Four Reasons To Love Toilets In Games

Toilets. Great, aren’t they?

Why did toilets become such an important part of games? Long after Hitchcock used a bog in the Bates Motel to shock, horrify and titillate, the porcelain throne has lost any power it once had in that vein. Characters in games other than The Sims rarely actually need to empty their bladders or bowels so the toilet is not a functional object. It can be used for a spot (or spatter) of toilet humour but even the subgenre to which the loo gave its name doesn’t rely solely on jokes about pooing and weeing.

So what are toilets for and why are there so many of them?

1) They make a place immediately more believable

Think of all the places you’ve been today. If they had nothing else in common, I bet they all contained a toilet. Hopefully there was a toilet in the building you woke up in and if you then travelled to work, there’ll most likely be a toilet there as well. Maybe you went to a cafe for lunch – you better believe there’s a bowl connected to a series of pipes that you can empty yourself into somewhere around the place.

If you decided to go for a Monday night top-up (that’s a post-work pint or two), you might even have the great joy of stepping through the shimmering layer of pish in a pub toilet before releasing a stream into a rusty urinal, not even bothering to avoid the splashback. If you’re really lucky, there’ll be a piece of gum or a fragment of deoderizer block to steer around the urinal. Catch a train home afterwards and – BAM – there’s a toilet right there in one of the carriages so that you can leave a trail between the tracks.

Toilets are everywhere. And so it makes sense that if a level designer wants to make a space seem more believable, a toilet is a fine addition. Imagine the first level of Duke Nukem 3D, that beautiful cinema with the projector room, arcade and screen. Would it have seemed half as realistic if there hadn’t been a toilet? Did it even matter that there was only one screen and that the arcade was hidden inside the ceiling? Not one jot. But take out the toilet and the whole thing seems so much more like a bunch of rooms with city-like textures pasted on them rather than an actual place that could exist in an actual city.

2) They’re scary

Maybe something has survived form the time of Psycho. Nipping to the bathroom is rarely a pleasant break during a horror game – whether it’s the sense of intruding in a private place or the agonising tension of kicking open one cubicle door after the next, horror games often have terrifying toilet scenes.

The frightening aspect of the bathroom break is often linked to point number one, above. Early in Dead Space 1, there’s a lav off to one side of a corridor. I can never remember if it’s necessary to go in or if there’s just some ammo lying about the place, but I do remember absolutely wanting to avoid it. It’s the familiarity of it – although the ship already seems lived-in, the presence of those rooms, with a layout familiar to anyone who has ever used a public toilet, suddenly brings everything into focus.

This is a real place. People have died here; real people who read magazines and played on their phones while they were pooping. They might have been space-scientists who got up to all kinds of stuff that I’ll never understand, but now that I have seen where they sat and shat, I know that they are like me. And that means I too might die here as well.

3) No, but seriously, they’re really fucking scary and you need to play Silent Hill 2 (again)

Silent Hill 2’s psychological shocks are backed up by a world that sometimes feels like a series of orifices. Toilets are portals to another place, carrying effluence down into regions that you’ll later find yourself trudging through and sometimes threatening to regurtitate their contents. They are entrances and exits. The game begins in a public toilet and there are several important crapper-related scenes throughout.

“There was a HOLE here. It’s gone now.” The toilet’s terrified autobiography.

4) There are mirrors to look at

If I see a toilet but cannot flush the toilet, I am going to be pretty fed up. Ideally, I’ll be able to raise and lower the lid as well as flushing, but the flush is the bare minimum. Why bother putting a toilet there at all if I can’t have the satisfaction of pulling on its chain, or yanking its handle.

The unflushable toilet isn’t a dealbreaker on its own. Put a non-interactive toilet in a room that also contains a non-reflective mirror and there’s going to be trouble though. In a first-person game, the bathroom mirror is a perfect opportunity to introduce the player to the face they’re going to be perched behind for the next few hours. Even better if the character has just hopped out of the shower and has to wipe away the condensation from the surface of the mirror, revealing the face and creating a sense of body awareness by showing the arm and hand in motion.

Four reasons to love what my grandma used to refer to as “the facilities”. They’re places to take a good long hard look at yourself while taking stock of where exactly you are, and then shitting yourself. Metaphorically and otherwise.

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36 Comments

  1. Dorga says:

    I remember my brother frantically shooting at Duke’s reflection in that bathroom the first time we entered it. Also we pulled out every weapon in front of a mirror in Undying and did a bunch of stuff to see if it was actually reflecting the character or not.
    Fun times.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ridiculous Human says:

      The best part was shooting the Shrink Ray at the mirror would send it right back at you. People yearn for Duke 3D’s level design or humour – I yearn for its unmatched mirror interactivity.

