Imagine a game that takes a totally unconventional approach to first-person shooters: the main character runs down the street firing tampons at her enemies, leaping over their heads and catapulting through.
Creators Andrea Gonzales, 17, and Sophie Houser, 16, high school students in NYC, met last summer at Girls Who Code, an organization trying to close the gender gap in tech and the game Tampon Run is their final project for the program.
It’s proving to be so wildly successful – with 100,000 plays online already - that its creators spent the weekend coding a mobile version of the game; yes, that’s right - an app called Tampon Run is on its way to your App Store.
The goal wasn’t to build an arsenal or stockpile ammunition, but to teach girls to be comfortable with their bodies. The feminist twist to the social mission also sort of parodies how comfortable we are with discussing issues like violence, but still cringe at talking about women’s health issues. Gonzalez initially thought of parodying the hypersexualization of women in video games, and as they were developing their concept, Houser joked that they should have a character throwing tampons at people. The laughter was followed by a silence of dawning comprehension – that’s exactly what the two went on to do. Challenge perceptions about women, they’re aiming to create conversation about things we’re not comfortable talking about, but should be.
“One of the most incredible things is that with a little bit of code and the Internet, some girls in New York can make something that can reach people around the world,” Houser told Mic in an interview.
One fan of the game wrote in to them saying:
Great job on coding your game! I showed it to my high school intro computer science class today and they loved it, both the message you are promoting and playing it. I teach in an all-girls school so I think it meant a lot to them to see you putting this game out there.
“It’s something we’d both experienced,” said Gonzales. “It’s a problem in Western countries and around the world. People don’t want to talk about periods. In other countries, women have to isolate themselves.”
Besides challenging social norms with their unusual video fame, the pair is also a reminder of the disparity in the tech and gaming industry - 76% of video game developers are male, despite both genders playing video games about equally.
“I don’t think there were any guys thinking about making a tampon game,” said Houser. “By having a lot more diversity [in the industry], it means the ideas and the products that come out of it will relate to a lot more people.”
“It’s weird marketing [video games] just towards males, companies are missing a whole other market,” said Houser. “Girls!”
Girls Who Code is one of several programs now available to young women to help get them into the tech and gaming space, others being Girl Develop It, Girls Rock on the Web, Girls Make Games and Technovation, which helped 200 women in Madurai learn how to code.
“I’m not sure what I actually want to do [for my career],” said Houser, who had never coded before last summer. “But I love the experience of using code to create social change. It’s empowering and exciting.”
Game improvements by way of arming the main character with super-absorbent maxi pads to throw, along with the tampons, are on the way as well, before the Tampon Run app hits the iTunes store, with the main character also getting a jetpack in the game.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari