Masquerade: Ballad of the Pyro and what lies behind the mask
A couple weeks ago Valve released their “Meet The Pyro” video, introducing the final Team Fortress 2 class. It was met with praise due to how creative and insane it was, but there were viewers disappointed that the Pyro remained unmasked. While every other Team Fortress 2 class has a clear face and gender, the Pyro is a walking enigma. Even in the trailer the Pyro was referred to as “that thing”. At times the Pyro is referred to as a he, and looking at its figure it is closer to that of a male, but none of that is solid proof. Male gender pronouns are more often used when we don’t know what something is, and the suit could just be huge like the traditional fire proximity suit. Still, members of the fanbase have theorized that the Pyro is actually a woman underneath that cold, leather exterior.
It doesn’t matter what the Pyro is though. The Pyro remains hidden behind the blank stare of a gas mask. No matter how people interpret what the Pyro is, no one really knows what lies behind the mask, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Keeping a veil of mystery and ambiguity in video games can help improve the experience. There’s a sense of ambiguity to keeping a character masked and wondering what lies underneath. It makes players engage in that mystery and try to come to their own conclusion.
The fact that the Pyro lacks a gender, race, or any identity lets it avoid conventions and stand above stereotypes. As long as they remain silent Valve can force no personal identity on to the character. It’s all left up to interpretation.
Unmasking the Pyro would alter the identity Valve has worked to create. Just think of other video game characters with masks that, after removing it, feel as if they lost part of who they are or changed entirely. Zant, the primary antagonist The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, was another masked character who had a sense of inhumanity. His mask showed no emotion and the game painted him as this cold, ruthless tyrant who took over both the Twilight Realm and Hyrule. At the end of the game, Zant removed his mask, not just physically, but mentally. That powerful, composed figure that showed no emotion became hysterical and weak. He was just a mad man whose psyche had shattered at this point. He had no real power, what he had was just received from Ganondorf, who was a deity in comparison. Without his mask, Zant lost all of that intimidating power he had and becomes an entirely different character.
In a way Zant’s transformation through the removal of his mask makes him a deeper character, more than just this scheming and mighty villain that we’ve seen dozens of times. Regardless of whether he became a more interesting character to me, without his mask he lost something. He lost that sense of mystery that made him who he was before. He lost that appeal and become something different. If the Pyro removed its mask it would also change as a character and lose that ambiguous identity.
Removing a character’s mask is the equivalent to opening Pandora’s box in that once opened it can never be closed again. Once the truth behind the mask is revealed it can never be taken back. That character will never be the same without the mask. Regardless of whether it’s a physical or mental change I believe the results are significant. It’s a good thing the Pyro remains as is, an inhuman force that just wants to see the world burn.