I've been interested in sex education for longer than I can remember — my mom slyly reminds me that in preschool, I asked how babies were made, and the next day, I gave my entire class a lecture on conception...to the apparent horror of the teachers.
My ongoing personal endeavor is exploring the design of sex education materials, experimenting with how we might make learning fun and less taboo.
This process-oriented story is my current side project: a Space Invaders-inspired game called Uterus Invaders that explores birth control efficacy.
In casual discussions with friends, I realized many adults today don't know much about the efficacy of birth control methods, or how likely pregnancy is on any given month. Parallel thought: pinball and other nostalgic games are in high demand today, with arcade bars galore and 80s video games now living as apps on our phones. So I started thinking maybe these two ideas could live together in a single experience.
Teach basic information about hormonal birth control options.
Offer a fun way for people to talk about anatomy and fertilization, hopefully lessening the taboo around periods, birth control, and sex just a bit.
KEY USER TAKEAWAY —
If I'm successful, after playing this game the user should think,
1. "The IUD and the pill are extremely effective!"
2. "Emergency contraception is a solid backup method but takes a little more work."
3. "Wow, it's shockingly easy to get pregnant without using birth control."
THE IDEA —
My original hypothesis was that if I could use a medium that people love (vintage games) to teach a subject they didn't care much about (birth control), I might just entice people into learning a thing or two.
The first iteration? Uterus Pinball. It was a blast to make the board, laser cutting and painting each piece, but since I'm not an electrical engineer, it turned out pretty dull.
So, I turned to a medium I actually have the skills for: iOS apps. In collaboration with my (life) partner Steven, who's an iOS developer, we created Uterus Invaders to teach a bit about birth control efficacy while mostly being extremely fun.
The coolest part about a personal project is that you can design it endlessly. The shitty part about a personal project is that you can design it endlessly. I think I ended up with something like 8 iterations before landing on a successful style.
The visual style is kind of all over the place, but that's part of the appeal. Pairing a Space Invaders-like spacey theme (fun! retro! 80s!) with bright, groovy 70s type offers a lighthearted feel. This is not your mama's "family life education" class! It's wacky, low-brow, and fun.
Work-in-progress screenshots of gameplay for Level One: The IUD are above. You can see that some of the UI isn't 100% QAed in code yet, but hey, there's no fun in waiting for perfection!
The other two levels are shown here; the IUD and pill are shooting levels, using the efficacy of each method to determine how easy each level is. The third level uses the phone's tilt functionality to simply avoid sperm — when you're not on birth control, it's a game of defense! (Unless you can find an emergency contraception pill floating around, which kills all the sperm and gives you another chance.)
I know what you're thinking: Did it work?
We're still testing and iterating to make sure it's doing its job before it goes to the app store, but in early testing people of all ages were surprised by what they learned. Almost everyone got at least one quiz question wrong, but with our tap-till-you-get-it method, they eventually learned the correct answer.
One almost 60-year-old user exclaimed that, "Of course I didn't learn anything, it's a ridiculous little game." But then, after a casual question about how likely someone might be to get pregnant without using birth control, he quickly exclaimed, "It's 15-25% every month. That's a lot more than I thought."
Seems like we might be onto something.
I'll continue to post progress here, let me know what you think!