I snoozed on the actual 25 year birthday of Tamagotchi which was last year on 23rd November, with the very first Tamagotchi hitting stores in Japan on 23rd November 1996. It wasn’t until 1st May 1997 however that the Tamagotchi got a language upgrade, got some new packaging and made its international debut… So in a way it’s a birthday for when we first got our first glimpse of what would be one of the biggest toy trends of the end of the 90s and start of the 00s. Quite rightly so too! This little machine was an absolute game changer and innovation for pocket-sized digital gameplay.
It was invented by Aki Maita of the Wiz company and was then further developed by Akihiro Yokoi of Bandai, which is the company which would go on to release this toy. It was originally thought of by the company as a toy for girls believing that they needed a boys version which was released as the DigiMon (Digital Monster) by Bandai a year later. This latter version however didn’t see as many sales as the Tamagotchi and quite frankly how many people remember this little “boy’s” pet? The Tamagotchi turned out to be far more unisex than Bandai anticipated and as such saw HUGE success and by the start of 2021 it had sold well over 83 million units worldwide!
Whilst not the first widely released virtual pet on the market – that claim most likely goes to PF Magic for their Dogz and Catz releases in 1995 and 96 for the PC. However a year after that first Dogz release, Tamagotchi of course came along with their dedicated handheld unit which so many companies have since TRIED to emulate.
Being a Japanese release the product name comes from the joining of 2 Japanese words; tamago (たまご), which means “egg”, and uotchi (ウオッチ) “watch”… The fact that it could show the time being everyone’s favorite (but ultimately totally in vain) excuse for having one of these little distraction boxes in school! Speaking of wasting time Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi in 1997 won the Ig Nobel Prize, a satirical version of the Nobel Prize, organized by Annals of Improbable Research. They won the prize for economics due to “millions of person-hours of work”.
If you grew up in the 90’s you will probably know, just as I do, that actually the Tamagotchi really was a massive waste of everyone’s time and it really did interfere with the life of a child. This improved a little with the gen 2 version which could go a little longer than the gen 1 pets which needed very regular care. I know that certainly my Tamagotchi used to come to school with me and they were widely banned in educational institutions all over the world for being probably almost as disruptive as mobiles are today.
But at the end of the day when you took on a Tamagotchi, you really did feel like you had a duty to keep it happy and alive.
This feeling of duty in fact was very intense in some cases. As it was a virtual entity that reacted to how it was treated and really did rely on you, it had an even higher tendency to encourage strong emotional connections than something like a teddy bear for example, and even more so than the Furby which again reacted to you but didn’t have that level of reliance. This ended up in a psychological term called the Tamagotchi effect where people (especially but not limited to children), form very strong emotional attachments with machines or virtual entities – usually things with a level of artificial intelligence.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (although some people argue that it shows a detachment from “real life”), as it has allowed ai software producers to work on things like virtual friends with whom people can forge a genuine emotional attachment, and in some cases give people who have no access to social circles or family attachments a friend to talk to and share life with.
Between these strong emotional bonds, distracting nature, playability, portability, collaboration with other companies and media… there’s really no trouble in seeing just how this tiny virtual friend has endured for the past 25 years and if anything is starting to see a very welcome resurgence which I hope to see improve, with a lot of exciting things on the way from the company!
So what does the Nerd Life Tamagotchi collection look like?
Of course, I do collect these guys, and at the moment I am just collecting them in the box – I love the nostalgia of these guys and sadly just don’t have the time with being in full-time employment and having a young family of my own to be able to fully look after one of these guys, although I keep playing with the idea of opening one up and giving it a go – could be a nice guide for how to fit a Tamagotchi around a hectic adult life!
So at this moment I have got both versions of the R2-D2 Tamagotchi and I have to say that as much as I love the look of both of these, I do prefer the white one. Joining these is the Pac Man edition and just a single Gen 2 in a yellow and (dark) blue shell.