Just this past year, NYC-bred teens Sophie Houser, 17, and Andrea Gonzales, 16, met at a summer program that teaches women to code. For their final project, the two ladies created Tampon Run, an 8-bit video game where players collect and shoot tampons at the villains they're being chased by. The game turned into a huge hit almost overnight and sparked a greater discussion about destigmatizing the menstrual cycle and women's presence in the tech industry. We were lucky enough to chat with the creators and hear why they created a game that poked fun at periods and how the coding process for the game went, so check out what they had to say!
Her Campus:Society is so used to the way the menstrual cycle is viewed that many probably don’t even realize there is a stigma attached to it. How would you describe this attitude toward periods for those who don’t really get why it's negative and why it should be corrected?
Andrea: Before creating Tampon Run, I was always embarrassed when I had my period. I felt uncomfortable asking my dad to buy me tampons, and on my way to the bathroom I'd tuck my tampons and pads away. In some other countries, menstruation is considered disgusting and repulsive to the point where women are marginalized for menstruating; while on their periods, they're isolated from work, friends, family. That's the menstrual taboo. Tampon Run is meant to address that menstruation is a normal part of a woman's life. We want a girl or woman to feel as comfortable asking a friend to buy her tampons as they do toilet paper.
Sophie: The first time I got my period, I was too embarrassed to buy myself my own tampons, so I had my mom buy them for me. I didn't want to be seen in the "feminine hygiene" aisle at the pharmacy, I didn't want to make eye contact with the cashier as I paid, and I didn't want anyone to see me with the tampons on the two block walk home. Many of my friends experienced the same thing. The menstrual taboo [is] feeling embarrassed and ashamed of a normal and natural bodily function, something that embodies womanhood. It's important to combat the menstrual taboo to empower women to love their bodies in every way, including their periods!
HC: What’s the greater message you’d like to send out to users and just anybody interested in Tampon run? Is it destigmatizing the menstrual cycle, is it empowering women to enter the tech field, or both?
Andy: Both! Both! Both! Tampon Run isn't just about destigmatizing menstruation. It's also about encouraging other girls to learn to code. I'm passionate about getting more women into coding. Having more women in the field can generate so much diversity in the products that the tech community generates. I don't think a man would have developed Tampon Run. [The game] demonstrates that women can be successful programmers, bring a different perspective, and contribute just as much to the community.
Sophie: It's definitely both! When we initially created Tampon Run, our goal was to combat the menstrual taboo. We had no idea that the game would get so much attention when we first posted it online in September. We thought just our family and friends would see it. Now that Tampon Run has been celebrated, written up and shared around the world, we hope that other girls feel encouraged by our story to learn to code.
— Melinda Gates (@melindagates) February 12, 2015
HC: What advice would you give women out there who dream of one day making an app? A lot of women dream of creating an app one day, but it's mostly discussed in hypothetical terms and as a joke because of things like capital, knowledge of coding, etc. that might prevent them from trying in the first place.
Andy: Go for it! Coding is such a great way to take an idea and bring it to fruition—and it's so rewarding when you step back and look at what you've made. But for women specifically: we shouldn't feel afraid to become a part of this community! Although the female community in tech is small, we have found it to be so welcoming and so wonderful. Based on our experience, I feel like there will always be people to help you, every step of the way.
Sophie: I would tell them to take a class, either in person or online, and see if they are turned on by coding! I fell in love with coding last summer at Girls Who Code. Every day I failed, every day I felt frustrated, and every day I felt elated once I found that word or curly brace that was missing from my code and enabled me to succeed at what I was building. It’s all about problem solving, which is both challenging and hugely rewarding. It is also so empowering and creative to make something from nothing, which coding allows you to do. Tampon Run started as a blank screen; then we added the background, then the characters. Next we made the characters move, then made our heroine jump and throw tampons. I knew that everything happening on screen was something Andy or I had coded. I worked for a full day trying to get the girl to jump in the web game. I had assumed that it would be quick and easy, but each time I tried she just wouldn't go up and back down. It was so frustrating! But when I finally figured it out, watching her jump made me feel so proud. I am a coding convert and hope increasingly more girls and women will give it a try. I would also encourage women to find mentors who can be supportive. We couldn't have come this far over the past five months if it weren't for the many people who have taught, mentored, helped and supported us along the way.
HC: Right now, women have a presence in the tech industry, but it sure seems that they are too far and few between! What hopes do you have for women in the tech industry? In 10 years where do you think and hope women will stand?
Andy: I have high hopes! In 10 years, I hope that women will be wherever the men are. The gender ratio should be 1:1, and women will hopefully have opportunities to be contributing just as much as the men! And get equal pay doing it.
Sophie: Ten years from now, I hope we’ll see more women starting tech companies, and more women in positions of leadership in general. I also hope that there are equal numbers of female and male programmers. As more women get into tech, there will be more female role models in the field, which will encourage and make it easier for other females to follow those paths.
HC: How has life changed since September? Do you ladies still go to school full-time? Are you planning on going into computer-related fields in college? What about making another game?
Andy: So much has changed. I still go to school full-time, which is definitely difficult for me, especially since it's my junior year in high school. I use the Mail app on my phone so much. And Twitter? I never used Twitter before Tampon Run! I spend a lot of time answering emails and taking phone calls and talking to Sophie. But it's definitely worth it! I do plan on pursuing a CS degree in college, but I have to survive the rest of high school first!
Sophie: My life has changed drastically since September. I still go to high school full-time, but spend most hall breaks and free periods during the school day dealing with Tampon Run. I’m on email non-stop now, and often walk through the halls in between classes with my computer open mid email, dealing with press and other inquiries. It's been exciting to see outside my high school bubble in the last five months to what the real tech world is like. In October Andy and I were flown to Silicon Valley by a gaming company, Weebyco, to participate in a gaming hackathon organized by Stanford alum. We spent 36 hours there creating a new game called Catcall Run, which addressed street harassment. We haven't had the bandwidth to spend more time on it, but maybe we will once we can catch our breath from Tampon Run. In November we were invited to give a TEDx Talk and to speak at the Girls Who Code gala. And Andy and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with a leading agile development firm, Pivotal Labs, to create the mobile app. It was eye opening to experience what it’s like to work at a creative, collaborative tech company. It has inspired me even more to become a programmer and work in tech. I will be attending Brown University next year where I am planning on studying Computer Science.