The Tamagotchi Was Tiny, but Its Impact Was Huge

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this is done Tamagotchi hatched out of its egg 25 years ago. That’s right, 25 years. If you’re a ’90s kid, you’re either the boss of your own or looking over the shoulder of someone who did. But while the toy has disappeared from school grounds these days – replaced by smartphones – many of its key features have had a significant impact on the video game industry and live on in major games today.

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Tamagotchi, first released by Bandai in Japan on November 23, 1996, had only a 32×16 pixel screen and three small buttons. Each of these buttons performed a few simple tasks, such as feeding your Tamagotchi (which was the name of the device and the name of the little creature you were tasked with taking care of), turning off the lights in his room, or play a game Tasks also include cleaning your Tamagotchi’s feces—at times so many times that you can’t help but worry about the health of its colon.

Fail at these simple tasks and your Tamagotchi faces a gruesome, neglectful death. After an ear-piercing beep and a slight hesitation, Tamagotchi disappears into cyberspace forever. All that is left are some stars and text saying how young Tamagotchi was when he passed. (From diarrhea, probably.)


Despite the creature being only a 10-pixel blob, school students were more than willing to detain themselves to investigate it during class rather than deal with a sick time (Tamagotchi’s life was unstoppable). In the United Kingdom, there were pet cemeteries that went so far dedicate sections of their lot Especially for children’s digital pets whose neglect resulted in the death of Tamagotchi. This all makes you wonder: Would millennials have ever learned to care for their offspring if not for the constant grief of losing their beloved Tamagotchi?

This “continuous play” feature, which Tamagotchi was one of the first to use, was revolutionary in the video game industry. In later years, it became a prominent feature of many hugely popular games.

amazing popularity
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Photograph: David Lodge / Getty Images

“After the first Tamagotchi was launched in 1996, it became not only a toy craze, but a social phenomenon,” says Nobuhiko Momoi, managing director and chief Tamagotchi officer at Bandai, the company behind Tamagotchi. Since its release, Bandai has sold over 82 million units Tamagotchi—and the company still releases and sells new versions every few years.

NS Newer versions still have three buttons, but in other respects they are much fancier. They have colorful graphics, nice editable apartments in which Tamagotchi can live, a built-in camera, and even a function that allows players to connect with others online to complete activities and play games. allows.

Considering the device is literally an egg watch—tamago in Japanese means egg and yuochi is watch (the original version was initially for a wristwatch)—the toy’s popularity seems a bit odd.

“We thought it would do well, but we didn’t expect it to be such a huge success, to the extent that production can’t keep up with demand,” Momoi tells Wired.

According to Bandai, the Tamagotchi’s success is because it draws on human nurturing instincts, in this case the urge to care for a digital pet—following its growth and development and ensuring that it doesn’t die. It imparted a sense of responsibility to the children, and they accepted it with great enthusiasm.

“We had given birth to an entirely new toy category,” Momoi says.

a pioneer of regular play

The simplicity of the Tamagotchi is a stroke of genius, says Adam Crowley, professor of English at Husson University. He researches how achievements in the virtual world can offer a sense of accomplishment that may not exist in the real world.

Tamagotchi captured many aspects of the games that make them fun to play, he says. For example, it managed to provoke strong emotional reactions and engagement in players because of their sense of responsibility. It also gave players a sense of duty or obligation, as consistent play requires them to check on their digital pet every few hours to keep them alive and healthy.

Tamagotchi was the pioneer of this type of gameplay, where the game doesn’t stop even when you turn off your device. This was largely unheard of before the release of Tamagotchi, but now lives on in some of the world’s most popular games, such as world of Warcraft And Elder Scrolls Online,

Photograph: Chessnot/Getty Images

“In those games, like Tamagotchi, the game never really ends,” Crowley says. “It is now one of the most popular forms of games, and in a very simple way, Tamagotchi popularized the idea of ​​a never-ending game. And this has had significant consequences in the 21st century.”

But importantly, Tamagotchi was also one of the first video games to be marketed primarily to girls. According to Crowley, when consoles like Nintendo were first released, they were exclusively placed on shelves in the boy section of Toys “R” Us. With Tamagotchi, the opposite happened. It challenged the hyper-masculinity that was associated with video games at the time, he says.

“Tamagotchi provided access to people who had been ignored in the video game industry over the past decade,” says Crowley.

Ironically, he did so by playing into the gender stereotypes that were dominant at the time, and to some extent still are. It was a toy that girls viewed as stereotypical female traits—such as a motherly instinct or the concept of nurturing. For girls to be allowed to play video games, they have to take on the role of a caretaker.

“Tamagotchi very much reflects the social conditions of the moment of its emergence,” says Crowley. “So on the one hand, we’re finally passing it on to the girls, while on the other, it was saying ‘That’s what girls do, that’s what’s fair.'”

The past and future of virtual reality

If not the first, Tamagotchi was an early example of a video game that blurred the lines between the digital world and the real world, or virtual reality.

In 1997, Finnish addiction specialist and sociologist Teuvo Peltonimi issued a depressing warning about Tamagotchi in south china morning post: “Virtual reality is a new drug, and Tamagotchi is the first wave. It’s not just some fad that will go away. [Tamagotchis] A virtual world is a perfect example of the potential danger of, in the future, a real dependency problem that needs treatment.”

As an addiction specialist, Peltonemi became more concerned when she saw children clinging to their tamagochis in schools and at the dinner table. In his work, he used Tamagotchi to show how children and adults can develop top emotional responses to virtual characters.

“Tamagotchi, I think, was the first small device accessible to the average consumer where you could find virtual reality, and its most important feature was that it appealed to people’s emotions and sentiments through caring,” Peltonimi told Wired.

“People developed really strong emotional attachments to their Tamagotchis because they had a sort of connection with a digital pet, to the extent that people felt they had enough human characteristics to cremate when they died, “He continues.

For some, Tamagotchi carries its appeal into adulthood as well. Kim Matthews, 32, from Australia is one of those people. As a child, his “Tama” was one of his favorite toys. In adulthood, it still is—though now more so for nostalgic purposes. She was given her first Tamagotchi for her eighth birthday and immediately fell in love – competing with her friends to see who could live the longest.

“Sadly, my first Tamagotchi inadvertently went swimming with me in the pool one day,” Matthews says. “I was devastated.”

With a collection of 71 Tamagotchis collected during her lifetime, Matthews still struggles to explain why she still cares so much for them 25 years later.

“I think they’re neat,” she jokes, a reference to a marge simpson meme, “Maybe it’s a ’90s kids thing.”

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