By Jodie Lim
Celeste is a game about difficulty. It’s a game about failure, but it’s also a game about success. It is also a great example about how designing for a few can help the whole.
The themes itself are tied deeply with disability. The main character, who’s default name is Madeline, canonically struggles from panic attacks and mental disability. She sets out to climb the mountain because she wants to prove to herself that she can do it, no other reason.
The gameplay itself represents this as well. The player frequently will find themselves dying, and the game even keeps a death counter that appears at the end of the chapter. The death counter seems to snub the player, and rub it in their face, but there’s really something more to it. When you die in Celeste, there’s no penalty. You simply begin at the start of the level and you another attempt. In fact, you are given as many attempts as you’d like. The death counter at the end then becomes something different- a reminder that despite all of those failures, you still completed the task. You still got to the finish line. It’s an amazing testament and experiential metaphor for how many people have to persist through life and hardship with disabilities, both physical and mental, but still make it to the end.
Celeste in its design is also incredibly inclusive. There are options to toggle the colors to help individuals with visual impairments like colorblindness. Celeste also has an Assist Mode, that increases accessibility into the game. It alters the difficulty as well as some of the core mechanics of the game. What the player can modify is entirely optional, and in their control to enact throughout the whole of the game.
Polygon’s Allegra Frank wrote, “Unlike the similar Assist Modes in Nintendo games of late (think Super Mario Odyssey’s dotted directional lines or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s auto-steering), Celeste’s version is granular enough to make the assistance feel like a learning tool.” Indeed, the game itself acknowledges how daunting the task of completing it is. It gives the player so many chances and different ways to teach them how to play and to help them complete it and get to the end. In doing so, Celeste embodies an admirable philosophy about how to address designing for disability and learning. Noel Berry, one of the team members of the game, wrote on Twitter that it only took “ a couple of days’ work” to embed these options into the game. It would be fantastic if more developers could follow their lead.