Lily Gordon, ’17
Gory warfare, zombie assassins, armed robbery, and guns are commonplace themes for computer games. Society has desensitized itself to apocalyptic fantasies by trivializing violence through virtual recreation, yet people still consider menstruation, a basic bodily function, to be a taboo topic. Two high school students, one of whom is Y2 Sophie Houser, designed a computer game last summer to challenge this value system. In the 8-bit game “Tampon Run,” a pixilated girl with a pigtail has two missions: to throw tampons at oncoming boys (while occasionally leaping to catch floating tampon boxes to refuel her unconventional ammunition) and more importantly, to de-stigmatize menstruation.
Since its release, “Tampon Run” has gone viral and received widespread publicity. A variety of publications, including the feminist blog feministing.com and the Huffington Post, have raved about the new quirky computer game that uses comedy to make the topic of menstruation more approachable. Houser and Andrea (Andy) Gonzales, a junior at Hunter College High School, met at Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that aims to bridge the gender gap in computer science. With females comprising only 12% of computer science graduates, programs like Girls Who Code are invaluable. Miranda Leong ’17, a member of BHSEC’s feminist club (Students Taking Action for Gender Equity) remarked, “I think it’s extremely important to work on closing the gap in the tech world because each field needs to have a balanced perspective. So much of the gaming world is exclusive and sexist, so to have young girls have more of a say and a voice in that particular field would be beneficial.”
Women are underrepresented in a number of fields and, as computer technology becomes increasingly integral to American society, it becomes representative of social norms. For instance, Houser laments that “people are turned off by blood, except oddly blood in video games and movies is okay when it’s associated with violence. It’s not okay when it’s associated with something as normal and natural as menstruation.” Houser and her partner Gonzales came up with the idea for “Tampon Run” when Houser “jokingly suggested that we should make a game where a girl throws tampons.”
The game, which started off as a joke, became an opportunity to spark a conversation about how our society views menstruation. Through designing the game, Houser encountered “the sense in many cultures around the world that women are unclean when we menstruate…. women are often separated when they are menstruating because they are ‘unclean.’” In America, a woman getting her period often experiences obnoxious comments made by peers, complete avoidance of the matter, or a misguided assumption that she is “P.M.S-ing” when she expresses a forceful emotion. In other countries, menstruation is a death sentence for education. UNICEF estimates that one in ten girls in Africa drop out of school because treating menstruation as a taboo leads to the social separation that Houser described. The New York Times reported that 23% of Indian girls leave school when they enter puberty. These girls are taught that their monthly bodily function is a pollutant and that it dirties anything they touch. The high dropout rates are a result of teasing, lack of safe and hygienic resources, body education, social exclusion, and early motherhood expectations.
Houser and Gonzales created “Tampon Run” to combat the fact that “we are made to feel like we can’t talk about menstruation, or that it’s something to be ashamed of.” Miranda Leong, ’17 criticized society’s skewed standards for leisurely conversation topics, saying, “The fact that gun violence is more commonplace in gaming than menstruation is outrageous. Menstruation is something that not many people like to talk or think about and even companies that sell tampons push women toward hiding their periods.”
“Tampon Run” is revolutionary because it puts a topic that makes a large number of people uncomfortable directly in the limelight. It has received a broad spectrum of interest. Ramon Reyes ’17 commented, “I like the [social] statement it made about the taboo and the continuous subjugation of women, which is [often] ignored by politics. It’s a whole piece of feminism we need to talk about and makes the situation more approachable. [The game] is really well designed and… I heard about it instantly.”
The Internet has also taken a liking to feminism. Websites, blogs, and social media are beginning to embrace the label “feminist.” Miranda Leong ’17 says, “As technology’s influence increases, games like “Tampon Run” become even more important. Technology is a way to easily spread an idea widely, and that can be either really helpful or really dangerous. A game like “Tampon Run” allows people to think about something they probably haven’t before while playing a fun game!”
More and more celebrities are declaring themselves “feminists,” such as Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson. An increasing number of people, men and women alike, are writing about why they need feminism, yet as the movement gains more popularity, it also loses some of its ideals across the masses. There is a danger in having the face of the feminist movement turn into a celebrity fad or a Facebook challenge, transforming a legitimate effort into a blind following of fans driven by social pressures and misunderstanding, rather than a true interest in feminism.
Some might see “Tampon Run” as the newest participant in the growing online feminist trend, but it is groundbreaking. It is incredible how widespread a simple and fun little game has become. Perhaps its success follows the mob effect that online social media seems to generate, or perhaps it is because “Tampon Run” makes a formerly forbidden topic completely conversational and hilarious. When asked what caused the game to be so readily accepted, Miranda Leong ’17 said, “I think the humor of the game had something to do with its exceptional reception. It’s really great how accessible and approachable this game is. The game tackles a really important issue of menstrual taboo while being on a fun and light platform.”
“Tampon Run” arose as a joke, evolved into a summer project, and now the game is a raving sensation. It is a testament to the power adolescents have to combat social norms and pave the path of progress. Looking to the future, Houser says, “I want to stay in tech and keep coding. I’m not sure if I want to continue with games, but I want to use coding to make a difference in our world. It is so exciting to use code to build something from the ground up and then to have it affect so many people.”
The publically clamored-for game (literally, several BHSEC students shouted their approval at the game’s mention), demonstrates the incredible feat the little computer game has undertaken. If society is going to be determined by technological influences, it seems only reasonable that we cultivate our technology to reflect the kind of balanced and opportunistic world we wish to see off the screen.