It’s an unlikely idea for a video game: The hero, a young women, fires tampons at her enemies instead of bullets. But Tampon Run is so popular that its creators, two teenage girls, just spent seven weeks working with a development company to make sure that you can shoot those tampons even when you’re on the go.
The high school students created the game, which just released a mobile version,
to make a point–periods might be a normal part of women’s lives, but most of us aren’t comfortable talking about them. The girls wanted to start changing that taboo, in part by making people laugh.
“We wanted to use code for social change, and wanted this to be an activist thing, but we also thought that humor was the best way to generate discussion about this topic, because it makes people feel comfortable,” says 17-year-old Sophie Houser, who developed the game along with 16-year-old Andy (Andrea) Gonzalez, who met at a Girls Who Code summer program. “We definitely wanted it to be funny.”
The projectile tampons were inspired by a 2013 abortion vote in the Texas State Capitol; as women entered the building, state troopers confiscated their tampons, claiming the women might start throwing them. At the same time–under Texas law–people could keep their guns.
“We thought that was kind of ridiculous,” says Houser. “So we made the game so that the girl actually was throwing her tampons, as a joke on this whole incident.”
Since the web version of the game came out last year, it already seems to have had an effect. “We’ve gotten a lot of mail from people who realized they were contributing to the taboo, or they didn’t realize it was an issue,” says Gonzalez. “We also learned about a middle school in California where everyone started playing the game … and talking openly about their periods.”
Houser and Gonzalez see the game as an example of something that only exists because more girls and women are learning to code. “We don’t think a man would have made Tampon Run, or had the thought, ‘Why don’t I make a game where a girl throws tampons?'” Gonzalez says. “I think that women have a different perspective on the world, and if we have more women in technology we can have more products that reflect that and a lot more diversity.”
The students worked with Pivotal Labs to make the new mobile app, with pro bono support from the company’s developers. “The app has a bunch of new features–it has a new enemy, it gets harder over time, and has a new leaderboard, all this fancy stuff,” Houser says. “That’s really exciting, because the original web version was something that we just put together in a week for a final project for a summer program. Working with Pivotal Labs was a crazy and exciting experience, because we actually got to see what the real tech world is like.”
The game is available for download in the App Store.