I was supposed to be done. A couple of weeks ago, when I finally completed my 100-percent playthrough of Celeste, I sat down to write some final thoughts on completing all of the C-Sides. That original essay was about 1,100 words. I was content to complete the post and put the game away for a while, at least until Chapter 9 releases.
Speaking of Chapter 9, check out the new tracks released by composer Lena Raine over on Bandcamp. Man, I can’t wait. While you’re over there, pre-order the album, because we all need to support great, original video game music.
Anyway, back to the non-DLC Celeste. So, I completed all of the C-Sides, and I felt good about that. By Speedrun.com’s definition, I had completed 100-percent of the game. I had seen everything the game had to offer, and I had completed all of the tricks the game wanted me to complete.
I was supposed to be done.
I wasn’t, of course. The following day, when I turned on my Switch, I could have played a different game. Any game. I probably should have played something else. Instead, I loaded up Celeste and I started working on the Golden Strawberries.
Of the 25 golden boys, you collect 24 of them in the same way. After completing the B-Sides, a Golden Strawberry is placed at the beginning of each A-Side, B-Side, and C-Side. When you start the chapter and you touch the strawberry, it starts to follow you. It continues to do so until you reach the end of the level, after which you collect it. Here’s the catch: you can’t die. If you die, both you and the strawberry return to the beginning of the chapter to try again. If you’ve played even the A-Sides, you know that this is extremely difficult. During my first playthrough, my death count ranged from 250 to 3,800 deaths per chapter. To complete even the first chapter without dying would require an intense amount of dedication and practice.
So, why would I do it?
It was actually the 25th Golden Strawberry that jump-started this entire trip. Unlike the other Golden Strawberries, the 25th requires you to complete Chapter 1A without dashing. Since dashing is an integral part of the base game, completing this challenge requires some precise jumps and new tech, like spike-jumps, which involve jumping off the three pixels of a spike that don’t kill you. My original intention was to just collect this strawberry, since I was more interested in learning the different tech, rather than actually obtaining the strawberry. The Golden Strawberry just gave me a goal to work toward.
One thousand deaths later, when I finally collected the 25th Golden Strawberry, I figured why not continue? How hard could it really be?
I’ve never really seen myself as a person that seeks out super-difficult challenges within my video games to complete. I’ve never felt like I enjoyed beating my head against a wall over and over again until one of them breaks. I’ve watched a lot of streamers play Kaizo Mario rom hacks, and I’ve often been amazed at how dedicated they are to completing these difficult levels that require pixel-perfect platforming. While I’ve enjoyed watching them, I’ve never really understood how someone could become so obsessed that they would spend hours upon hours dying over and over again on the same stupid jumps for a brief moment of victory when everything finally aligns perfectly.
And, to be quite honest, seven golden strawberries into my journey, I’m still not sure I understand why I’m doing it.
I’ve often heard people say that overcoming these difficult challenges makes all of the time and energy worth it. I can see that. When I completed the C-Sides, I was certainly happy. I felt a great sense of relief at finally finishing this monumental task. But, that feeling was fleeting. I sent a screenshot off in a tweet and shut my Switch down, heading to bed for the night. Again, I was very happy, but I think there’s something more to it than just an abstract sense of satisfaction of defeating a challenge.
I think, when it comes down to it, I’m actually driven by fear. I’m driven by both the idea that each attempt could be “the one,” and the realization that I don’t want to miss it. There’s a voice in the back of my mind that asks, “what if you only had to try one more time?” There’s real fear at root here, for better or worse. Fear of not achieving my goal. Fear of having wasted all of this time for nothing. Fear of just not being good enough. Each time I fail, I have to wrestle with myself over whether or not I am going to turn the game off, and what keeps me from doing so every single time, is the idea that if I only have to try once more, but I’ve turned off the game instead, I will regret it.
And I’ll be damned if that fear doesn’t push me to keep trying.
I don’t know if I’ll ever collect all of the Golden Strawberries. The “Summit” C-Side took me 3,800 deaths to beat, and while I am certainly better at the game today than I was when I originally played it, it’s going to take a lot of practice to beat those later levels without dying. At the moment, I feel determined to see this through, but who knows how I’ll feel days, weeks, and months from now.
Only time will tell whether I have that determination is enough for me to follow through to the end. Only time will tell whether or not “the fear” is that powerful.