21 votes

Celeste: Is Madeline canonically trans?

22 comments

  1. [10]
    hook
    Link
    I have yet to finish the game (I’m stuck at a tricky level), but like it very much. I realise this comment might be interpreted in a way to gel some the wrong way, and it’s not intended as such at...

    I have yet to finish the game (I’m stuck at a tricky level), but like it very much.

    I realise this comment might be interpreted in a way to gel some the wrong way, and it’s not intended as such at all.

    My response to the trans-ness of the main character – both when I read just the title, and after I finished the article – is “’key, cool, so what?”. I don’t think it adds to or subtracts from anything meaningful in the game, and if it helped the dev(s) or anyone else cope with their own issues, without causing harm to anyone else, that’s fine with me. It seems to me many people can identify with the anxiety Madeline experiences, because what exactly her issues are is not made too obvious. Which IMHO for a game is pretty good.

    That being said, I am honestly surprised how much people stress the story in this game, when it is a masterpiece of platforming. It took me a long time until people in person and here on Tildes managed to convince me it’s an actually good game, and not just a story arc.

    And above all, whose business is it anyway what’s underneath the (pixel) clothes of either Madeline or Maddy? Glad to see they both seem happy in the end.

    8 votes
    1. [8]
      kfwyre
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I think this post speaks a bit to your "so what?" question. It was made on /r/celestegame the day before Thorson posted their official confirmation piece linked here (I have no idea if the...

      I think this post speaks a bit to your "so what?" question. It was made on /r/celestegame the day before Thorson posted their official confirmation piece linked here (I have no idea if the timeline is coincidence or if this post was part of the influence that encouraged Thorson to go on the record). It does a good job of highlighting not only how significant Madeline's identity and story can be to some people but also the longstanding debate and friction that have existed over these exact points within the community.

      Similar to what the person in that thread shared, I think Madeline being definitively trans is noteworthy because she exists within a widespread absence of positive and complex trans representation in media, particularly games. How many other canonically trans characters can we point to in gaming -- much less trans lead characters, and much less trans lead characters in games as widely played and acclaimed as Celeste? Madeline unfortunately stands mostly on her own right now. She is a bright beacon in part because she shines alone in the dim light of a slowly dawning day. As we begin to get more widespread trans representation, the mere fact that a character is trans will become less noteworthy because they will find themselves in copious and diverse company -- something that is unfortunately still largely missing at present.

      12 votes
      1. [7]
        hook
        Link Parent
        Thanks for the link, I’m glad that this was not just “cis thinking” on my side. I read some of the more prominent comments as well. Now encouraged by not being completely destroyed, I’ll continue...

        Thanks for the link, I’m glad that this was not just “cis thinking” on my side. I read some of the more prominent comments as well.

        Now encouraged by not being completely destroyed, I’ll continue with my braindump – and that’s all it is, it’s blend of several messy subjects (gender, identity, realism in video games, equal rights, (over/under)representation, …) – so my comment will be messy and, again, no harm or insult intended.

        Regarding representation, I’ve more mixed feelings really.

        On one other hand, it does make sense for marginalised(?) groups to be represented in art, so people get used to them existing and being normal.

        On one hand, I can totally understand the feeling against forced representation (heck, I even heard trans people complain about that), as sometimes it’s quite painfully forced. Just as when you look at a generic SitCom and see “ah, it‘s time for that one black kid and that one asian kid to have their 2' in this episode”.

        Where to draw the line? Well, damned if I know! I guess that’s why it’s an art and why it’s messy and tricky and sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t – depending on timing and cultural context it is observed in.

        But TBH, this situation in games, just as in any entertainment medium, is nothing new and IMHO pretty inherent – how many elves, (asexual) orcs and talking dog/cat/lizard-people have you met in the street (Zuck doesn’t count, SCNR)? And the same goes for job/class representation – IRL we have a real lack of space cowboys, assassins and dragon slayers, but cleaning ladies and office workers are severely underrepresented in games (and literature) as well, and then we can cut the population in any way we want – genders(+), nations, jobs, religion, age, health, etc. etc.. Stories are better if they’re fantastic, and that translates into games as much as any other medium.


