The Hidden Truth Of The Gaming Toilet

By John Walker on January 9th, 2008 at 12:19 am.

The time has come.

For too long I have been campaigning magazines to run an extensive feature – perhaps even a cover-mounted book – about the most poorly recognised and vitally important element of PC gaming: toilets. Toilets in games. Every time I’m asked to pitch feature ideas, there it is, the best one imaginable. And yet every time I get no positive response. That was until PC Format, in a moment of sudden clarity of vision, gave me permission to write a single page on the subject.

A classic toilet.

I reproduce that piece for you today. But not for free – oh no. Now I have my own PC gaming outlet. Now I’m the one with the power. Believe me fine folk of the world, RPS will be seeing a feature on toilets in games in the near future, and it will be astonishing. To achieve this, I want your favourite gaming toilets, and if possible, I want screenshots of them. I want anecdotes, fond memories, love letters, anything you have to say about this most essential matter. Together we will create definitive Toilets In Games feature. Email your stories and pics here.

In the meantime, enjoy this. I promise the two interviews are completely genuine: both Al Lowe and Charles Cecil geniunely wrote their responses, and should be held aloft the shoulders of the gaming public for doing so.

The Hidden Truth Of The Gaming Toilet

Toilets. A subject matter that has long gone unanalysed by PC games journalism – woefully so. Perhaps it’s because of our prudish nature, our belief that matters of the bathroom are best left unmentioned, for fear of offending a petal-like ear with the word “poo”. But this is to our detriment – we are failing to realise one of gaming’s most commonly recurring themes, and the impact it has on our playing lives.

No other genre of entertainment provides this brutal honesty about the reality of human life. The chances of a toilet appearing in a film or on television are so slim, as to reveal denial. (Nothing else could explain Jack Bauer’s phenomenal bladder control in four days of 24). And it is this denial that PC games developers fight hard to combat, yet we, the supposed experts of the medium, have this long left it unrecognised.

How could we leave it out?

Toilets have been appearing in games since games developed the ability to show toilets. The seminal platform game, Jet Set Willy, used toilets as a foundation stone upon which all else was built. It is only now, upon reflection, that the true meaning of the game’s name becomes apparent, the meta-narrative truly understood.

But our focus is PC games, and in this first in a seventy part series, we will go back to 1991, and the first Leisure Suit Larry adventure. Although widely unnoticed at the time, the game featured a sequence in which a toilet being flushed led to Larry’s death by drowning. This interplay between a lavatory and our mortality was inevitably missed due to people focussing on the crude humour. We spoke to creator Al Lowe, for his thoughts (we actually did).

Larry as God intended.

“It’s so wonderful to finally reveal all about that sordid scene,” began Lowe, clearly relieved that the matter was finally getting its deserved recognition. But what did the scene really represent for him? “Obviously the newspaper Leisure Suit Larry reads literally represents the newspapers of the world. Wiping himself proves the Fifth Column’s cleansing effect on humanity.” But surely it is in the act of Larry’s interaction with the toilet that the inner-meaning is ultimately revealed? “Yes, flushing the toilet is my thinly-disguised metaphor for government censorship.”

While Larry will be remembered by most as a series of games about trying to get an idiot laid, the multiple layers of truth demonstrated by the toilet scene are still revealing themselves today. Perhaps explaining this ultimate message is the drowning. “Drowning in the backed-up sewage,” finished Lowe, “represents the killing of our planet by the Tri-Collateral Commission.”

To finally dedicate the man-hours and research into this area is humbling. Thirteen years has passed, and still we have yet to fully contemplate the work of Leisure Suit Larry 1: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards’ toilet scene. And the question remains, how many more will we have to wait? The fight for truth begins today. Flush with pride, gaming public. Flush with pride.

George follows toilets all the way along their path.

THE LOO OF THE TEMPTRESS

Having looked at Larry, we spoke to the man at the forefront of contemporary adventure games, Charles Cecil, about his decision to hide the toilets in Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon.

John Walker: We noticed that Broken Sword: TSD made the decision to include a bathroom, but to not show it onscreen. Why was this?

Charles Cecil: It is rare to feature bathroom scenes because toilet matters are usually irrelevant to the plot – generally an entertainment medium should strip out the mundane and thereby emphasise the elements of interest.

PCF: But isn’t this just a compromise?

CC: The British are unique in that we delight in the domain of toilet humour – much to the chagrin of our American cousins. Which is why in Broken Sword 3 we couldn’t let a couple of toilet-orientated gags go by. However going beyond the implicit would stray into bad taste – in the game George wees into a urinal which blocks a view of his vitals, and Nico closes the door behind her when she performs her non-specific natural functions.

