That Gaming Feeling: Escapism and achievement in lockdown

‘You Can Do This.’ These are the words that fill the screen not long after your journey to the top of the mountain begins, in 2018’s Celeste.

The game kicks off with your main character Madeline, starting out on her hike to the summit of Mount Celeste. The player is dropped here with little context, other than the knowledge that Madeline has anxiety, and she is climbing the mountain just because. As the game progresses, more of Madeline’s drives are made known to the player, and you begin to empathise more and more with her.


celeste screen grab
Celeste

Celeste’s story is excellent, driven by communicating with complex characters via pixels and text boxes, the main goal of the game – that is, to get to the top of the mountain – is almost secondary. The journey itself quickly becomes the main thing here, and it’s certainly what I found myself focusing on when I picked up the game again at the end of the year.

While on my first playthrough of Celeste I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game, the pleasure I got from it on a second playthrough was wild. It was the sense of accomplishment after beating each screen, collecting as many strawberries and B-sides as possible, as well as flying around boss battles like Goku, that made me feel I better understood the game. With such a perfect marriage between gameplay and story, Celeste is an absolute gem, and a must-play for any platformer fan.


Celeste

Celeste’s gameplay is some of the strongest around, with a few simple mechanics that are both expanded upon and looked at differently throughout the game. It is quick to learn, but hard to master. The metaphor of climbing Mount Celeste is perfectly applied to playing the game itself, as you struggle against the winds, the anxiety of getting higher, and the fear of falling, so imperceptibly that it is hard to distinguish the feeling from gameplay or story.

Having something to focus on, and being able to squeeze as much entertainment as you wanted out of it, was really awesome for me, during lockdown. Sometimes a game comes along at the absolute perfect moment.

Think Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game where you hang out on a wee island, inviting cutesy anthropomorphic villagers to come and stay with you, and make it your mission to create a cheerful environment for everyone. It was what so many people needed at the start of the pandemic, and it’s no surprise that it became one of the best selling games of the year, despite being available only on the Nintendo Switch.


Animal Crossing: New Horizons

While Animal Crossing or Celeste might not be for everyone, there are other games which will suit folk at different times of their lives. While Celeste ticked all of my boxes, this might not be the same for everyone. We all have different tastes, and God bless the many game devs of the world for catering to all of them.

It’s different strokes for different folks. For those of us working from home, a game to take a break from the constant work demands may be what’s needed. For these moments I’d recommend a proper good switch-your-brain-off number, something short and sweet for you to get lost in for a hot minute.

Games like Gone Home, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and What Remains of Edith Finch could be right up your street. All three fall into the ‘walking simulator’ genre, but have much in common with puzzle games, where you’re figuring out a path in a world built for you to explore.


What Remains of Edith Finch

If you’re a student, or your life’s been put on hold a bit, why not check out something that offers a bit more of a challenge? Games like Dead Cells, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, or Hades might be more your thing. These offer a steady path of progression, and as you take attempts at each level or run, you slowly learn more and more about the game mechanics. Soon you’re able to fly through it, an achievement which gives a specific type of satisfaction not found in other forms of media.

This satisfaction, so unique and particular to video games, is probably one of the reasons people play so bloody many of them. In the same way people talk about important books they read at pivotal points in their lives, Celeste helped me to re-evaluate video games and their role in my day-to-day life. So whether you’ve played games for years, or you’re just thinking about getting into them, now might well be the time.


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