    • SkiddyDave says:

      I remember poking around in the Duke 3D editor to figure out how the mirrors worked. I definitely remember that you had to build an open space behind the mirror that was big enough to house all the level geometry that would need to be reflected in it. I think the engine actually copied and mirrored all the geometry into that open space to make it look reflected. Entities in the mirror were then copies placed in this mirrored space and moved around so they looked like reflections. Duke 3D really blew my mind with this stuff at the time; it used some amazing tricks to make a 2.5D game feel 3D.

  2. jezcentral says:

    I think my first toilet mirror was Deus Ex, but the most important is Hitman Blood Money’s. Playing a Hitman level without a toilet is playing Agent 47 with one arm tied behind his back, metaphorically speaking.

    • Henke says:

      Oh yes, I still remember my second visit to the UNATCO headquarters, walking into the toilet carrying a guard I’d just knocked out over my shoulder. There was another guard standing in front of me, with his back turned to me but looking straight at me in the mirror. Our eyes locked while I stood there frozen with his buddy slumped over my shoulder. It was a tense moment before I realized that the AI couldn’t actually see reflections. Whew.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      The bathrooms in Deus Ex: The Fall left me confused and sad. I was so excited to find out what the women’s restroom would use all that real estate for that was taken up by urinals in the men’s. A fancy cocktail bar? Gum dispensers with every colour in the rainbow? An exhibit showing the evolution of robots?

      … No, more urinals.

  3. Darth Gangrel says:

    Oh yes, I loved the toilets in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. There was sometimes loot in there and other times they contained a captured human your ghoul caught or people snorting cocaine (Giovanni Mansion).

    Deus Ex also has great toilets, you can even flush them!

    • Velthaertirden says:

      Ah… Yes, Deus Ex’s toilets are even better when VtM has been added

      • zxcasdqwecat says:

        For it hides the horrible truth of our bodies and minds.

  4. dharkoshan says:

    I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned the true ending to Deus Ex: Invisible War, involving throwing a certain flag item being thrown at a certain porcelain throne in a certain former boss of JC’s office.

    Oh cripes, spoiler alert?

  5. Anthile says:

    Needless to say, I was crushed when I found out you can no longer drink out of Fallout 4’s toilets. Way to destroy a franchise, Bethesda.

  6. Spacewalk says:

    Nah, toilets are shit house.

  7. byjimini says:

    Fahreinheit/Indigo Prophecy, where it all starts.

  8. meepmeep says:

    The toilets in SOMA are also an optional place to discover something very important earlier than the main plot reveals.

  9. Spakkenkhrist says:

    The lack of toilets in Skyrim always bothered me.

  10. machstem says:

    I always enjoyed the toilets and their treasures in Borderlands and Borderlands 2.

    Flush, makes a mess, drops loot.

    It’s a great formula.

  11. iambecomex says:

    Thief’s toilets were non-interactive, just a hole in a bench. I wonder how much time I spent looking in them for errant coins or rings? Pretty sure I never even found anything either, but it was Thief; you just had to look everywhere. Even there.

  12. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Consortium’s toilet was nothing special, but one of the game’s bazillion hidden events involves catching one of the pawns popping out of an empty cell in the brig, and questioning her until she admits that she sneaks off and uses its facilities when no one’s looking. Kinda makes sense when you have something like sixteen people on a ship and only one bathroom.

  13. DevilishEggs says:

    I’m obnoxious to game bathrooms. “OK pull your shenanigans. What is it. What are you hiding. What’s going to happen.”

  14. Fenix says:

    Pokémon games would be so more believable if the protagonists house had a toilet. It’s always upstairs = your room and downstairs = living room + kitchen.

    Where the hell do Ash and his mom poop then?? Where do Pokémon poop?

    …does Rhyhorn poop rocks?

  15. aircool says:

    Nothing good ever happens in video game toilets.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Apart from in Dead Rising, where they were save points for some reason.

  16. engion3 says:

    I review games based on their toilets and whether there is fecal matter in them. Duke Nukem forever is the best game I’ve ever played since you can pick it up and throw it.

  17. AlexW says:

    You forgot reason #5: they make excellent ammo for the gravity gun.

  18. LtKaiden says:

    Does anybody remember the Half-Life 2 achievement that required you to kill an enemy with a toilet?

  19. Rufust Firefly says:

    They’re also the save point in Hot Tin Roof! (I can’t recall if you get an achievement for always washing your hands afterwards, I hope you do…)

  20. Yoofaloof says:

    Always worth checking every toilet and urinal in games. I’ve found keys and life-giving tablets in some. The thing is, my obsession has crossed over into real life too. I haven’t been so lucky though, only found a half eaten prophylactic, some chewing gum and a glass full of lager up to now. At least, I think it was lager.

  21. darek334 says:

    I think are so interesing, becouse of its an intimacy, they bring another’s intimacy which people are curious, it’s subconscious

  22. moms says:

    The Cat Lady had weird bathroom scenes.
    (For instance.. link to steamcommunity.com)