A Way Out is a profoundly strange game. It takes itself deadly seriously, despite moments where the two main characters do enormously funny things, like helping chop wood for a couple they feel guilty tying up in a closet. It’s a game that suggests its two main characters are borderline criminal masterminds, despite ample evidence one of them—I’m looking at you, Leo—would have trouble opening a jar of pickles.
It’s also a game that refuses to engage in providing answers to the serious questions it raises during the hours you spend with it, such as: Where does the poop go?
By the end of A Way Out, it’s wrapped up most of the plot threads tied up in its largely straightforward story of two men escaping prison, in order to enact revenge. When Austin and I were playing, we managed to overlook parts of A Way Out, such as the crummy shooting sequences, because there was so much to love about the game’s inherit quirkiness, like its deep appreciation for interacting with mundane objects.
What we couldn’t let go of, however, was the poop question. Let me explain.
Your escape from prison happens really early—it’s not a spoiler. But the act of escaping takes a little while; every time Leo and Vincent make progress, they run into a new obstacle, forcing them to head back to their cell and consider the next move. One of the early obstacles is finding a way out (!) in the middle of the night, and they settle on a classic prison escape trope: escaping through the cell they’re being forced to live in.
They’re able to do this by moving the toilet out of the way, unscrewing a panel, and crawling into the architecture on the other side. This is where we got confused, though. When you move the toilet out of the way—which, by the way, moves awfully easy for a massive hunk of metal and porcelain—it’s revealed there are no pipes connected to it.
You don’t have to be a plumber to realize a problem: Where does the poop go?
There are various roles for a reporter covering games, but I consider one of my responsibilities to fall under the category of service journalism, in which I use my ability to gain access to people in power to ask questions and get answers.
With that in mind, I wanted—needed—to know where the poop went. Recently, I sent an email about all this, and I’m happy to report that I have an answer. We know where the poop goes. Sort of.
“As you know, A Way Out is a low budget game,” said A Way Out art director Claes Engdal. “And incidentally the prison you escape from is a low budget prison. Proper plumbing simply couldn’t be afforded."
Seriously speaking, this makes sense, and it’s the theory we largely settled on while playing. It’s both a game where the details matter—remember, you can sit down and watch the moon landing on TV for no reason other than you can—and one where it’s specific and selective in what details it pays attention to. In this case, what was more important was giving Leo and Vincent a plausible enough path out of prison.
That said, maybe there’s more to the story. Maybe there’s another answer. I asked the other Waypoint staff to meditate on this mystery and come back with a theory.
- Danika: “You know that stuff outside they have to mop up? That’s the only place they’re allowed to poop....Toilets are decorative.”
- Austin: “There’s a little metal box in a compartment at the bottom of the toilet bowl that stores the poop and that you pull out and replace once a day. That was probably going to be part of their plan to escape, but given the game’s tight budget, it must’ve gotten cut.”
As for me, I think there’s a scene later in the game that explains everything. During your escape, you head to the bowels— ahem—of the prison, revealing a grotesque, dark river running underneath. Leo can wade around in the muck, and in doing so, remarks that it smells like “shit.” This confirms people do, in fact, shit in the A Way Out universe, and if the toilets are only for show, how is there a river of shit? I’m guessing inmates, in shifts, head down to the prison’s lowest levels, walk into the river, and relieve themselves. The toilets are only there for inspection purposes, to look “normal.”
Or maybe it’s something different entirely.
“It’s a portal to hell,” said Danielle, when I mentioned this story. “The poop goes to hell.”
Now, it all makes sense.
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