CONTENT WARNING: This feature discusses sex and is Not Safe for Work. If you feel uncomfortable about seeing screenshots from an explicit sex game or reading a discussion about sex in games, it’s advised that you don’t carry on.

On the 29th of June, prolific game developer Robert Yang released The Tearoom, a public bathroom gay sex simulator where you perform oral sex on men while trying to avoid being caught by the authorities.

It was inspired by an incident that took place in Mansfield, Ohio in 1962, where police officers set up secret cameras to record patrons of a well-known tea room (a public toilet frequented by men for no-strings-attached gay sex) and used the footage as evidence in a significant number of Sodomy charges.

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A film was released by William E Jones in 2007 called Tearoom that consisted of that same footage, and when Yang was told about it by Paolo Pedercini, he knew that he wanted to use it as the basis of his next game. “In my mind, the legacy of the tearoom is entwined and inseparable with this legacy of how police have treated gay men for decades.”

“Sex has a depth to it, and video games haven’t explored that depth at all”

Yang’s games have a reputation of being lewd and often quite comical in their execution, but very frequently exist to convey a deeper message: The Tearoom is no different. “You only hear about tearooms when police decide they have a problem with them; countless other tearooms operate quietly and seamlessly around the world. Some straight people wonder why there isn’t a ‘straight pride’ — Mansfield is why.”

Moreover, The Tearoom is incredibly successful at making players feel anxious, a feeling that’s cemented as a core aspect of existing in the world as Queer. “If you’ve never done it before, cruising can be kind of scary and nerve-wracking. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, but I just wanted to reflect that dimension of it honestly.”

We’ve seen more and more queer experiences being told in mainstream video games, with Life is Strange being a pretty good example. But we don’t see a lot of raw sexuality explored in those depictions. And with the relationships that queer people have with sexuality being very different than for straight or cisgender people, it feels like there’s a large part of queer existence lacking representation in mainstream media.

“Some straight people wonder why there isn’t a ‘straight pride’ — Mansfield is why”

Gay and queer sex culture carries with it a lot of really interesting themes to be explored, especially in the contexts of both the current day and the recent past. And Yang feels that these aspects of sex are themes all too often unexplored in games outside the realms of his portfolio, as the industry has yet to mature in the right ways. “I want to portray sex as medium in itself, with different aspects and facets to it.

“Sex has a depth to it, and video games haven’t explored that depth at all, because deep down, we still think video games are for children and that children must be protected from sex.”

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Through his work, Yang hopes to inspire other developers in the games industry to experiment with the idea of sex being an effective storytelling medium, and that there’s viability in using that medium to tell the stories of queer people. “I think some of them just needed to be convinced there was an audience or consumer base that was thirsting for gay/queer content. I’m actually seeing more and more gay games and more erotic games out there, which is good.”

But unfortunately, the industry’s lack of maturity in this department has hit back at Yang pretty consistently, and a lot of his work seems quite a bit ahead of its time for where the industry currently stands. Enter Twitch, who keep a blacklist of games banned from being streamed on their platforms. Many of Yang’s games are on that list for their explicitly sexual nature.

“I think some of them just needed to be convinced there was an audience or consumer base that was thirsting for gay/queer content”

But, he remains optimistic. “Twitch is only getting bigger and stronger — but at a certain point, their size will make them more vulnerable to pressure. For now, all I can do is to keep trying to raise awareness of how Twitch erratically treats sex in games, and why it’s unhealthy for video games as a medium, and then hopefully, eventually, a critical mass of people will agree with me.”

And in the meantime, The Tearoom has successfully worked its way around this treatment, as all of the penises in the game have been replaced by fleshy, veiny-textured guns.

Ultimately, there’s an uplifting message that Yang hopes to convey through The Tearoom. “The first tea room started when a gay dude looked around a bathroom and saw possibility in it. I think we can all learn from that example, and learn to see new possibilities around us all the time, everywhere.”

  • Those guns are truly unsettling. Reminds me of Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch movie.

    Video games need to tone it down on the hardware requirements. It’s so bourgeois. If games are going to reach a wide audience, either for more relevance or to deliver some kind of message, they need to be able to run on manyall systems.

    P.S. Pleased to find you’re–indieHAVEN–not dead 🙂

    • MM

      definitely *NOT* my cup of “tea”, he he he.. :-/

      but just so I’m not completely off topic here (commenting mostly to suggest a cheap standard), this person[1] is currently streaming a similar themed game, just to show the dev featured in this article may just be misinformed? I hear there are lots of those, although, mostly straight oriented (as demographics would predict I suppose?) and not explicit either, though I haven’t really seen any, so don’t believe me. The only one I played was decades back (so it’s not like it’s anything new, but then again it’s not like the japanese have much qualms with this stuff either, except for maybe talking about it) called Runaway City.

      anyways, again Stormbringer, totally agreed. I was thinking about it these days, incidentally, and I guess the Raspberry Pi would be my current platform of choice if we want a wider audience AND a reasonable computing power. It sold a lot! at least last time I checked, so it will be some time before I’d consider any other SBC as ‘minimum requirements’ for “less bourgeois” titles : )


      PS.: [+1].. and you :-p

      • Robert’s work is very impressive. I hope there is a more satisfying (anatomically correct) mode or version of The Tearoom.

        I think people can justify spending more on home computers than video consoles since they are much more versatile and useful. But games should be targeting “integrated GPUs” and think of systems that cost more $250 as a luxury item. It’s completely absurd that the major consoles can’t either A) offer compelling libraries to justify their cost, or B) find a price-point that leaves rational adults a modicum of self-respect after purchasing one–A secondary problem is there is no longer a point where the price of a console is cut in half. After the next iteration of the console is out, its ancestor is no longer manufactured and its street price can double after that. These consoles are as out of reach as luxury automobiles. Their image is as bad as the luxury automobile’s.

        (These screenshots look comparable to modern video games, whether they are or are not, and that is a problem, because it looks like you need a high-end PC to enjoy them.)