Toilets In Games I
As noted in Taro Gomi's 1977 essay Everyone Poops, the bodily expulsion of waste is an experience that is shared across not only cultures, but also species. Cats dig dainty holes in which to bury their stool, caterpillars have been known to project their frass over one meter away to prevent predators from scenting them out, while hippos are eager to swish their tails back and forth through their issuance, to spread it over as large an areas as possible. Due to the endless repetition of this task, every sentient creature develops their own unique habits that reflect their values and personality.
With few exceptions we humans deal with our waste by building toilets. Sometimes these are futuristic Japanese space-thrones, with heated seats, built-in bidets and a choice of jingly music to mask the sound of your struggle. At other times it may be a hole swiftly dug at the end of your uncle's garden, a last resort solution when an afternoon of dodgy barbeque food and a bathroom-occupying younger brother with the runs conspire against you. Whatever their form, toilets are ubiquitous in human culture, and we here at Midnight Resistance feel that the portrayal of toilets in videogames are a totally legitimate signifier of the human experience. Toilets can convey a great deal of emotional content, and the way in which they are implemented within a game can say a lot about the designer.
As part of our on-going campaign of no-budget guerilla games journalism, we recently asked a sample of games industry celebrities to define their favourite videogame toilet. Here we shall analyse their answers.
We begin with a Midnight Resistance favourite: beer enthusiast and Twitter hero, the extreeeeeeeeeeeme Tak Fujii (producer of Frogger 3D).
Toilets in No More Heroes are used as save points. This is an uncommon function for videogame toilets (the only similar games that come to mind are Dead Rising and Deathspank) but it's not neccessarily unusual. Using a toilet is an act of temporarily relieving oneself of ones burdens - of creating an external record of your recent consumption. A 'data dump', if you will. Bathrooms and toilet cubicles are typically small, private rooms with a lock on the door, where you can cast off your public persona and embrace your true self, engaging in whatever biological acts you desire. They are a safe, judgement-free zone where you can reflect on your day and enjoy some personal time.
They are also places of rejuvination. The act of visiting a bathroom is not limited to the toilet itself, but washing yourself afterwards. Hang around in any airport lavatory long enough and you will dozens of long-distance travellers washing their face, brushing their teeth - perhaps even shampooing their hair - as they freshen themselves up between flights. As the security guards drag you away, you may notice a changed expression on the weary souls re-emerging into the departure lounge. They feel refreshed. They have had a break, and now they are ready to take on the world again! Is this not the same feeling one experiences when saving a game of Castlevania?
We also note that Fujii-san has selected a game that he helped produce.
Adrian Cim... Chim.. Cerm... The Bulletstorm Dude (creator of Bulletstorm) hits back with a more specific answer. Or so you'd think.
We're not 100% certain which toilet he's referring to here. Silent Hill 2 begins with your character standing in a knackered old lakeside loo, portentously staring at himself in the mirror. But aside from the (dare we say) beautiful display of grime and rust which is common to the series, there's not very much of interest going on there. However, soon afterwards the player must visit a knackered old prison, featuring a rather disgusting scene in which they must plunge their hand into a toilet bowl filled with effluence and fish out an important item. We assume this is the toilet in question.
The Silent Hill games have always been about exploring the darker sides of life, so this graphic portrayal of toilet use is fitting. Modern plumbing exists so that we can remove our own unwanted waste from our homes; what Silent Hill 2 does is grab the player by the scruff of their neck and force them to confront the unpleasant reality behind the safe, hygenic spaces they create for themselves - anyone's who's familiar with the game will appreciate how this relates to its central plot. This is a real critics' choice! Not since Duke Nukem tore off an alien's head to void his bowels into its neck has a videogame toilet been so supportive of its surrounding narrative.
Reknowned fishing minigame enthusiast Sophie Houlden (creator of Swift*Stitch) brings up this forgotten gem.
In a world of poverty and ecological destruction, the Shinra Electric Company's corporate HQ stands as a monument to high technology and opulent wealth. Naturally there are toilets. But the defining feature of floor 66 is not the toilet block but the Shina boardroom, where the unelected rulers of Midgar meet to discuss their plans for world domination. This seems to be the key to understanding the Shinra building toilet - the player must use the toilet to climb into the ventilation ducts, and then crawl across to the boardroom area and eavesdrop on a meeting.
Yes, the toilet can be flushed. But its real significance comes during the meeting scene, when Scarlet (head of Shinra's weapons development division) looks up towards the player's air vent and says "...what's that smell?" It's a joke about toilets, but it also reflects her attitude towards the player's party - a gang of slum-dwellers, led by a homeless mercenary (and former Shinra employee!) It references the gulf between Midgar's unwashed, ordinary citizens and their ruling elite. It's also a way of comparing the player to a turd.
This surprising answer came from Kickstarter celebrity Tim Schafer (unknown indie developer).
The outhouses in Psychonauts differ from these other answers in that you can't really interact with them, beyond opening and closing their doors. Often they contain hidden collectables, and sometimes they contain little easter eggs during cut-scenes, but once you've opened all the doors and taken all the items, they mostly lie dormant and unloved. Is this a comment about people's attitudes towards toilets? Probably not. One interesting nugget we did turn up about the outhouses during our research was that they feature in this short sting for MTV2.
What surprises us most about his answer is that he didn't mention the Chron-o-Johns from Day of the Tentacle - time-travelling portaloos that allow the three main characters to flush items between their respective time periods. Amongst other things, this led to subversive situations such as characters flushing the US flag down the toilet. Considering the two games share key creative personel we would have thought DotT would be a clearer choice, but perhaps an old game like that is a little before his time.
Many aspiring game designers are getting their big breaks via Kickstarter these days, and we wish Tim all the best of luck.
Lastly, an honourable mention to games industry matriarch Brenda Garno (creator of many things), who was game enough to respond publicly - triggering a flood of responses from her followers - but never actually answered the question herself. We were a little disappointed, but shit happens.