JW: So are you suggesting that toilets aren’t important in games?

CC: Of course there are exceptions – who can forget the repercussions of Vincent Vega leaving his gun in the kitchen while he visits the john? We do have plans to write a toilet-based title – a game where we lift the lid on such taboos.

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137 Comments »

  1. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Excellent. Just a brief personal comment:

    First Gaming Toilet Memory: Duke Nukem 3D. Or Dark Forces. Whichever came out first (“Dark Forces?!” you cry? There was that one level, at the spaceport, where you board the ship and find a Gran (Star Wars Alien, not relative) and a Stormtrooper using the urinals).

    Most recent Gaming Toilet Memory: Finding some toilets in Gears of War today. One of them had a dead guy in it. No urinals yet though. Bioshock had urinals. Bioshock > GoW?

    Did Stalker have any toilets? I can’t remember any! :/!!!

    • P7uen says:

      Yep, DN3D for my first in-game toilet experience too.

      And System Shock 2 for my game-made-me-go-to-the-toilet experience.

  2. Pace says:

    This does suggest a whole new rating scheme: StT (Start to Toilet). Of course here, as opposed to crates, the shorter the time the better. Clearly Portal wins out. Looking good so far..

  3. malkav11 says:

    I always love games that let you sneak up on and murder unsuspecting enemies attending to bodily functions. Such as the tutorial section of Manhunt (okay, so that was the side of a wall, iirc, rather than a toilet or urinal proper, but meh.).

    I think Metal Gear Acid 2 is the first turn-based strategy game I’ve played that had a restroom. There’s even a reward for wandering in and choking out/shooting dead the occupant.

  4. roBurky says:

    I remember I spent a lot of time in the toilets in the opera level of Hitman: Blood Money. You’ve got a lot of options in there.

  5. Alan Au says:

    I’ve seen toilets in games of many (all?) genres. Of course, they’re featured prominently in some games (The Sims) and absent in others (Team Fortress 2).

    Generally, if a game has a bathroom, it’s worth checking for loot, whether it’s in the form of a medikit or a secret entrance to the otherwise impenetrable base. At the very least, you should make sure to check for an enemy in the toilet stalls, mostly so he doesn’t shoot you in the back when he’s done relieving himself.

    Also, is Mario Bros. a giant toilet-reference?

    - Alan

  6. FaceOmeter says:

    I still rate most FPS games exclusively on the quality and quantity of bathrooms. My yardstick here is Duke Nukem 3D, the first level of which had a brilliant alien “dumpus interruptus” section.

    Damn. I’m looking good.

    Ahem, anyway – I’m glad JW realises the dramatic import of this subject. For some gamers, it is a mundane and functional item. For us, it is the basis of an entire culture.

  7. Andrew says:

    Deus Ex was quite obsessed with toilets.

    Half of the NSF bases had secret entrances from toilet cubicles or something. And pretty much every level featured futuro-porcelain sanitary equipment in some capacity. Even Area 51, I think.

  8. Evo says:

    I am wearing a toilet right at this very point in time…on my t-shirt I mean!

  9. Johnny Law says:

    DNF teaser released, followed closely by this RPS post. Coincidence??!?

  10. po says:

    I feel the toilet parts of maps have fallen in quality in recent years. Opening stalls and blowing away lurking Nazis/Demons was to be expected, and added to a game’s character. Too many toilets these days are unoccupied.

    Was it Deus Ex where you got in trouble for going into the ladies?

    I feel a gaming toilet hall of fame is in order, where screenshots of the best game toilets can be showcased. In fact I’m going to install some old games to go get screenshots right now.

  11. Richard says:

    I feel a gaming toilet hall of fame is in order, where screenshots of the best game toilets can be showcased. In fact I’m going to install some old games to go get screenshots right now.

    Welcome to the internet…

    http://www.fresh99.com/video-game-toilets-bathrooms.htm

    http://www.maximonline.com/slideshows/index.aspx?imgCollectId=107

  12. DigitalSignalX says:

    It should be noted that in the U.S., it was forbidden to show a toilet on television well into the 80′s. Previously, famous exceptions were a single episode of “Leave it to Beaver” which showed the top inch of a toilet and an episode of “All in the Family” which had the sound of a toilet flushing.

    “….”

    And people today are fussy about Hot Coffee and Witcher Cards? *sigh* With those adult Hentai video games growing popular, perhaps toilet games will be the next big taboo busting fad :)

  13. DigitalSignalX says:

    … speaking of historical tidbits in video games, check out some rare screens of early Sierra Games.

