We all know him. Or perhaps we don’t. Well let’s just say we can recognize him, and either embrace him or shun him. The Pyro is a controversial figure, both in discussion boards and in between his character peers.
… [Pyro] has become one of the most talked of characters in the genre of first person shooters…
Indeed, this character has become one of the most talked of characters in the genre of first person shooters, but while he may be the character of choice for many hardcore players that have added up thousands of hours of Team Fortress 2 gameplay or perhaps the most evident reason why other players dismiss the game as far too silly for its own good, the Pyro holds an interesting significance for almost all of us gamers.
Even if we have never wielded his flamethrower.
The big question, the question each gamer can easily (or not) answer is: why do we play video games? Of course, ‘for fun’ is just valid an answer as ‘it makes my being a whole’. Nobody can judge anybody’s reason for the conscious use of leisure time that is the beautiful act of gaming, be it twice a week or several hours per session.
Yet, the reason that unites a, say, experienced World of Warcraft player and the business executive that plays Plants Vs. Zombies once a week is a simple one: games have become gateways to a mental instance separate from our immediate physical reality.
We use games to ‘escape’, some might say, and while that may indeed be the case, we also return from these games willingly, we journey into them and nurture ourselves from it. Games shape us as people in the real world.
Some years ago, author and avid gamer Tom Chatfield published Fun Inc, an amazing broad scope publication about the world of video games and its relationship, consequence and importance for the world of today.
He gets really amazing points across but there is a quote in particular that persists in my head about our relationship with games: the hero is called to adventure; he or she crosses the threshold from the mundane world into the world of adventure; is given knowledge, then is tested and tempted; confronts a nemesis; and then journeys back to the old world once again, transformed by experience.
What to make of this? And ‘how does the Pyro fit into this’ you might ask?
Let me put it this way: the Pyro is Batman. No, I know, they say he’s a woman, an alien, a basket case, but that’s the point, we do not know who he/she/it is. Like Batman, the Pyro is a symbol, but not any symbol, the symbol of why we, as a broad population segment in the world, play games. How so?
…gaming, even casual gaming, is a means for us to pour our consciousness into a different world…
As I pointed out above, gaming, even casual gaming, is a means for us to pour our consciousness into a different world, but in a way that we can retrieve it easily and gain memories and experience from it.
Therefore, those of us that choose the Pyro are pouring ourselves into the character, and that’s when him being different from other characters is important. The other classes in TF2 have established personalities and behaviors, but the Pyro doesn’t really have a consistent background. Yes, that all changed with Meet the Pyro, but my point is best represented by that time before the release of the video, and even partially today when there are still questions unanswered.
But, aren’t there so many other games where character customization allows us to actually reflect ourselves in-game with incredible accuracy?
Well yes, but your identity sometimes reveals itself in a much more interesting way when it is given a hollow yet established figure to fill out. I am talking about how we like to conceive the Pyro in our own interpretation of the narrative. How the storytelling instances that have stemmed from the canon established by Valve shows the Pyro and by extension, ourselves. What does “Mmmmphh mmph mmph!” mean?
It can be anything we can imagine. It can be “Oh dear, my fellow teammates are cold!” or it could be “THE SIGHT OF ME MAKES SATAN WIMPER”. Pyroland, the happy and jolly candyworld envisioned by the Pyro is just Valve’s conjecture. What’s yours? What should the Pyro be? The possibilities are endless.
When playing with the Pyro you are covered by that holy veil of anonymity, you are not really yourself under the mask but that still says a lot about you. When you don a mask, that allows you to feel immune to judgment and accusations, you cease to be an individual, you become an idea. That sweet natured girl you know from school or work? She might just be the most merciless Pyro to ever set foot on Dustbowl. The Guy Fawkes mask of gaming has a fire fetish.
If you are somewhat not convinced, a brief look at the ‘pyro’ tag in devianart could perhaps explain my point better. A hollow masked figure has been given for us to fill with what we consider best, just like Batman, those who witness his actions and activity make out who he really is. Some think he’s a menace, a criminal; others a hero, a martyr. The Pyro might not be the playable character gamers need, but the one they deserve.
Camilo Suárez is a media enthusiast from Bogotá, Colombia, who likes to contemplate video games as a full-fledged cultural phenomena. Follow him on Twitter at @TiburonVolador or email him at email@example.com.