficult platformer. And they are right. This game is extraordinarily challenging; intentionally so. Overcoming and healing from anxiety and depression is no easy task. That difficulty is represented in the platforming mechanics. You will die hundreds if not thousands of times playing this game. The game will even keep a death count for each level. The game wants you to die, it wants you to experience failure, but it is teaching you how to have a growth mindset in the process. The developers know that eventually the player will make it and finish the game. It is never overtly punishing or too difficult. The end is always in reach. The game is challenging, but it is designed in a way that lets the player know each and every task is perfectly doable. It will just take some practice. The player can do it on their own, or they can enable any number of accessibility options to differentiate various aspects of the gameplay for different types of players. It is one of the few games out there where the message of the story is intertwined with the gameplay.


The accessibility features in this game are something special. The developers wanted to make sure that the game could be played by anyone. The accessibility features are scaffolded in a the same way you might scaffold an article or graphic organizer at different levels. So even though the game designers want the game to be difficult, they understand that a challenge is not what everyone is looking for in a video game experience. Because of that, they added features like a double dash, infinite dashes, slowing down time, or even invincibility. These things will change how the game is played, but these options ensure that anyone can have an enjoyable time with the game.


This game can be utilized to show your students that failure is okay so long as we keep moving forward and learn from those experiences. Not everyone naturally has a growth mindset- and a game like Celeste can help get students to think in that way. And the students do not need to play the entire game. They can, but playing through just one level will take up an entire class period. It is also more than enough to get them thinking and conversing about overcoming adversity. Just like most other games, Celeste can also be played together as a class. Even if it is just one student holding the controller, other students can help the

player figure out what to do next. Each screen is a platforming puzzle that will take many attempts to solve. Students can collaborate to finish the level and then have a conversation about the message of the game. You can see in the attached student sample that a student died seventy one times while making their way through the first level of the game. They noted that in the game, just like in real life, it is okay if you fail at something your first time. You can keep trying because there are always new opportunities for success.


Thanks for reading,

Zack

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