The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Tamagotchi
If you didn’t live through the '90s, you probably missed one of the biggest technological fads in recent human history. In this blog, we’ll be taking a look into Tamagotchi, the fad that took the mid '90s by storm and died a premature death shortly after.
What Was Tamagotchi?
Put simply, Tamagotchi was a tiny plastic egg with a black and white display and three unmarked buttons. In this plastic universe, there lived a digital pet that required care and attention, much like a real pet. Tamagotchi pets required feeding, loving attention, watering, and the occasional poop clean-up.
According to their origin story, Tamagotchi pets are alien beings, who required their plastic cases to remain safe from the Earth’s atmosphere. These pets would routinely alert you to their needs, at practically any time of day or night and should they be left unattended for too long, you could quite literally return to a dead Tamagotchi.
True heartbreak for any child of the '90s.
How it originated
Tamagotchi pets originally found life in the minds of Aki Maita of Bandai and Yokoi Akihiro, who worked for WiZ, a company that specialized in animations and toys. Interestingly, Maita wasn’t a toy designer at Bandai originally, but instead worked as an office manager, presumably helping with HR and logistics.
As the story goes, inspiration struck one day as she was watching TV and she felt the desire to create a pet that children could take with them anywhere and care for at all times. She brought her idea to Yokoi, who helped with the design process and even helped her shape the origin story for Tamagotchi.
How it became popular
Once an initial design was agreed upon, Maita did an incredible amount of groundwork to ensure that Tamagotchi would provide the maximal amount of entertainment and joy for children. Maita took several hundred prototype Tamagotchi pets into the High Schools of Shibuya. Then, they distributed them to high school girls, who she thought would be the primary demographic for the pets.
Once distributed, Maita conducted several surveys to fine-tune Tamagotchi pets into the powerhouses they would soon become. In November of 1996, Tamagotchi was launched in Japan and shortly after that, they took over the world.
Why Was Tamagotchi Such a Hit?
It's crazy to think that in a time where technological entertainment was advancing so steadily that something as comparatively simple as a Tamagotchi would become as popular as it did. By the time the Tamagotchi began its invasion of American shores, Gameboy, Nintendo 64, Super Nintendo, and PlayStation 1 had all been released at this point.
Titles such as Super Mario 64, Pilot Wings, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot had all been released and were thriving. One would think that these titles alone would be enough to satisfy the technological or entertainment cravings of any mid '90s teenager.
However, Tamagotchi offered a type of entertainment and development that was entirely separated from an action or adventure genre.
Tamagotchi Provided the Illusion of Life
For those of us who lived through the '90s or were born before it, we’re probably all too familiar with the attachment we developed to our stuffed toys and action figures. We spent hours playing, constructing story lines, building “houses” and “neighborhoods” for them to live in with pillows and Barbie houses and anything else we could dream up.
We wanted them to live.
Taken out of context, that could seem extremely creepy, but these toys were already very much alive in our minds. The only thing cooler than acting out those stories would have been our toys being able to interact with us as a pet would.
Tamagotchi filled this childhood void, by pretty accurately simulating the demands of a real-life pet. This effect was amplified by the fact that Tamagotchi pets' needs would have to be addressed at seemingly random times, the same as a real-life pet.
Finite Lifespans Heightened Emotional Attachments
So long as you could keep your Tamagotchi functioning, you could theoretically play and engage with new pets for an eternity. However, each individual pet’s life lasted only a finite amount of time. In modern Tamagotchi pets, lifespans can technically be infinite, so long as users avoid making mistakes in caring for their pets.
The average Tamagotchi of the past, however, would last 12 days or less. Which in effect made every moment we spent with them that much more precious. Every beep for food or play or cleanups meant a little bit more, since there was a chance that it could be the last one for that particular pet.
If Tamagotchi was So Popular, why did it die out?
The exact reason why Tamagotchi died out is still up for debate. There were several contributing factors, but one of the most commonly cited was the fact that they were so damned hard to keep alive for the average kid. Once the rush from being part of the trend died down and children began interacting with their virtual pets in depth, frustration became a common part of the experience.
Given their widespread popularity, many schools in the USA also moved to have them banned for a number of reasons. Most markedly was the simple distraction from the school curriculum. This resulted in a significant amount of cultural upheaval in the suburbs as parents were taking on the additional task of keeping their children's pets alive since they could no longer take them to school.
It’s safe to say that Tamagotchi didn’t die a pretty death…
If you’re Feeling Nostalgic, There’s good News
On a brighter note, there is some good news for those of you who are now feeling that pang of nostalgic hunger. Tamagotchi was recently re-released as a larger, full color version with more functionality than its black and white predecessor.
The new Tamagotchi On allows you to customize your Tama, raise them to adulthood, marry them and give rise to new generations of Tama who are combinations of their parents. There’s even an app that goes with it, allowing for connection with other Tama parents and fun minigames.