Brow Beat

A Brief History of Peeing in Video Games

Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain."
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:

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)

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:

A screenshot from Mystery House, showing a crude vector drawing of a toilet.
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)

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)

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:

A screenshot from Leather Goddesses of Phobos, demonstrating that the player can pee.
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)

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:

Leisure Suit Larry’s uncompromising vision of a man in a leisure suit drowning in a highly-diluted solution of his own urine sent waves throughout the industry, and was regarded for years as the gold standard in video game pee. To surpass it, developers would have to pour in an entirely new dimension in digital piss. Or half of one, anyway.

Duke Nukem 3D (3D Realms, 1996)

It took eight more years of waiting before home computer technology had advanced enough for anyone to have a serious go at Leisure Suit Larry’s golden crown, but 3D Realms finally broke the seal in 1996 with Duke Nukem 3D, a game that repurposed the 2.5 dimensional gameplay id Software had pioneered for Doom while mixing in a crucial secret ingredient: 2.5 dimensional urine. Here’s footage from the game’s high-definition remaster, which brought new levels of realism to Duke Nukem 3D’s core gameplay mechanic: shotgunning aliens in bathroom stalls, partially flushing them down toilets, peeing into the very same toilets, and then flushing again:

In 1988, only supercomputers could handle the complicated calculations involved in producing a realistic facsimile of the sound of urine, but the rising popularity of internal sound cards after the introduction of the Sound Blaster in 1989 meant that 3D Realms was able to reproduce the audio sensation caused when pee hits porcelain so realistically that the most dedicated Duke Nukem 3D players routinely pissed themselves, sometimes even for Duke Nukem 3D related reasons.

The Sims (Maxis, 2000)

Like many video games of the 1990s, Duke Nukem 3D’s violent take on urination seemed specifically designed to exclude gamers who were more interested in piss than pistols. The first person to make a serious attempt at mopping up the puddles of cash other developers were leaving on the floor was game designer Will Wright, who kicked off a new millennium in gaming with The Sims, a urination simulator that everyone could enjoy. The result, one of the earliest attempts to model bladder pressure in multiple playable characters simultaneously, allowed players to construct virtual homes in which every single room was filled with thirsty, piss-loving toilets, or plumbing-free Overlook Hotel–scale peetastrophes:

Although the series has added plenty of bells and tinkles since its original release, every iteration of The Sims is built on the same tried-and-true video game principle: Gamers love watching people piss their own pants and will pay dearly for computer programs that simulate this experience.

Wii Sports (Nintendo, 2006)

The most misleadingly named video game in the entire history of the medium.

Do better, Nintendo.

On the Piste (Captive Media, 2011)

On its face, a video game in which players careen around in a snowmobile while trying to avoid running over penguins does not seem like the best milieu to facilitate a lot of deep, pee-based worldbuilding. But where other video game developers saw nothing but obstructions, Captive Media saw op-pee-tuninty:

On the Piste’s revolutionary augmented urinary reality control scheme gives gamers the closest thing to the actual experience of pissing since Desert Bus.

Pee World VR (Grant Thomas & Pablo Rochat, 2016)

Well, they invented a game … that lets you pee … in virtual reality! What’s positive about that? Well, it’s a game … that lets you pee … in virtual reality!

This is a game … for the world … that lets you pee … in virtual reality!

It’s taken a long, steady stream of technological innovation, Promethean daring, and Central African conflict mineral wars to advance video games to the point where an artist like Hideo Kojima can explore adult themes such as whether or not Norman Reedus’ pee can be used to fertilize giant cartoon mushrooms. So in November, when Kojima Productions finally releases Death Stranding and Hideo Kojima is showering eager gamers with his genius, we should all set aside 30 seconds or so to remember the brave, piss-loving digital pioneers whose insatiable thirst for realistically-rendered simulated urine passed the stones in Kojima’s path. I know just where I can fit it into my schedule.