ANDY GONZALES AND SOPHIE HOUSER are New York City high school students who met through the organization Girls Who Code, whose aim is to “close the gender gap in tech.” Together, they’ve created and coded Tampon Run, an online video game that encourages players to consider and discuss the taboo of menstruation. Gonzales and Houser seek to normalize periods via nostalgic eight-bit gaming that has cross-cultural and cross-gender appeal. LadyClever caught up with them to find out more.
How did you become involved with Girls Who Code?
ANDY: I’ve been into computer science since I was 13 years old. I had discovered GWC in their pilot year, but I was a) too young to qualify and b) missed the deadline. As a result of that, I went to a wonderful camp in Westchester called SummerTech Computer Camps. I spent two summers there, which was great then I went to Girls Who Code this year. It was a great experience! I’m glad I did it. Anyone who’s interested should definitely apply!
SOPHIE: My mom recommended that I apply to Girls Who Code 2014 summer immersion program. She thought that coding would be an intersection of math (now that I’m actually coding, I think it’s more logical than mathy) and creativity, both of which I love.
Many young women have a very difficult relationship with their periods — what has informed your own perspective?
ANDY: I’m a girl, which helps! On a day-to-day basis, I found myself feeling uncomfortable when discussing menstruation around people (other than my close girl friends). So on a local level, I felt it firsthand and I saw it in my friends. While we were doing research, there were women all over the world who were too uncomfortable talking about their period, so much so that they weren’t properly educated on how to take care of themselves while menstruating. Or they just can’t afford what they do need to stay clean and healthy!
SOPHIE: My guy friends and I are normally extremely open with each other about anything, yet whenever I bring up menstruation they shut down. Andy and I also learned that in some traditions around the world menstruating women, young and old, have to live in isolated shacks while they menstruate. They are perceived as “unclean.” All of this came together in our desire to make the game.
Do you play video games yourselves? Which games do you enjoy?
SOPHIE: When I was younger, I used to spend hours playing games on Nitrome. I loved the simplicity and the design of the games.
ANDY: When I find the time (which is not very often these days) I do like to game. Like Sophie, I would often play on Nitrome, and a lot of older games like Tetris, Galaga, Space Invaders, etc. I’m also a pretty big fan of the indie game scene; I like to keep tabs on what’s going on over there. We wanted to honor that aesthetic when making Tampon Run, because we both loved the look that pixel art and 8-bit game design offered.
My dad used to play Starcraft a lot, and I loved watching him — it’s been an ongoing goal for me to find the time to finish playing the campaign. I used to play COD a little, and Super Mario Smash Bros. (Brawl and Melee). Back in the GameCube days I used to play a lot of Mario Party 5, and Custom Robo. But I’m not going to pretend I’m any good at these games! Except for Tetris. I’m good at that.
How did you come up with the idea for Tampon Run?
SOPHIE: The final week of Girls Who Code is spent developing a final project. Andy wanted to make a game that had some sort of social impact. I liked the idea of using coding to make a social change, so I joined her. While brainstorming, I jokingly suggested that we make a game where someone throws tampons. As soon as I said it, we realized we that there was something there, that there is a taboo surrounding menstruation, and we could use this game to combat it.
ANDY: My initial goal was to make a game that addressed the hyper-sexualization of women in video games, because I felt it desperately needed to be addressed.
What was your thinking behind having the girl specifically throwing tampons?
SOPHIE: It began as a joke I made. However, after we researched the taboo, we came across an article about an incident that happened in Texas. While women were entering the Capitol to protest the restrictions on abortion rights, officials confiscated their tampons and pads in fear that they would throw them. Yet, they let guns into the room. Once we read the article, we realized we wanted to do a satire piece surrounding the Texas incident, and a girl throwing tampons fit perfectly in.
ANDY: The enemies the girl throws tampons used to be police officers. But with all the chaos surrounding Ferguson, we decided to redress them to avoid any unintended political messages.
What responses have you had so far to Tampon Run? What has been your favorite and why?
SOPHIE: We’ve had so many positive responses from all around the world. It’s been incredible to hear from both men and women from Mexico, Belgium, Germany, Senegal and so many other places. One response that was really special came from a friend of mine here at home. A few days after playing the game, he acknowledged that he shut down whenever I brought up menstruation and that he had no idea why he did that. It was so special to see that the game had changed someone’s mindset.
ANDY: It’s been so incredible. All of the responses are beautiful, and we read them all and freak out at each of them. Because, they’re so awesome. A recent one had the subject line, “I’m a big ‘ol hairy dude and I loved the heck out of your game!” Thank you for that, Austin. You’re marvelous.
What have your friends in your classes thought of Tampon Run? And what about the teachers?
SOPHIE: My friends and family have been so supportive of the game, as have my teachers and principal. It’s so wonderful how supportive everyone has been.
ANDY: My friends love the game, and so does my family! I actually hadn’t told my parents about the game until they heard me pitch it in front of an audience. They had seen bits and pieces of the game out of context and were pretty worried, I think. But they love what I’ve done, and I love them!
My CS teacher loves it; someone left a tampon on his desk one day (not me, I swear) and he put it in his breast pocket, saying “I can use this to throw it at someone later.” This whole experience has been incredible and surreal.
Check out the insanely-addictive Tampon Run here.