Late last week, a message from the Time Out Blogmistress dropped into my inbox. ‘The world’s first pee-controlled video game is to debut in London’, it read. ‘I can’t work out if this is funny or just plain awful.’ Seven days later, and I’ve been dispatched to The Exhibit, a bar in Balham, to get to the bottom of her dilemma. Met by the developers of this mysterious urinary games console, I’m immediately escorted to the public toilets to, well, play with myself. Press conferences in the tech world don’t usually go like this. We tend to leave anything involving bodily fluids to the music department.
I’m faced with a bank of urinals, each with a 12-inch LCD screen above it that kicks into life as soon as I approach. A digital ad gives way to a fairly rudimentary skiing game, in which I have to guide a skiing fellow down a slope by directing my urine across various parts of the urinal – wintersports meets watersports in a pain-free environment. I do terribly – a piss-poor effort, you might say – partly because I’ve never been a man who pees happily under pressure, and partly because it’s 9.15am and I haven’t had anything sturdy to drink yet. Try me again after a few jars and I’m fairly sure I’d rule the piste.
‘Volume is good!’ agrees Gordon MacSween, the gizmo’s developer and a man who literally pisses his life away. ‘First thing in the morning is tough, but once you break the seal at night…’ He collects his thoughts for a moment, searching for an answer more becoming of a savvy entrepreneur. ‘We tend to drink a lot of water so that we can test the product more often,’ he smiles. The potential for these pee-controlled games consoles is obvious. Whether you’re an advertiser or a bar owner, you can see how signing up might help your business. Gordon and his partner Mark Melford have named their company Captive Media, which says it all. But it’s the user response I’m more interested in.
Gordon explains that the machines were on trial at Ta Bouche bar in Cambridge for four months before this morning’s launch in London. ‘I was wondering how well it’d go down,’ he recalls of the initial trials, ‘and in the first week I heard this group of Americans coming into the bar. This one guy was high-fiving his mates, shouting ’24!’ [his score on the On the Piste game], and I thought, this is good. So I went back in the following week and asked the owner how it was going, and he just said “40”, and then “60” the week after, and I’m thinking, how are people doing that? It turns out people were learning how to stop and start (their pee flow) to get higher scores. We’ve got three scores so far over 100.’
So, aside from improving the nation’s bladder control, have their been any other interesting side effects? Oddly enough, communal pissings seem to have become commonplace, imbuing a sense of harmony over participating lavatories. ‘The toilet party is something we’ve seen in Cambridge’, enthuses Gordon. The what now? ‘The toilet party – it’s a phrase I use for when girls all go off together to the toilet in a huddle. It turns out that men are starting to go off in pairs! And the whole urinal etiquette, where men just don’t talk to each other at urinals…we’ve see men queuing up and then looking over each others’ shoulders and saying, “You’ve gotta hit the target!” So the chatter starts there. It’s been interesting.’
Gordon and Mark have developed three games for the platform so far – the aforementioned On the Piste, a version of the 1976 Atari wall-breaking classic Breakthrough, and a rather addictive quiz game known as Clever Dick that allows pissing gentlemen to test their general knowledge with simple true or false questions and answers (Mark: ‘We started with three options, but that was too much processing for a man with his willy in his hands’). At the end of each game, the user is given a code with which he can log at captivegames.co.uk, allowing him to compare his score against other urinating gamers, or to share his score on Facebook and Twitter.
‘The bar in Cambridge told us that there are two things they’ve found there are less of,’ says Gordon. ‘There has been less mess, which we sort of expected because we designed the game so you’re not splashing about, and less vandalism. When we put it in, people thought it’d be ripped off the wall within a week, but it’s still there after four months. Because people are having a laugh, there’s a lot less vandalism. People just tend to get less angry.’ Not just a frivolous bit of fun, then, but a social media tool, an instrument for bladder control rehabilitation, and a machine leading the fight against toilet-based violence. Tell the Blogmistress the digital revolution has arrived in London, and it’s all kicking off in a public toilet in Balham. Jon Wilks