I’d heard of The Tearoom back when it first launched in 2017. Created by Robert Yang, a game developer who’s games Twitch seemed to love banning due to their sexual nature, I knew it was a game that combined fellatio and guns. As you can probably tell, I was extremely ignorant of the meaning behind the game and the message of using guns in the first place.
So I was determined to give The Tearoom a real chance and learn more. I discovered a game that yes, did indeed have you licking a shotgun while on your knees in a men’s restroom, but was also a thrilling, emotionally-shattering experience of only a sliver of what it was like to be a gay man in 1962’s Mansfield, Ohio.
As Yang describes in the game’s store page on itch.io, The Tearoom is a “historical public bathroom simulator about anxiety, police surveillance, and sucking off another dude’s gun.” But it’s more than that, it’s about the fear of existing in a space which could be raided by oppressive individuals and institutions that think you a ‘deviant’ for even daring to breathe the same air as they do.
Fear is a huge part of The Tearoom. You can’t just initiate oral sex right off the bat, nerves and the fear of being caught by the police is a very real thing. Instead, you need to build up trust by initiating eye contact, because nobody is going to let you lick their gun without trust, right?
But, as with most things, the police ruin everything. Yang made sure to keep The Tearoom as accurate as possible, and thus added undercover cops that would pose as men that were sexually available. I encountered these men more than once, and after reading further about the game, I realized that I’d missed the signs of the men that were there with false intentions. Unlike the majority of the men you meet in The Tearoom, these cops never acted nervously. They didn’t look behind them to see if anyone was coming, nor was there much effort to act scared. Because of this, it’s easy to recognize of who they truly are. It’s a clever piece of game design, and I’m in awe even still.
As for why Yang chose guns rather than stick with penises, the answer is simple: ” I have swapped out any pesky penises in my game for the only thing that the game industry will never moderate nor ban — guns.” It’s a tragic, but still painfully true answer.
The Tearoom is a fantastic, memorizing game that you should go play right now on itch.io. To find out more about the history behind The Tearoom we recommend reading Yang’s blog, as well as Laud Humphreys’ ‘The Tearoom Trade‘.