The Tearoom is a ‘historical public bathroom simulator’
Tea for two
We’ve been teased for months by Robert Yang, creator of Radiator 2 and Cobra Club, with 3D models of high-grade urinals and promises of pee physics but now the game he’s been working on is out. The Tearoom [itch.io page] is a “historical public bathroom simulator about anxiety, police surveillance, and sucking off another dude's gun”. You might think that’s a euphemism - and, I mean, it is - but also: no, it really is a gun.
As you can see, it’s basically a game where you go into a public toilet to pee while trying to make eye contact with other visitors until both of you reach the implicit understanding that some fleshy firearm fellatio is in order. The police also feature. The reason all the penises are swapped out for guns is to get around Twitch’s consistent banning of the developer’s games (something he has previously explained) while making a very clear point about that at the same time.
“I still have to deal with Twitch banning my gay games by secret trial as if they're the fucking game police,” says Yang. “So to appease this oppressive conservative gamer-surveillance complex, I have swapped out any pesky penises in my game for the only thing that the game industry will never moderate nor ban – guns.”
You lick the guns. They shoot their blanks. You collect each dong-gun and they hang in your toilet stall as achievements, bringing whole new significance to the term "gloryhole".
You can read the creator’s own thoughts and reasons behind the game in an accompanying post. Even if you don’t take a trip to the Tearoom itself, it’s worth a read for its observations on both games and gay culture. This, on the reproduction of bathrooms in blockbuster games, is a good example:
“Few video games feature peeing or pooping, but still frequently feature bathrooms for the sake of completeness. To make the bathroom "useful", level designers often stash powerups or ventilation ducts or forgotten keycards in them, but those are all secondary to the bathroom's ultimate function in a video game: to signal expense and production value. In immersive sims like Deus Ex Human Revolution or Prey (2017), the player can turn on showers and flush toilets, and each fixture sports a complex effects setup with swirling particles and refracting water shaders. This "wasteful" use of draw calls and texture memory helps assure you of the game's high budget and huge production team.”
And truly, this does have some incredible water effects, which are also totally pointless. But my favourite passage is when he explains the design decisions behind the ritual of eye contact and “sealing a contract” while at the urinal, and how he had to add icons just to communicate what was happening to the player.
“This segment was hard to design because decades of male heterosexual hegemony have trained gamers into thinking of "looking" as a "free" action, with few consequences or results. After several mildly disastrous playtests, I noticed players still weren't understanding that looking has power to it, so in the end I had to implement some really obvious iconography and prompting. I literally had to add flashing "eye" icons everywhere to try to get the idea of "gaze" across. Some players still don't get it, but I think I want to stop short of a big flashing text bubble "LOOK AT HIS FUCKING DICK OK??"”
The Tearoom is on Itch.io for pay-what-you-wanna.
Disclosure: Robert Yang has written for RPS occasionally, as the author of the excellent Level With Me series.