The Tearoom is a bathroom simulator that’s totally gay (literally)
“In 1962, the Mansfield, Ohio police department setup a hidden surveillance camera behind a two-way mirror, and secretly filmed dudes having sex with dudes in a public bathroom. The police used the film footage to imprison them for a year or more under Ohio’s sodomy laws.”
Robert Yang used the quote above to inspire The Tearoom. The game is under an hour long, free-to-play, and explores ideas of homosexuality, anxiety, and relations to the police.
Yang’s blog post goes into detail about the game, talking about the inspiration from the case in 1962. Laud Humphrey wrote the Tearoom Trade in 1970, a sociological study of men who had anonymous sex with men in public bathrooms.
“My game is set in a small roadside public bathroom in Ohio in 1962. Much of the game sequences and gameplay are based on Humphreys’ notes (in his book, Humphreys even calls it a “game” himself) and the layout of the bathroom is based partly on diagrams from his observation reports. And while I wanted the game to be about gay history, I also wanted it to speak to how video games think of sex and violence.”
While ridiculous, the game does comment on some serious, topical issues. I downloaded to play through myself to see if the statements are really as important as Yang’s blog post claims.
And, they are, if you’re willing to look that deep. The game put you in the first person view of an unnamed character inside of a dingy public bathroom, with other men coming in to join in on emptying their bladders.
As you also empty yours, prompts draw you to look at the opposing man and, eventually, partake in “actions” with him. Of course, all through the first-person lens.
The unmentionables of your mate have been replaced with a firearm (the police and Twitch), and you collect eight trophies as you “complete” your task. I’m sure you can guess how that’s achieved.
More importantly, guns also help me escalate my resistance against Twitch’s draconian game-banning policies because guns are clearly not penises.
The gun metaphor comments more on video games and their perceptions of gun viability. According to Yang, there is an increasing disconnect in the minds of those who advocate gun laws and also distance themselves from trans-restrooms.
I want to compare these gun politics of visibility to bathroom politics of visibility.
That’s run of the mill, though. Where the game ventures off is when the Ohio case of 1962 is brought into context. Playing through, you’re prompted to leave the game if cops are spotted outside the window. Furthermore, each NPC has a 23% chance of being an undercover cop.
That number isn’t without merit, either.
of LGBT people who’ve survived abuse or violence from a stranger, police officers were 23% of the perpetrators.
So, let’s break down the claims that Yang is intentionally trying to make:
- The police spur violence against the LGBTQ+ community
- Gun viability is akin to penis viability
- Homosexuals must take their actions into secret in order to flesh them out
I understand the choice to make the game based on homosexual sex acts and not around heterosexual ones, especially in the context of police violence.
However, I do take some issues. The game isolates the Ohio case of police spying on a sex club in order to break it up and, eventually, arrest 38 men on charges of sodomy. The claim that is posed is that this is an isolated incident, but that’s not the case. Take The Playground Swing Club, the sex club in Attleboro, Massachussetts, or 1411 Northgate Square in Fairfax County. All of these were sex clubs broken up by police with arrests made.
So, my issue is not in the focus on homosexuality because I believe that’s warranted. My issue is the question not being clearly posed.
What exactly is this game about? Does it comment on guns and the American obsession with them? Or is it focused on the gay community and the police oppression of them?
There’s not a clear answer. My fear is the advocation of anonymous sex, on either side of the fence, is the main point. Why? Because each of the cases above speak of drugs, violence, and more, not all at the hands of police.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not speaking on the game’s premise and basis. I think the case in 1962, especially when researched is appalling on a most high level.
However, I don’t think Yang fully understands what he is advocating. Yes, attention needs to be drawn to these issues, but the lack of focus ends up making the takeaway different for each player.
At the end of the day, here’s the question I believe we should be asking:
- Should public sex be allowed? What role does a bathroom play in that?
- Does the oppression of gays by police encourage private sex clubs to appear?
- Where is the line of decency and privacy drawn?
Maybe there are more questions than answers. I think the game is worth a playthrough if you’re curious. However, it is meant to shock and if you don’t handle that well, maybe just read Yang’s blog post instead.