  14. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    In all honesty, the Portal toilet looks somewhat….. well, lets just say it looks like you need to be sure of your aim. I hate those low set toilet bowls.

  15. po says:

    How could I forget about the giant toilet map for CS. Many hours were spent on the toilet with my terrorist buddies, trying our hardest to keep the CTs from getting on there with us. Occasionally someone would get stuck in the toilet, then no end of nasty things would be dropped on them.

  16. Thiefsie says:

    cs_militia explosive poo for the win.

  17. Rockeye says:

    The toilets that you drop into at the beginning of the Facility level of Goldeneye were great. In multiplayer games, the toilet would always get rigged with mines because of the spawn in the air duct and the best weapons were in the toilet. Or you’d have someone hiding in a toilet cubicle with a Magnum, shooting people through the door.

  18. roBurky says:

    Oh yes. I remember hiding in the toilets of that Goldeneye multiplayer level, shooting people through the door. Or chasing someone in there, then having to guess which stall they were in before they snuck up behind you.

  19. Will Tomas says:

    Ditto on the Goldeneye moment. You could also get back up into the air duct (on multiplayer especially) by crouching and spinning round.

    And yes, it was Deus Ex where you got in trouble for going into the Ladies in UNATCO, the first time you’re in the base. Deus Ex also had a habit of depositing newspapers around the loos, as abandoned reading material.

  20. StolenName says:

    Fahrenheit opening scene. Do I need to say more?

  21. StolenName says:

    Oh, another one – too bad we’re not doing console games though – the Silent Hill series often uses the toilet as the transgression to evil. For instance, in the first game you’re lured in by the sound of a girl weeping and crying, however there’s no one in the toilet. When you leave, however, the world is an evil place.

  22. Jeremy says:

    “Did Stalker have any toilets? I can’t remember any! :/!!!”

    Playing the game now, and up to the bar, I haven’t found any. Of course, since most of it’s nature, you COULD go anywhere. On the other hand, there’s an interesting line about what happens if a guy exposes himself, what with radiation and all.

  23. Baksheesh says:

    Don’t forget Vampire: Bloodlines – The Masquerade had both toilets and the chance to pounce on unsuspecting cattle taking a pee against the side of buildings.

    In terms of US TV, don’t forget that “classic” from the 80s Married with Children, where Al Bundy love of a good dump was central to several story lines.

    As someone who works in the toilet manufacturing business, I commend you for this excellent topic!

  24. Krupo says:

    I was amused by how you could reliably count on danger to strike in the Bioshock washrooms

  25. Kennel says:

    Max Payne had that Pulp Fiction scene. You can kill man with his own gun when he comes from the toilet.

  26. Seth Tipps says:

    I think there are some toilets off to the left of the hallway in the second lab with the mind blaster thing (which upon reflection was the most consipated-looking mutant in the game) that is standing over that body that leads to the cutscene (more toilet=mortality). I’m amazed you never noticed it, there’s usually some good gear in there.

  27. Seth Tipps says:

    Oh, and I think we have left out the most obvious example of toilet neglect in gaming; Mario. The main character is a plumber, who travels around in pipes all day scarfing down ‘shrooms and poppies, and yet the developer did not feel so inclined as to include a toilet?

  28. Willy359 says:

    Bioshock not only had toilets, it had pay toilets. I believe that was a gaming first.

  29. Janek says:

    I think my favourite gaming toilets are probably the previously-mentioned ladies’ room in Deus Ex, and of course the exploding toilet in Fallout 2.

  30. Seth Tipps says:

    Nope. There was a pay toilet in Labyrinth of Time. Never did beat that.

  31. Janek says:

    Oh! And also in The Ship, where one had to show extreme caution lest you be literally caught with your trousers down by your assassin.

  32. Simon Brent says:

    As well as the original Deus Ex’s toilets, there was the secret ending in Invisible War, which in order to get you had to grab the US flag from the UNATCO lobby and run with it up to Manderlay’s old office, and then flush the toilet in the back room while holding it.

  33. raton-laveur says:

    Somethingawful.com > Reviews for Hentai Games > Water Closet (2-part review) > Make your brain bleed.

  34. ClockworkWeasel says:

    Does anyone recall the integral role that toilets played in Infocom’s classic “Leather Godesses of Phobos”?

    In a typical stroke of genius, you begin the game in a bar and with a strong urge to use the facilities. Ignoring this urge leads to an unfortunate, messy and very public accident – and indeed losing the game before you have really got started.

