Brow Beat

A Brief History of Peeing in Video Games

It’s definitely art, but is it a video game?
Alfred Stieglitz / Marcel Duchamp

Gamescom 2019 kicked off in Cologne, Germany on Monday night, and as usual, the annual trade fair has been full to bursting with announcements, trailers, and exciting new details about upcoming games. But one development is making a bigger splash than the rest: Visionary video game auteur Hideo Kojima’s next game, Death Stranding, will feature the kind of hyper-realistic urination gameplay action that gamers crave. Drench your eyeballs in this leaked footage from Gamescom’s opening night stream to see Death Stranding star Norman Reedus take the most lavishly digitized piss in video game history:

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You can almost taste it! That is the kind of high-polygon-count virtual pee that can only be achieved by unleashing the full power of the PS4’s AMD Radeon based graphics engine, which can achieve a flow of as much as 1.84 teraFLOPS at peak volume. The precision of the exact-to-the-milliliter bladder meter on display here, combined with intuitive but robust pee controls (“Use L2 to prepare, and R2 to let loose”), suggest that Kojima is taking dead aim at the “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master” quality that makes real-life urination so fascinating and rewarding. And judging from the thrilled applause from the Gamescom audience, “peeing outdoors but you’re Norman Reedus” is exactly the kind of experience gamers have been anxiously waiting for, shifting their weight from one foot to the other in anticipation, ever since a cave man first sketched out a primitive tic-tac-toe board in the snow.

But although it’s clear that Kojima has soaked his newest game with gallons more digital pee than past generations of gamers imagined in their wildest peeing-in-video-games-related dreams, it’s important not to attribute this flood of high-quality video game urine to recent advances in technology alone. Kojima is well-steeped in the history of his medium, and the new footage proves he has poured every last drop of his encyclopedic knowledge into Death Stranding, then shook in a few drops more. In other words, if he has peed a little farther than others, it is because he has peed on the shoulders of giants. Here’s a look back at some of the milestone video games that dribbled so that Death Stranding could spray.

Mystery House (On-Line Systems, 1980)

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Roberta and Ken Williams are rightfully hailed as two of the most influential game designers in history, but their first attempt to break gaming’s pee barrier was an abject failure. Mystery House, the very first graphical adventure game, was also the very first graphical adventure game to feature a drawing of a toilet. But whether or not Williams’ original vision included text-based peeing or some sort of a urine-themed minigame, the technological limitations of the Apple II meant that the Williamses had to hold their best ideas in:

On-Line Systems

It’s difficult to imagine the suffering and frustration of early gamers, many of whom purchased their first home computers in hopes of experiencing Mystery House’s inviting, vector-drawn toilet for themselves, when they discovered that although they could see the toilet, they were helpless to fill it to overflowing with hot, fresh digitally-simulated vector-drawn urine. It would be irresponsible to attribute the video game crash of 1983 entirely to this disappointing video game toilet, but it would be just as irresponsible not to observe that when the industry rebounded, future developers did not repeat Williams’ mistakes.

Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985)

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Correction: An earlier version of this article included a highly idiosyncratic and disgusting interpretation of the events depicted in World 2-2 of the video game Super Mario Bros. At the request of Nintendo Co., Ltd., it has been removed.

Slate apologizes for mischaracterizing the plot of this video game.

Leather Goddesses of Phobos (Infocom, 1986)

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In an art form that is as dependent on technology as video games, sometimes you have to hold things back in order to move forward. That was the strategy behind Infocom, a video game studio whose founders understood that early home computers and video game systems simply didn’t have enough processing power to render photorealistic toilets, never mind the glistening golden streams that fill modern video games. So when game developer Steve Meretsky described his vision for Leather Goddesses of Phobos—a game designed to give players the experience of taking a leak in a dive bar bathroom in Upper Sandusky, Ohio in the year 1936—the studio looked back past Mystery House and Super Mario Bros. to a far older method of depicting pee in art: the written word. The result: Humanity’s greatest achievement in the field of “recreating the experience of peeing in a dive bar bathroom in Upper Sandusky, Ohio in the year 1936” since roughly Jan. 1, 1937:

Infocom

While Leather Goddesses of Phobos offered gamers the most realistic urine-based gameplay to date, some of its experiments in the medium—like the scratch-and-sniff card that accompanied the game—were rarely adopted by its successors, even for video games featuring simulated asparagus. Still, Meretsky’s uncompromising vision of peeing in bar bathrooms in Upper Sandusky, Ohio in the year 1936 still flows through the urethras of pee-based video games today.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (Sierra On-Line, 1988)

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On-Line Systems pissed away eight years (and changed its name to Sierra On-Line) before they were ready to take another shot at becoming the industry’s number one at number one. But after holding it in for so long, when the studio finally whipped out Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, they unleashed a flood of urine-themed video game innovations. For the very first time, a video game combined the text-based peeing interface that made Leather Goddesses of Phobos such a hit with high-quality EGA graphics that made gamers feel like they were draining their lounge lizards along with Larry Laffer. And Sierra didn’t stop one-upping Infocom there: Leisure Suit Larry not only let player take a leak in a filthy dive bar bathroom (albeit not one in Upper Sandusky, Ohio), but also gave them the experience of drowning themselves afterward: