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Games. Periods. How I turned my documentary on menstruation into an interactive experience.

Being a documentary maker is never just being a documentary director nowadays. It’s being a camera person / a sound recordist / an editor / a colour grader / a writer / a producer / a publicist /

a gamer ….wait what?

It’s been just over a month since I’ve come on board as the Creative Director of Gamoteca, a company that creates interactive human learning experiences and in short we call these ‘games.’ But it’s not gaming as you know it.

In 2019 I worked with the founder of Gamoteca Atish on an interactive film called Ebola Choices based on the lived experiences people in Liberia faced when Ebola broke out in 2014. I wanted it to make an impact on how the audience determines how to make decisions during difficult times in case they ever faced a similar situation.

And then 2020 came

Everyone was dealing with difficult decisions that would affect their health and the health of others, not too dissimilar to Ebola Choices. Highlight global health and human rights issues are what I try to focus on the most but what good is it to simply capture an issue if no real change comes of it?

In the years since, I’ve been exploring how I can extend the impact of my documentaries I’ve made over the past couple of years and it’s lead me to adding ‘gamer’ to my list of qualifications.

This week for World Menstrual Hygiene Day I’m releasing a game of my documentary WOMENstruate. It’s a documentary I filmed in 2019 with 7 African women in different decades of their lives discussing their experiences with menstruation. It’s a very different film to so many I’ve done in the past, with strong interviews staring you right in the face with women describing how they’ve faced conflict, HIV, homelessness, cyclones, incarceration, stigmas, and overcome barriers in menopause.

It’s all about impact

The impact I’ve wanted to create with the 52 minute film is to normalise menstruation, make it something we can say openly to a colleague or ask a friend, partner, or family member for advice or supplies.

But what if someone feels too uncomfortable with the idea of trying to get comfortable with an issue they feel they can’t relate to…for 52 minutes? Well, lets’ make that experience shorter — and interactive and we have WOMENstruate The Game: an interactive experience.

How to play

Taking short sections of interviews, I created two different game experiences to allow people who don’t menstruate and those who do to play the game separately alongside people who have similar lived bodily experiences. Otherwise the pathways are exactly the same. Players get to hear from all the same women in the WOMENstruate documentary and are given talking points to self record and share with others. It’s an asynchronous platform, so you can go through the experience at your own pace and interact with others at their pace as well. So you could play out this experience with someone you already know or someone you get to know that could be from the other side of the world. The game can be completed in under a half hour if another player is playing with them at the same time.

Why should more documentary makers consider making games out of their films?

The other title I didn’t include on my laundry list of occupations is fundraiser. As an independent producer I get the most autonomy in my work but it means I am solely responsible for finding funding. Many funds and grants now look for measurable ways the impact is made through film and while numbers of screenings, people attended, and general surveys are ways to get started they don’t guarantee the audience has truly been impacted. Spending thirty minutes with recorded interactions can give us as much information on how audience members are impacted as qualitative interviews. It’s also less obtrusive and allows those interested in normalising menstruation to participate privately if they choose, or publicly if they’re comfortable but most importantly on their own time.

I’m really excited about witnessing the impact first hand in this game, and how I can show the results of the impact to future funders.

If you’re still someone like I was a few years ago that had to whisper for a tampon then this game is for you. By the end of it, whatever your gender you should feel a bit more comfortable to be able to approach the topic of menstruation whenever it’s appropriate. So go ahead, play the WOMENstruate game today if you’re a Dad who wants to get more comfortable with the topic for your daughter, a young adult who is looking for answers, an inclusive co-worker who would like to work with a person’s menstrual cycles for better productivity rather than ignore it, or a 34 year old woman who still whispers for a tampon. Or if you’re a documentary maker, consider making your own game today — one game is free with every Gamoteca account. And begin to find ways to turn your films into more than just moving images and into interactive experiences.

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