    By choosing to relieve yourself, the act of heading into either the ladies or gents defines the sex of your character – left ambiguous to this point – for the rest of the game.

  35. Phil says:

    I believe Fahrenheit was the only game to feature toilet cleaning (as in mopping up vast swathes of blood as a policeman slowly ambles towards the restroom in split screen) as a high octane thrill ride in the first ten minutes of the game .

  36. Nuyan says:

    “Was it Deus Ex where you got in trouble for going into the ladies?”

    Yes, first thing I thought about when reading this article. It’s one of the many things that shows the brilliance of Deus Ex.

  37. Seniath says:

    System Shock 2 featured plenty of toilets. Usually they were full of worms. Or dead people. Or both.

  38. eoy says:

    My earliest toilet memory: Wizkid, than I played when I was 5 or something. You should really get hold of that game, it’s really original, and makes you wonder how the game ever got published with it’s strange puzzles and weird humour.

  39. Masked Dave says:

    I am currently on a toilet, does that count?

  40. John Walker says:

    Yes Masked Dave. Yes.

  41. Frosty840 says:

    I think it was Breath of Fire 2 that featured toilets in pretty much every building in the game, even going so far as to have one of the dungeon entrances open up during a “comic” scene in a toilet.
    I recall it being greatly fussed over when it came out *cough*whenItWasFirstSuccessfullyEmulated*cough*, seeing as very few JRPGs actually featured toilets at the time.

    Nothing really desperately exciting about those loos, though. It was just pretty notable at the time.

  42. noggin says:

    There’s a bit early in Doom3 when you go into some toilets and catch sight of yourself in the mirror – this is accompanied by a loud horror sound effect, a sudden switch in lighting and a sickening crash zoom into a distorted version of your face.
    A second later everything is back to normal.
    I was playing alone, late at night, with headphones and the volume up high…

    Thought I was gonna have a heart attack, it was AWESOME!

  43. rob says:

    I have a few favourite toilet moments, some of which have been mentioned, others which have been sorely neglected.

    Déus Ex deserves an honourable mention since it presented you first with a moral dilemma – do you go in the smelly gents or do you sneak in to the ladies’ – and then graphically showed you the repercussions of your choice (Manderly has a go at you for being a bit of a perv).

    cs_militia’s exploding turd was a high point of the map and is sorely missing in CS:S. In one of the earlier betas of Counter Strike there was an escape map (the one where you started in a train I think) that had you climb up a ladder in a sewer only to emerge from a porcelain throne and into a hail of rifle fire from the counter-terrorists camping in the bathroom.

    I’m surprised John Walker neglected to mention that scene in The Longest Journey where you infiltrate the police station and get up to all sorts of toilet-based hyjinx. Some of the dialogue there is truly memorable although I found the puzzle to be a little obscure and not at all fair to my simian musician/law enforcer friend.

    STALKER did some inventive things with urinals. I think it’s in the lab beneath the brain scorcher where if you decide to relieve yourself in one of the toilets you are greeted by a glum-looking skull. This of course presents problems since it is pretty much impossible to go while someone is watching.

    The first level of Soldier of Fortune (and indeed the only level I played because it was also the demo level) has quite a few bizarre toilet moments. First you come across a man urinating against a wall which is right outside the level’s main toilet area and then upon further toilet exploration a man with a shotgun rudely blows a cubicle’s door off its hinges. I can only assume this man was hiding in the cubicle waiting for you to arrive but given the proclivities of his urinating chum I suppose it is perfectly reasonable that he was using the toilet with his shotgun loaded and aimed at the door. And his trousers up.

    Other than that, Earthworm Jim used toilets to transition between levels; Postal 2 featured urination as a gameplay mechanic; Half Life portrayed quite a belieavable portrayal of Black Mesa’s bathroom and Day of the Tentacle was notable in that it took them four hundred years (and a hostile invasion by tentacles) to get any kind of plumbing installed.

  44. Jonathan Burroughs says:

    A lot of toilets, but not so much toilet use. As game mechanic that is. Besides Postal of course.

  45. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    No comment.

    Ah, the joys of projecting toilets into people’s faces while jumping around like a loon. When playing I tend to hold onto toilets for as long as possible because, even though the novelty has dulled somewhat and there are far better objects to use, it’s still an awesome comedy weapon with which to batter those silly people using ‘proper’ weapons.

  46. Mouj says:

    Somehow i seem to remember some old game featuring toilets, ones that you could actually take a wee in.. was that Doom or Duke Nukem ? Or am i fantasizing ?

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