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Why this tampon-themed video game is what the world needs now

It's the tampon-themed video game you never knew you needed but will find strangely addictive.
Tampon Run: It's the menstruation-themed video game you never knew you needed but will find strangely addictive.Today

Is the world ready for a video game about menstruation? Two high-school girls think so. 

As the end of the summer coding program "Girls Who Code," Andrea “Andy” Gonzales and Sophie Houser needed to complete a project to graduate. Gonzales wanted to use computer code to influence social change and Houser thought it sounded like a cool idea.

“I jokingly said that maybe we can make a game where someone throws out tampons,” says Houser, a 17-year-old senior at Bard High School Early College in New York City.

Tampon Run: It's the menstruation-themed video game you never knew you needed but will find strangely addictive.Today

This joke became the basis for Tampon Run, an 8-bit video game with a big mission — de-stigmatizing menstruation. Players become a young woman who must collect tampons before the villains do. When the baddies approach the heroine, she shoots tampons at them. If she runs out of tampons, it’s game over.  

“The idea of making it funny and quirky kind of makes menstruation a lot more approachable and more comfortable,” says Gonzales, a 16-year-old junior at Hunter College High School.

At first, they used different colored rectangles to represent the girl and the enemies, simply to see if the game worked. Soon, the heroine became a blockish girl with brown pigtails and a pink frock and the villains became oafs in pink baseball caps and blue shirts. When the girl hits them with tampons, they cry “ooh.”

Sophie Houser (L) and Andrea "Andy" Gonzales say it started as a joke, but they're proud of the tampon-themed video game they created as part of "Girls Who Code."Today

Gonzales and Houser both enjoyed playing older video games that had a pixilated look, so their project pays homage to the games they loved.

As the New York City teens worked out the technical kinks and learned about coding, they learned more about menstruation.

“There are a lot of other countries out there that have women [who are] so uneducated about their own menstruation that they end up isolating themselves,” says Gonzales.

Run out of tampons? Game over! The intro to "Tampon Run" questions why shoot-em-up games are commonplace while menstruation is still taboo.Today

But they felt shocked to learn that stigma around periods still exists in the United States and Britain. Take when Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing and Guardian columnist, asked Twitter if there was a country that offered free feminine products. People responded with anger.

“We were surprised and appalled,” says Houser, adding they have only received a few negative responses to their game.

Yet, they realized that they personally had experienced shame when it came to their periods.

“When I was first telling people what I was doing, [I said] it was a video game because I myself wasn’t quite comfortable talking about it,” says Gonzales. “The video game makes me more comfortable.”  

While they’re improving Tampon Run to make it more challenging, they still feel overwhelmed by the positive response they’ve received.

“I never thought that this small game the two of us made here in New York would literally reach people all over the world,” says Houser. “I think it is partly thanks to the game being so accessible … it is really funny.”

They’re proud of Tampon Run’s success, and Houser says that seeing friends and family react has been most rewarding. A guy friend played it and told her he realized he knew little about menstruation, and the game made him reflect on it.  

“That was so great I had affected someone I knew,” Houser says.