        This is probably a tiny bit off topic, but while writing this comment I was reminded of my play-through of Digital: A Love Story and my experience of how at some point I realised I was developing a crush on not just an NPC within a game, but one that I was increasingly aware of that even within the game she’s likely an AI.

        It felt a bit weird … but then again, it’s a game, it’s a fantasy world, where dragons exist, where pieces of bread are alive and where a plumber is saving a (human) princess of mushroom people, while riding a dino and eating mushrooms (sic!), to name just the more common tropes.

        The bottom line for me is that, the main character being a woman (Samus Aran), gay (Sylvando?), or trans (Madeline) should be the least surprising part.

        But then again, it’s easier to be opposed to something that we are somewhat familiar with, but it’s just that tiny bit different from what we’re used to, compared to something that’s completely different. E.g. people can have literal wars over small differences between two major religions of the same family (e.g. Catholic vs Islam; even Roman-catholic vs Protestant, Shia vs Sunni), but if you bring in something completely different, it’s just “m‘key, odd“. Someone once said how messed up it is that we can have strong feelings over whether others should be eating pork or not, but when hearing about Eskimos’ eating habits we have no such feelings.

        4 votes
        1. [6]
          kfwyre
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I loved Digital: A Love Story! I'd actually forgotten about it since I played it so long ago, and I'm thinking it might be overdue for a replay. You're probably already aware of it, but on the...

          I loved Digital: A Love Story! I'd actually forgotten about it since I played it so long ago, and I'm thinking it might be overdue for a replay. You're probably already aware of it, but on the off-chance that you're not, its non-sequel, Analogue: A Hate Story, is also excellent.

          Now, you mentioned "forced representation", and I'm going to encourage you to reframe your thinking on that a bit. The idea of forced representation is the idea that the people creating media are including minority representation for the express purposes of including minority representation, rather than as some sort of genuine creative expression. I've seen this idea a lot online over the years, and I find it to be a poor line of criticism for three reasons:

          The first is that we can't really know intent, and that makes it easy to over-attribute situations to it, especially if our view of media is driven by a cynicism towards minority representation in the first place. Who's to say the writers of the sitcom didn't just want their black and Asian characters to have a conversation, for example? Why do we have to assume there's an ulterior motive to that writing choice?

          The second is that it forces minority characters to meet a standard that doesn't have to be met by other characters. If the sitcom writers have two white characters talking, we wouldn't argue that that was "forced representation" of white characters, for example. The idea that some minority representation is "forced" and is therefore subject to heightened scrutiny means that any given minority character has to thread a very fine needle in order to be considered "valid", and any misstep casts them into a sort of representational purgatory that well-represented yet similarly problematic majority characters never find themselves in.

          The third is that even if something is genuinely and deliberately a known example of "forced representation", that doesn't mean it's valueless. When I first came out as gay I spent a good bit of effort writing some bad fiction about gay characters, and I was 100% forcing that representation because I had gone my entire life without it. My stories would have GAY characters who were GAY and did GAY things because that's what GAY characters do! I will never claim that what I wrote was good fiction, but those characters were genuinely valuable to me, and some of the stories I wrote were genuinely valuable to others who read them. Even if someone is creating a character for the sole purpose of having representation of that character's identity in a very on-the-nose way, that doesn't mean that we can or should just automatically discard them as worthless or disingenuous.

          Ultimately, for me, it comes down to the idea that, in real life, we're perfectly willing to accept that people are people and people do people things as people. I don't need to have any reason to be gay or be included in any particular plotline of my life. Having a conversation with my straight coworker is as normal a part of my day as having a conversation with my gay husband. Neither of these moments are "forced representation" because no one is forcing me to exist, but if I were to be written into a fictional story, a large number of people would probably call me or those scenes exactly that. It conveys the idea that unless I'm a hyper-strategic gay who does and says all the right things every time I'm visible, I'll get treated as a second-class character because I'm not the right kind of gay for the story's audience -- an audience that is often hostile towards and prejudiced against me in the first place.

          I encourage you to consider whether that's fair to me and, as such, characters and people like me. Do we need to have a justification to exist, or can we, like everyone else, simply be who we are and be seen for who we are without any requirement of a valid reason for that in the first place?

