I came across an article that is well worth a read earlier today and it made me sit down and think. It is about Tampon Run, a game created by two young women trying to challenge the way that people look at an issue like women’s health, who decided to do so by contrasting it against a longstanding tradition of video games.
“…so instead of shooting people you thrown tampons at them?” I have never used a gun in real life. I have also never used a tampon. “Okay, so it’s a neat idea,” I think, “but what an odd comparison.” I mean, yes, it is true that I have spent thousands of hours with video games that have featured guns in large quantities, but it’s not like replacing them with tampons would achieve anything, would it?
Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t. Either way though, the fact that I’m thinking about it means that the game is already serving a purpose. It’s summed up pretty well in the game’s introduction:
“Although the concept of the video game may be strange, it’s stranger that our society has accepted and normalized guns and violence through video games, yet we still find tampons and menstruation unspeakable. Hopefully one day menstruation will be as normal, if not more so, than guns and violence have become in our society; normal enough to place in a video game without a second thought.”
When you look at it that way, it is weird that I’ve been conditioned not to think twice about beating a (virtual) old lady to death for money with a baseball bat, but feel squeamish about the idea of having to deal with a period in the middle of saving the galaxy. I think back to when I was in school, and the awkwardness that surrounded my friends explaining why they occasionally reeled over in pain or ducked out in the middle of a game of basketball.
So, on to the game. The instructions are simple:
- Hit all the enemies with your tampons.
- Don’t let them pass you – they’ll confiscate your tampons.
- Collect tampon boxes for more tampons.
- Don’t run out of tampons or it’s GAME OVER.
- You can press UP to jump and SPACE to throw a tampon.
Easy, right? The game works as a side-scroller with you running from the left to the right and enemies moving in the opposite direction across the screen at different speeds. Every once in a while, a floating box of tampons appears and floats along across the screen. If you jump at the right time you can pick it up to replenish your dwindling stock.
The instructions told me to hit all the enemies, so I stood my ground and picked them off as they ran at me. “I’ve totally got this! No one’s confiscating my tampons!” I yelled as I hurled what appeared to be lethal feminine hygiene products at the little pixel men running in my direction. Now, I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but the first couple of times I played the game I ran into a bit of trouble – I made sure that I hit every enemy, but when I started to run short of tampons there were no boxes within reach! If only they were more accessible. I looked on helplessly as a man charged towards me – I had just used my last tampon and there was nothing to throw at him. GAME OVER.
This happened a couple of times, but then I realized something – I could jump! With renewed hope, I started the game up again and found that if I wanted to, I could jump over the stampeding men. But… but I was supposed to hit every enemy. I wasn’t sure whether I was okay with the idea of avoiding them. Would the ones I had let by come back to haunt me? Was I giving in by not standing my ground? Jumping out of the way did, however, allow me to get by when I had run out of ‘ammunition’ until I could grab another box. When you think about it, it isn’t the ‘enemies’ that do you in – they just take away from your tampon count, leaving you powerless – it’s your counter that is the true threat. When you hit zero your know you’re in trouble and unless you’re really lucky or careful, it’s curtains.
It is a simple game, but it doesn’t have to be complex to say what it wants to say. That said, there is still a lot of room for further discussion; hopefully Tampon Run will have opened the door. It can be expected that there will be people who are up in arms about the whole thing, but this will just serve to prove the point – if the discussion of an issue like menstruation makes people angry then isn’t that a sign that it needs to be spoken about and dealt with all the more?