Four Years of Celeste
Celeste is 4 years old today, if we’re going by its public release date. Where has the time gone? Oh right, it was largely swallowed by this pandemic that we’re still living through. Dang. For posterity: Celeste was released on January 25th, 2018 and the Farewell chapter was added on September 9th, 2019.
Thank you to everyone who has played Celeste and cared about Madeline’s story. We never could have imagined where this game has taken us and what you all have done with it. It really fills my heart to see people using the game as a starting point for their own expression — the custom maps, speedrunning, memes, and of course the fanart! I love watching Celeste bounce chaotically through the collective unconscious and mutate into these things strange and beautiful and personal. When you take what we’ve made and integrate it with your own creativity in this way, it is the deepest compliment.
My partner Sara and I met just before Celeste’s release, so the age of our relationship is tied pretty closely to the age of this game. Since release we’ve moved in together and spent an unforgettable month travelling in Japan. We lost our beloved and elegant cat Jiji in 2019, and adopted the scrappy and loving kitten Peridot some time later. Amora, Pedro, and Heidy, three of our collaborators on Celeste, immigrated from Brazil to Canada. Noel, Kevin, and I all had the opportunity to couch for GDQ Celeste speedruns. One teammate had a surprise medically-necessary surgery (it turned out fine!). Celeste won a few awards. We started making a new game.
And now, more than 2 years into this global pandemic, Sara and I welcomed a baby into our small family. Getting to know them, being here with them as they grow and play, has been a joy and a privilege.
Of course I’ve also changed genders.
For the record, this wasn’t something that I intended to talk about publicly so early in my transition. If the discourse around Celeste hadn’t become so focused on its queer undertones, I don’t think I would have come out publicly for a long time. It felt like people needed to know whether Madeline was trans, and I felt a responsibility to engage with that conversation. Once I started trying to do just that, I found it impossible without talking about my own now-apparent transness.
But I don’t regret how I came out. I think there’s value in the confirmation that yes, Celeste is a trans story in addition to its broader relatability. I am thrilled that my work and my personal story have helped people, and I think that it’s important for real live trans people to be visible. I’m just not sure that it’s still right for me to be visible, at this moment and going forward. The amount of positive attention that I’ve received since my “Madeline is Trans” post has been so lovely, but it’s also terrifying. Unsaid is the heavy responsibility that comes along with it.
The size and breadth of the platform is alluring (addictive even) but it ultimately has begun to feel empty. Who I am is changing, or wants to change, and this public persona has become an obstacle to that change. It doesn’t feel like I have room to be the messy, growing human I am in this kind of position. I’m not ready to be a symbol in the way that social media demands- I’m still just a girl who’s trying to figure her shit out.
I’ve always felt like I need to reinvent myself to create something worthwhile. Or, maybe rediscover is a better word. I need to rediscover myself, my relationship to play and to the world, and thus my relationship to my work. If I allow myself to sink into this role right now then I will stagnate in it. I can feel it happening. I do not want to make Celeste again and I do not want to be who I was when we made Celeste, again.
And this gender transition, more than anything else, is begging me to let go. I need to let go of who I was and the roles that I tried so desperately to fill. I need to allow my identity to disintegrate. I need to have faith that the essential core that constitutes “me” is indestructible. As the rest fades away it will remain, and I can grow authentically from that seed. There will be pain, and beauty, and life. It will not always be a clean process.
That’s a lot of words to say that I won’t be maintaining much of a public personality for an indefinite time. I’ll probably still tweet every now and then when a friend releases a game or whatever. But I’m extricating myself from the idea that social media is one of my regular modes of expression. It’s simply not fit for purpose at this point in my life, and that’s fine. My work was always where I felt that my voice could really be heard and that’s not changing anytime soon.
I’ll leave you with a recommendation: Transparency’s nearly-feature-length Celeste video (below) is a more thoughtful and detailed analysis of the game than I could ever articulate myself. I really can’t recommend this enough if you’re looking for a deep dive into the game’s themes & story. Today, on Celeste’s 4th anniversary, they’ve also released a making-of audio companion for their video. As a fan of their work in general I found that fun to listen to.
Celeste changed my life in so many ways. I first saw Transparency’s video in mid-2021, reclining in the driver’s seat of my car while waiting to ferry Sara and our kiddo home from a routine checkup. COVID protocols dictated that only one parent was to enter the hospital. Watching the video on my phone, it sank in just how intertwined my identity was with the game and the conversation around it. Celeste taught me so much about myself and will always be a part of me. But for me it’s ultimately about who I was — it can’t contain everything that I will ever be.
Thanks for everything.