And now it’s time for a post about my thoughts on Meet the Pyro.
First of all, I really enjoyed it. I’m going to state that for the record right off the bat. I watched it three times in short succession before I was actually able to coherently process it without laughing hysterically, and afterwards I had a tension headache from laughter. But I also think it’s important to think about the media we consume, and now that I have had a chance to let it sink in and am no longer sleep deprived, I can do that.
So here’s the thing. I don’t know if this is what Valve intended (my inclination is not, based on the way they describe the Pyrovision feature as “imagination” and not “hallucination,” “delusion,” “insanity,” “psychosis,” or any related words), but I know people and I know fandom and I know this fandom in particular, and I know there are a lot of people who are going to take the Meet the Pyro update as a way to unequivocally state that Pyro is “batshit insane” and that that’s why he’s violent. And I don’t think that’s okay.
There is a lot of stigma against people with mental illnesses in the world, and a significant portion of society seems convinced that if you are mentally ill, you are of necessity violent and dangerous, and if you’re violent and dangerous, you are of necessity mentally ill. The truth is, people living with mental illness are vastly more likely than the rest of the population to be victims of violence. You may not think that writing off the Pyro as being “insane” would hurt anyone, but media and culture do not exist in a vacuum, and the prevalence of this stereotype is actively harmful to every single person living with a mental illness.
Even not taking these problematic elements into account, Pyro not being mentally ill is honestly a much more interesting interpretation. Think about it. If Pyro is mentally ill, the whole thing is just sort of sad. Sure, they’re dancing around spreading rainbows and lollipops, but they have no idea what they’re doing. They probably can’t understand why no one likes them, and they’re probably really lonely. Not to mention they’re being taken advantage of by their employers (yet another example of the long and sordid history of violence against the mentally ill). Not that TFI is incapable of sadism—far from it—but, damn, that is a really upsetting and depressing thought.
But what about the other possible interpretation—the one that I think is what Valve intended? Pyro is completely aware of what they’re doing on the field. Pyro knows exactly how much carnage and fear they are causing, and they revel in it. Pyro is happily whistling to themselves and imagining a land of sunshine and mirth because it’s fun, all the while perfectly lucidly engaged in merrily burning the enemy team to death. Pyro is aware that their teammates are horrified and want nothing to do with them, and goes on cheerfully setting everything alight, because it’s what they love and it makes them laugh.
That? That is terrifying.
And that is exactly what I want to see from this fandom. Because, as hilarious as the Pyrovision scenes in Meet the Pyro were, my favourite part? Was how incredibly fucking badass Pyro looked as they casually took out everyone around them and walked away after burning a base to the ground.
Now, I know there are going to be some people who read this and protest. People will claim that there’s no way that Pyro could enjoy setting people on fire, as I claim, without being insane. Guys, take a second. Look at that link up there. Remember the statistics, and don’t let the media fool you into believing that people have to be mentally ill to be sadistic and cruel. Dismissing all violent criminals as mentally ill ignores the root cause of people’s cruelty, and is incredibly harmful to those living with a mental illness that makes their lives hell. No wonder people are afraid to get help, when they know that just admitting to being mentally ill will make most of the world see them as dangerous.
Now, I’m not trying to say you can’t interpret the Pyro however you want. I can’t force you to believe anything. If you want to say the Pyro is mentally ill and that’s why they go around burning everything, well… I can’t really stop you. But please, take a moment to think critically about your interpretation, and what it might be doing to people you know. If nothing else, please don’t alienate those fans of the game who are mentally ill.
That’s all I’ve got to say. Thanks for listening.
My name is Jared, or you can just call me Tchy. I'm a queer kid just kickin' around on the internet. I like writing, fantasy, late nights, books, lions, punk, and queer politics. I sustain myself mainly on a diet of chocolate, salt and vinegar chips, and strong tea in a mug decorated with dirty Shakespeare quotations. Sometimes I like to draw inappropriate things.
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