IRL, I would not like to twist an ovary.
But the thought of twisting a model ovary for a game? Well, now you’ve piqued my interest—which is exactly the point of The Period Game. I get a lot of press releases in my inbox, but when the subject line reads “Menstruation Board Game,” you better believe I am opening that email up.
So what is this magical game and where did it come from?
When Daniela Gilsanz, 22, and Ryan Murphy, 23, were students at the Rhode Island School of Design, they were assigned a project for their “Design and Play” class. The challenge? Make any kind of game about any part of the body. “I pitched menstruation—and eventually got Ryan on board,” Gilsanz told me over the phone. With that, The Period Game was born.
The timing couldn’t be better, what with our collective conscious starting to wake up to the facts that our periods are here, totally normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. Gilsanz hopes the game, which recently (and aptly) won a Red Dot Design award, will spread the menstruation love—and educate some tweens along the way. “We both remember how menstruation was taught in school—everyone was so afraid of it, so afraid to ask questions," Gilsanz told me. "We want to change that.”
So how does the game work? Each turn begins by spinning the two ovaries until a marble comes out. The ovaries hold three clear marbles and one red one, representing the one week out of four that most women menstruate. A clear marble means you move one space ahead, while a red marble takes you to the next “period” space on the board, because God, aren’t periods always like that, forcing you along their path and not letting you take a casual stroll because, ugh, cramps?
The game moves in a circle around the board, and you “win” by simply making your way fully around.
As each player engages with the game, he or she gathers cards that teach about the various parts of the body involved in the menstrual cycle, the various kinds of hygiene products available during menses, and even a few helpful hints for how to best deal with PMS. (I'm a fan of any game where you get points for taking a hot bath.)
When you land on non-period spaces, you have the ability to pick up “protection” cards, building your arsenal of pads, tampons, and even menstrual cups to help you deal when you end up on red. Don’t have enough protection cards when you get your period? Looks like you'll be heading to the nurse’s office!
“It is designed in a way that a lot of the gameplay is based on chance, so there is no embarrassment associated with not coming in first,” Gilsanz said. “However, it is still fast-paced, fun—and a little competitive. We think it’s great when someone can excitedly shout, 'I need a tampon!' very loudly in the middle of the game.”
When a group of 8- to 11-year old girls had a test-play session with the game recently, she recalled, one of the girls challenged Gilsanz on the rules after she learned about menstrual cups after picking up one as a “preparation” card on her turn and reading more about how they work in the rule book.
“One of the girls said, ‘Well the game says this is a reusable thing—so why can’t I use it forever? I should be able to keep and play this card forever,’” Gilsanz told me, adding that she herself was “amazed” that a pre-pubescent girl who had never heard of menstrual cups an hour earlier was now so fluent in their application and usage that she was fighting for a rule change.
“Even in the college environment, people are so uncomfortable talking about periods,” says Gilsanz, describing her experience of seeing her RISD peers respond to the initial prototype designed and presented for that class project two years ago. “We see how people are now talking about their periods more, but how do we instill that at a younger and younger age? I just want girl power starting younger.”
Gilsanz and Murphy are now looking for partners to bring the game to scale, and we can only hope manufacturers will come pounding on their door. Because really, no home should be without model ovaries that shoot out marbles.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.