The Tearoom is the latest game created by indie developer Robert Lang, who is known for his short, free games usually exploring sex and gay culture. While all of Lang’s games have some kind of social message to them, The Tearoom has the strongest. Hidden beneath gameplay that sounds laughably ridiculous, there are dark historical events and observations about the present. The Tearoom explores ideas of gay culture, violence, and even video game censorship. And yet one of the things that it became known for on the internet is that The Tearoom is one of the few games out there that lets you pee in it - and see the pee!
So while The Tearoom may be known as the “peeing simulator game” all over the internet, it’s actually a lot more than that. Yes, it all takes place in a toilet. And yes, you can indeed pee. But today we are going to look beyond the base gameplay at what Lang’s goals and inspirations were when he made the game, and what The Tearoom is trying to say about modern culture.
All of our information was taken from Robert Lang’s personal blog “Radiator Blog,” so if you want to read about anything more in-depth be sure to check it out!
What It Says About Censorship and Games
As we said before, Lang has a history of creating sexual games that are provocative and edgy. The games were never meant to be erotic; they’re just meant to be entertaining, funny, and a bit of a look at gay culture. And nearly every game that Lang has made has been banned or forced through censorship. When Lang made The Tearoom, he made it with that in mind. The main point of The Tearoom is to enter a public men’s toilet and try to find other men to hook up with. This is all done through a mini-game about when you should make eye contact when you should look away, and when you should try to sneak a peek at the goods. If you are successful in this mini-game, then you can give the other man a blow job. But don’t expect to see any penises this time (check out Lang’s game Cobra Club if that’s what you want). No, in The Tearoom, all the penises have been replaced by different kinds of guns. It’s your goal to try to “polish” every different model of gun, filling then with ammunition (bigger runs require more rounds then smaller ones), all without getting caught by secret police officers.
You read that right - they have guns for penises. That alone is already a huge statement made by Lang, who points out that no matter how violent video games get, they never face the kind of censorship and backlash that his games do. So, in his opinion, if he just puts guns in the game then people will accept it. Everyone is ready and willing to accept automatic weapons, but no one wants to let a penis be in a game. And that doesn’t even get into the visibility of guns in America versus “bathroom politics;” it’s okay to carry an automatic weapon, but not okay for a transgender person to use their chosen toilet. So Lang brought that argument right into his game as well. Perhaps predictably, The Tearoom still got banned on most platforms because gun or not, it’s obvious what is happening. And that still is too much for many people, as it turns out.
That doesn’t mean Lang isn’t making a good point about a lot of things.
There is also a reason behind Lang’s complicated peeing system and flushing simulation. He cites that many games have toilets in them, but never to serve a real purpose. You don’t use the toilet in big money games, and they’re just blowing their budget on making a toilet in the game at all. In The Tearoom, you really do pee. And the bathroom itself is very detailed, down to the layers of grunge and grime on the surfaces. But the peeing itself has no effect on the outcome of the game despite the painstaking detail put into it. Just like being in the men’s room looking for anonymous sex was never about actually peeing, neither is The Tearoom. It’s taking a crack at big-budget games and their pointless toilets, while simultaneously having a pointlessly functioning toilet as well.
That’s pretty complicated for a game about peeing already.
What It Says About Gay Rights
The Tearoom is actually based on a real period in gay history that may not be known by many people. Even the game’s name is from a sociology paper written in 1970 by Laud Humphrey called “The Tearoom Trade,” which details the practise of men going to public toilets for anonymous sex. This paper by Humphrey even includes directions for how men played “the game” in the 1960s with where to look and who to proposition, and these rules are what Lang based The Tearoom’s game mechanics on.
So why is this tiny piece of gay history important? Because the problems still persist today. The Tearoom is specifically based on a police trap set in 1962 in Mansfield, Ohio where a two-way mirror was installed in a men’s toilet in an attempt to catch gay men in the act. 38 men were convicted of sodomy after just two months and sent to prison. There is even a found documentary from 2007 that contains the original police surveillance footage. And every man in it is clearly nervous and on edge, watching the door, fearful of being caught for what they have to do in secret. Gay, lesbian, and transgender people continue to face opposition from police and discrimination against their lifestyles today, and The Tearoom is meant to provoke people into thinking about if that is okay or not.
Thus in The Tearoom, you have a 23% chance of encountering an undercover officer. If this happens, then you will be arrested and have to restart all of your progress in collecting guns so far. This is meant to make the player also feel a real level of anxiety when playing and fear about each partner they try to hook up with. And that fear while playing the game is just a small reflection of the very real fear that gays faced in the 1960s - and many still face around the world today.
Yes, yes. The Tearoom will probably always be known as the peeing simulator game. Or the game where all the penises have been replaced by guns. But it’s so much more than that when you know exactly WHY Lang made these decisions when he created The Tearoom in the first place. Sure, they are pretty laughable and weird, and they do get people interested in checking out the game. But hopefully after playing it (it’s available for free!), players can learn more about the historical context of the game, and what it means today both in the LGBT+ community and the gaming world, too.
Had you heard of The Tearoom before this article? Did you know about all of this background information? Have you ever played The Tearoom before? Has this article changed your opinion about the game at all? Are you curious to try it out now? We would love to hear all about it in the comments below!