          7 votes
          1. [5]
            hook
            Link Parent
            (I apologise for not replying sooner, but it’s been a very busy week.) I have Analogue as well and am looking forward to taking it for a spin. I’ve been postponing it for years because of the hate...

            (I apologise for not replying sooner, but it’s been a very busy week.)

            I have Analogue as well and am looking forward to taking it for a spin. I’ve been postponing it for years because of the hate theme, but it’s definitely on my to-play :)

            In the similar vain, I started playing 2064: ROM, where I’m also not very into the game, but it’s apparent that most (all?) of the important characters have their own (for the lack of a better word) quirks that stray from the norm. And, at least so far, it seems like that fits the game, theme and everything perfect.

            Regarding the “forced representation”, I did perhaps use the term too loosely and I definitely agree with what you said. I don’t see why a character must (or must not) be a minority, or even if that they must (or must not) play their stereotype or that the fact that they are a minority be their important trait. See e.g. Madeline in Celeste vs Jack in Will & Grace (if we stay in the LGBT+ field) – extremely differently portrayed, but both from popular culture.

            Perhaps what I find potentially problematic with the “forced representation” is that it often extenuates a specific group, while completely ignoring others. Sometimes it seems like there is a fashion trend which is the “minority du jour” this season. And this is where I think some people might find it forced.

            Even other minorities, in some cases. As an anecdote, Kaya Yanar, a German comedian with Turkish roots, once said that he was confronted by the Greek minority why he makes fun of Turks, Indians, Germans, etc, but never makes the Greek the butt of his jokes.

            The problem then of course is that you cannot include all minorities into a single piece of art. And even if you could, the next problem would be that of how you would “fairly” represent each of them (and how you define “fair”), as well as the mainstream.

            I guess, in the end, the question is who the target audience is, and what the message is. But that just means we’re back to square one, only that this dilemma is not a public discourse, but an internal struggle of the creator(s).

            Again, I firmly believe it is important that the general population (esp. those growing up) is exposed (not the best word, I know) to all sorts of minorities and that these are not some scary bogeymen. But I also have a bit of a defect that I try to put myself into the shoes of others, so I try to also understand why people who oppose it think that way. This is why my comments in this thread have somewhat conflicting messaging. I’m merely thinking aloud, not trying to convince anyone of anything or debating what’s right or wrong, as this is a topic I, personally have no horse in, and am just trying to understand things better. And to understand things better, sometimes one must ask tough and even controversial questions.

            And, no, I don’t see any reason why you – or anyone else – should need justification to exist. I am somewhat taken aback that you came to a conclusion to even ask that in your response. If anything in my rambling triggered that, I profoundly apologise! No-one should need to justify their existence or be forced to be one way or the other, as long as they don’t hurt others.

            4 votes
            1. [4]
              kfwyre
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              I actually was planning on returning to this post/messaging you directly, as I realized in hindsight my comment was a lot more assertive than I was intending. Tone is hard on the internet, and...

              I actually was planning on returning to this post/messaging you directly, as I realized in hindsight my comment was a lot more assertive than I was intending. Tone is hard on the internet, and while I was trying to make it more about an affirmation of dignity for people like me, I see now that it definitely comes across as argumentative, especially because I directed it at you rather than the larger topic in general. I know it was important for you to not feel piled on or shut down in this topic, and I went all in when I shouldn't have! Sorry about that.

              My words were more directed at the idea of "forced representation" rather than you specifically, as that was only a small part of your post. Furthermore, I pretty much was reasserting the key points of arguments I used to have elsewhere online, which is why I kind of unloaded a full clip at you undeservingly. Years ago I spent a significant amount of time litigating this exact idea with people who were overtly malicious any time there was any sort of LGBTQ representation. You definitely do NOT fall into that category, and it wasn't fair of me to characterize you as such!

              6 votes
              1. [3]
                hook
                Link Parent
                To quote famous anonymous people on the internet (OK, the last one I think might have been Linus Torvalds): I think we were both guilty in this regard, so let’s call it even. No hard feelings on...

