Robert Yang has created a ‘dick pic simulator’ and a game about consent and BDSM. Now he’s tackling the risks surrounding gay sex in the 60s
In Mansfield, Ohio, 1962, police set up hidden cameras in a public bathroom to record consensual sexual activity between men. An artist named William E Jones, who was born in Ohio that same year, later found the footage online, edited out a voiceover that he described as “as illiterate and hateful a text as I have ever heard committed to film”, and released the result in 2007 as a “found footage” documentary called Tearoom (US slang for a public bathroom in which men meet to have anonymous sex).
The footage reveals the men involved were diverse in appearance – and presumably background – but all were wary. And with good reason: many of them were later arrested. Public bathrooms have long been a battlefield where LGBT people are targeted by the law.
Robert Yang is an indie game developer and artist who has released a number of short, often funny games about gay sex and culture: Cobra Club is a dick pic simulator, Hurt Me Plenty explores consent and BDSM, and Succulent is inspired by “homo hop” music videos. His latest game, The Tearoom, is about the experience portrayed in Jones’s documentary: cruising public toilets for anonymous sex. Your goal is to engage in sexual acts with other men, but before that, you must wait for someone to enter, and then engage in a ritual that involves repeated periods of prolonged eye contact, all the while keeping an look out for the police.
“A lot of it is based on this sociological study by Laud Humphreys called Tearoom Trade,” says Yang. “[He] actually calls it a game, and tries to write out what the rules are and stuff, so it’s almost like a game design document. A lot of it is eye contact, so they’ll be peeing and then they might look at you and then you look at them, and then you look away and then they look away … stuff like that.”