You lick the guns. They shoot their blanks.
June 29, 2017 6:14 PM   Subscribe

The Tearoom as a record of risky business (NSFW) The Tearoom is a historical public bathroom simulator about anxiety, police surveillance, and sucking off other dudes' guns. In it, you basically cruise other willing strangers for sex, and try to have some fun without getting caught by undercover police. It's heavily inspired by Laud Humphreys' epic Tearoom Trade (1970), a meticulous 180 page sociological study of men who have quick anonymous sex with men in public bathrooms ("tearooms" in US, "cottages" in UK), along with interviews, diagrams, and derived "rules" for participating in the tearoom trade.

Just as video game bathrooms don't serve any crucial gameplay purpose, my urination system serves no real gameplay purpose. This pointlessness evokes the logic of cruising the tearoom for sex: you aren't there to pee, but rather you're there to pretend to pee. The bathroom and the pee are a pretext to provide plausible deniability, and "immerse" tearoom players together.

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??"

Available on Itch.IO
Robert Yang, previously and previously
posted by CrystalDave (15 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

Wait, "patterns of collective action" doesn't indicate politics?
posted by infinitewindow at 6:35 PM on June 29, 2017

"What if this gun is my penis" is a pretty obvious metaphor, but it helped me ensure a variety of shapes to orally service. You could say gun culture is somewhat body-positive -- there is relatively little size-shaming around unique pistol designs (e.g. a Mauser C96) or unique concepts (e.g. the trendy "Obrez"), a gun can be "cool" for a myriad of reasons. Take that, size queens! More importantly, guns also help me escalate my resistance against Twitch's draconian game-banning policies because guns are clearly not penises. Therefore, there is no basis for Twitch to ban my game, like it banned the rest of my games -- however, if they still ban my game, then it will be the first time in history that the game industry regulates and bans a game about guns.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:37 PM on June 29, 2017 [27 favorites]

Well that was a bizarre bit of education for me.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:42 PM on June 29, 2017

I bought this! And played it! Like all of Yang's game, it's perhaps better in concept than in gameplay. I think the gun thing is kinda dumb. But the way the gaze thing works is just great. Really replicates the nervous feeling of cruising another man, not sure if he's gonna be interested or ignore you or maybe be upset enough to be a problem.

I wish he'd incorporated a bit more from Tearoom Trade. Specifically the roles Humphreys describes for various other men in the tearoom, the ones not actively involved in sex. He infamously explained that he acted as "watchqueen" himself, his excuse for how he could be there without implicating himself. (Humphreys later came out.) You could imagine expanding the game by having different tearoom layouts with different roles the player takes on.

I adore art games like this though, glad he made it and released it.
posted by Nelson at 7:25 PM on June 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Laud Humphrey's refusal of scholarship as distant and dry, and his conception of scholarship as a personal act of queer liberation, was as radical, in it's quiet way, as the brick thru the window that Johnson threw. His later work, in his own voice, his own pronouns, his own story made collective, is one of the great histories of queerness. He is my hero.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:29 PM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I sort of miss cruising culture. That wordless game of tag with a stranger where eyes and body language and maybe a scrap of cloth showing create an invitation to something furtive and thrilling. It's like an entire mode of communication has been lost just since I've been an adult.
posted by hippybear at 7:30 PM on June 29, 2017 [13 favorites]

Got it downloaded. Guess I will go ahead and install it.
posted by Samizdata at 7:43 PM on June 29, 2017

Yeah, just about as successful hooking up virtually as I am IRL.

posted by Samizdata at 7:53 PM on June 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

didn't work on my macbook pro so it must be no good
posted by windowbr8r at 8:37 PM on June 29, 2017

I read this description and was like "I'm surprised someone who isn't Robert Yang is making games like thi- oh."
posted by dismas at 6:43 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

He's been talking on twitter about modeling public bathrooms for months but I didn't know precisely where he was going with it.
posted by dismas at 6:45 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think he would have a better chance of getting around the Twitch censorship rules if his guns weren't flesh colored and bendy like actual penises, though.
posted by ymgve at 7:13 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's worth reading Joe Orton's diary if you're properly curious.
posted by sonascope at 9:59 AM on June 30, 2017

As a straight man who has worked on a number of games that glorify guns, I am fascinated by this and how much conceptual ground it covers in what would amount to a minigame in a larger title.

Especially the use of gaze as a mechanic! He's right that games tend to treat where the player is looking as irrelevant beyond what the player sees. The idea of gaze as meaningful to other characters is slowly creeping into games, though the only examples I can think of are in Resident Evil 4 and Nier:Automata, and both involve trying to look up someone's skirt, so yeah, long way to go there.

It's interesting that his medium of choice is not just video games, the but high production value, AAA-quality video game. I don't know if this game would have the same effect as it would if it didn't have the production values. It certainly wouldn't have the same, er, visceral effect. He's clearly baiting Twitch with fleshy firearm pseudo-penises, and I really do wonder what the outcome will be. They've put themselves in a position based on the same bizarre social acceptance of violence and rejection of sexuality (and specifically anything outside of the "norm") that affect our culture in general. I hope it at least provokes some discussion on that front and hopefully some review of Twitch's policies, though I would honestly be surprised.

Beyond all that, cruising itself seems to be a form of game with its own rules, goals, and consequences, some quite severe, that I would certainly never get to experience outside of a game. I get to murder people quite a lot in games though I wouldn't do it in real life, so I'm glad that there's someone broadening the kinds of experiences games address, which he was doing even before his projects became more explicitly sexual.
posted by Durhey at 1:54 PM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yang has a bit more to say about the game here, and why he makes one-room games. He is really interesting both on general game design, and on the design of his own games.
posted by zompist at 4:09 AM on July 9, 2017

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