                To quote famous anonymous people on the internet (OK, the last one I think might have been Linus Torvalds):

                Words are hard!

                On the internet, no-one can hear you be subtle.

                I think we were both guilty in this regard, so let’s call it even. No hard feelings on my end, I hope the same is true on yours :)

                But since in hindsight I was playing a devil’s advocate a tiny bit as well (vocational disability, I’m afraid), I think the fact that you went full on with counter-arguments was good for the discussion. I’m a relatively tough cookie, but did not want to make you (or others) feel bad in the difficult process of trying to understand the world around us all.

                If you are willing to discuss this further, I’m happy to oblige. I think we scratched quite a bit of the surface, but there may be more depth to it all (even if we’re bound to go off-topic a bit).

                (Also, with “litigate” I do hope you did not literally have to go to court. That would be sad to hear.)

                6 votes
                1. [2]
                  kfwyre
                  Link Parent
                  This is precisely how I feel too! You're in good company, even if I didn't come across that way. No hard feelings, and I genuinely do appreciate you broaching a difficult topic in good faith in...

                  I’m a relatively tough cookie, but did not want to make you (or others) feel bad in the difficult process of trying to understand the world around us all.

                  This is precisely how I feel too! You're in good company, even if I didn't come across that way. No hard feelings, and I genuinely do appreciate you broaching a difficult topic in good faith in the first place. My response to you didn't live up to what I was intending it to be.

                  As for continuing the conversation, I'm going to pause on this only because I'm not sure what my next few days look like.

                  4 votes
                  1. hook
                    Link Parent
                    Oh man! I hope you pull out fast and well.

                    As for continuing the conversation, I'm going to pause on this only because I'm not sure what my next few days look like.

                    Oh man! I hope you pull out fast and well.

                    2 votes
    2. daturkel
      Link Parent
      I think I brought this up in another thread somewhere on Tildes about writing in games not having matured to the level of writing in films, but who knows. Anyway, I loved Celeste and played the...

      I think I brought this up in another thread somewhere on Tildes about writing in games not having matured to the level of writing in films, but who knows.

      Anyway, I loved Celeste and played the crap out of it. But despite all the raving about the story which I'd seen online, I found it relatively trite. Even as someone who's dealt with his fair share of depression and anxiety, the main character's problems felt so nonspecific that it was hard to get too immersed in the journey. I might have actually found it more impactful if I'd read this post before ever playing the game, because it would provide some context/frame to the story that I didn't have while playing it.

      This is not to take away from those who found the narrative really compelling, nor is it to say anything about "is the protagonist trans?" (I never would've guessed this while playing the game, but even without the author's declaration of "canonicity" I think it has value as an interpretation if it leads to people having a richer experience of the game).

      7 votes
  2. [8]
    mundane_and_naive
    Link
    It never occurred to me that Madeline might be trans, were there any in-game suggestions?

    It never occurred to me that Madeline might be trans, were there any in-game suggestions?

    4 votes
    1. [5]
      tesseractcat
      Link Parent
      The majority of the game was about struggling with depression and issues of identity. The mirror symbolism could also have been an indicator. It's been a while since I've played, but I do think...

      The majority of the game was about struggling with depression and issues of identity. The mirror symbolism could also have been an indicator. It's been a while since I've played, but I do think that the core game was pretty vague about what Madeline was struggling with, so Madeline could have been dealing with something else and the story would have still made sense.

      All I can hope for is that they decide to make a sequel to set the story straight (cause I want to play more Celeste lol).

      11 votes
      1. HoolaBoola
        Link Parent
        This resonated with me so much I almost cried when playing the game. Never have I related to a character as much as I did to Madeline. Didn't ever actually think about the possibility of her being...

        The majority of the game was about struggling with depression and issues of identity.

        This resonated with me so much I almost cried when playing the game. Never have I related to a character as much as I did to Madeline. Didn't ever actually think about the possibility of her being trans, I guess I'm too used to us not having any representation. It just hit in the feels in ways I couldn't really explain or form into words.

        6 votes
      2. [3]
        novov
        Link Parent
        Also, the game's visual imagery features heavy usage of baby blue and light pink, both being colours on the transgender flag.

