We previously brought you the story of Tampon Run, an app designed by Andrea Gonzales, 16 and Sophie Houser, 17, two high school girls in New York. In the game, you fling tampons at enemies racing towards you, and every now and then jump into the air to ‘catch’ a box of tampons.
The girls, who were placed #4 in *Teen Vogue’*s Ten Teens Who Changed The World 2014, got the bright idea while taking part in a Girls Who Code programme in New York and created the 8-bit game, which is only available on desktops.
Now the game has now been upgraded to a bona fide mobile app, and you can enter the world of tampon-flinging from the relative privacy of your phone, we thought it’d be fun to have a chat to them about what Tampon Run’s about, and how it’s changed their perceptions of both periods and gaming.
The Debrief: So what’s new about Tampon Run this time round?
Sophie: There’s a new enemy with a little jetpack. Plus, there’s a leaderboard where you can rank in your achievements. And, there’s a fun new feature: when tampons hit an enemy, it changes into a flying pad, and the background changes over time.
Andy: The game itself just translates better to a mobile app anyway. Nowadays a lot of people are just using their phones more than anything else.
DB: Do you think people might be a bit more comfortable to play the game on their phone rather than on a big web browser that shows up on their laptop or their computer at work or something?
S: Yeah, I’m sure that might happen. At the same time, you still might have people playing it on the subway.
DB: Yeah exactly, that’s the dream, right? How long has this new phase of Tampon Run been in the works for?
S: We were thinking about an app for a long time. But Pivotal Labs [a digital coding company] approached us and said that they’d work with us pro bono for seven weeks to create a mobile app, which is an incredible opportunity.
DB: Would it have otherwise been tricky to get funding for this?
S: A lot of people, like Pivotal Labs, support what we stand for: more women and young girls in tech. A lot of people support diversity in the tech world and people also support the message about the menstrual taboo, so I guess it wouldn’t have been hard. But we’re both high school kids, so we wouldn’t have had the money to do this.
DB: It’s incredible that you’re both so young and you’re doing that. Can you explain a bit more about Tampon Run’s deeper meaning?
A: Firstly, we’re trying to redefine menstruation. In society, there’s the crazy idea that tampons and menstruation and all that stuff are repulsive and disgusting, when it actually is just a normal bodily function. But it’s just something that they keep to maintain their hygiene, right?
So we decided to use the engagement of of a video game to make people more accepting of those having their periods and to be more accepting of their own periods, if they get them.
Secondly, you wouldn’t have expected a man to make Tampon Run, right? So, the idea is that it’s got so successful because of its unique perspective. It introduces the idea that if we have more women coding, if we had more women in tech, we could produce a whole new perspective, and create diversity with the products that we can make.
DB: So this is a very female specific issue that only women can really tell the story of, and it shows that, if you guys can go out and do that, then there are so many other stories where you can be given that subtle nuance of a female perspective. What are your ultimate goals for Tampon Run?
S: Our big goals are to get it to a wider audience. We’ve also been brainstorming some ideas for a book, potentially about coding. We might also do ‘Catcall Run’ about catcalling.
DB: Do you think Tampon Run is going to change at least an element of the face of gaming at all?
S: I mean definitely after the Gamergate thing, it’s important for Andy and I to be two young women in the gaming world, to help people see that women do have a large role here, they have a lot to do in gaming and in tech in general.
DB: I didn’t want to mention Gamergate because it sounds like it doesn’t get in the way of what you girls do. Have you received any hate?
S: We’re so lucky, the hate mail we have gotten has mostly been from people who are anti-gun control and we have an anti-violence message and they didn’t like that. Then we got one from all men for feminism, who called us the misogynists – that was very strange and confusing
So you brush off any hatemail as ridiculous?
A: We’ve had nothing to the degree of what other people of Gamergate have experienced.
**DB: All of it sounds unnecessary and I suppose it’s indicative of how fucked up Gamergate is if you’re getting hate about a game about tampons. This is personal but do you think that the game has changed your attitude towards your own periods at all? **
S: I wasn’t even that comfortable talking about my periods before Tampon Run, but I’ve been on stage in front of major people in the tech world and got to talk about mensturation or the first time I got my period, so it was impossible to feel uncomfortable about it. It’s liberating. At school, with friends and teachers, we can say ‘tampon’ or ‘menstruation’ without feeling like it’s a dirty word any more.
A: But when we first made the game, I hadn’t told my parents I’d been making it. I felt weird introducing it to my friends, it was a very out-there concept, but it’s hard to not get comfortable talking about tampons, about menstruation and periods because we’re never not talking about it.
DB: And in terms of young girls, is playing Tampon Run going to change their attitudes towards gaming and periods?
A: We have this one piece of awesome fanmail from a middle school teacher in Berkeley, California, and what’s awesome is they were talking about how Tampon Run went viral in her school and how middle school boys and girls were telling people about how menstruation was normal and a natural bodily function and the middle school girls themselves were comfortable talking about periods, so it was rewarding to see that kind of change.
S: I demoed Tampon Run with some people in my middle school. The girls said: ‘This is something I was really uncomfortable about but now I really like this game’ and that was rewarding to me, I think that since it’s humorous it makes it much easier for people to play.
And I think that time for young girls is really important because that’s when they’re starting to get their periods and that’s where the taboo is starting to form.
Not for long, it looks like...
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Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson
Picture: Nadia Gilbert
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.