        Also, the game's visual imagery features heavy usage of baby blue and light pink, both being colours on the transgender flag.

        3 votes
        1. Tuna
          Link Parent
          Now that I think about it wasn't the colour of her hair: pink with 2 jumps, red with 1 and blue when she is out of jumps? Red and blue are often used to represent male and female sex (nowadays,...

          Now that I think about it wasn't the colour of her hair: pink with 2 jumps, red with 1 and blue when she is out of jumps?

          Red and blue are often used to represent male and female sex (nowadays, pink is heavily marketed towards "girly stuff").

          I would then understand her blue state as her physical body (ergo male sex), since it is physically impossible for a human body to perfom multiple jumps.

          Her gender might then be pink and red her personality. Since the personality incoperates both her mental gender and her physical sex, but is still in the female colour spectrum.

          My interprwtation is still a bit unclear about the difference between red and pink, but this would make sense to me on the first look.

          4 votes
        2. kfwyre
          Link Parent
          In particular the transition (ha!) screens for chapter 7, visible here (spoilers for anyone who hasn't played the game). The first is at 0:12, the second and 1:12, and they punctuate the rest of...

          In particular the transition (ha!) screens for chapter 7, visible here (spoilers for anyone who hasn't played the game). The first is at 0:12, the second and 1:12, and they punctuate the rest of the video from there.

          1 vote
    2. drannex
      Link Parent
      I'll be honest, I have never played it but I always assumed they were just from what I've seen of the game, and I'm not really sure why. Edit: my two closest friends of all time are trans, and...

      I'll be honest, I have never played it but I always assumed they were just from what I've seen of the game, and I'm not really sure why.

      Edit: my two closest friends of all time are trans, and they always talked up this game so that may be why.

      4 votes
    3. petrichor
      Link Parent
      Yes, Madeline's first interaction with Theo (where they take a picture together) stuck out to me a bit. But overall there's not going to be anything concrete* - it's mentioned in the article that...

      Yes, Madeline's first interaction with Theo (where they take a picture together) stuck out to me a bit. But overall there's not going to be anything concrete* - it's mentioned in the article that the lead developer and the rest of the team didn't design the game with her being trans in mind until late in development, it's more like they realized that it fit well.

      *(aside from a small flag in the post-game credits)

      4 votes
  3. [4]
    nothis
    Link
    This might be the first time I've seen a question mark headline answered by "Yes." Good for Maddy, nothing but respect for the game and while I never realized it, the theme fits beautifully.

    This might be the first time I've seen a question mark headline answered by "Yes." Good for Maddy, nothing but respect for the game and while I never realized it, the theme fits beautifully.

    3 votes
    1. [3]
      knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      I jumped in with a "no!" until I put together who the writer was. This isn't a game theory, this is game therapy. I stopped reading after I caught the gist because my thought before logging on to...

      I jumped in with a "no!" until I put together who the writer was. This isn't a game theory, this is game therapy. I stopped reading after I caught the gist because my thought before logging on to Tildes and seeing this article was "I need to finally play Celeste," and I don't want to spoil anything by basically reading the developer understanding how she is actually the main character.

      4 votes
      1. Adys
        Link Parent
        Oh celeste doesn't have a ton of story behind it (at least none that is particular spoiler sensitive), but it's a beautiful game. You'll enjoy it :)

        Oh celeste doesn't have a ton of story behind it (at least none that is particular spoiler sensitive), but it's a beautiful game. You'll enjoy it :)

        4 votes
      2. nothis
        Link Parent
        You do! I don't particularly care for hard, purist platformers (not even Super Meat Boy clicked with me) but got totally sucked into Celeste. I know the word "perfect" doesn't make much sense when...

        I need to finally play Celeste

        You do! I don't particularly care for hard, purist platformers (not even Super Meat Boy clicked with me) but got totally sucked into Celeste. I know the word "perfect" doesn't make much sense when talking about creative works, but it's perfect, goddammit, it's a perfect game.

        The story is rather subtle, it's maybe 5% of the game, happening in the background but it blends super well with the general theme of overcoming obstacles. It's very cleverly done and full of genuine emotion.

        4 votes