Children of the 90s loved robopets and electronic toys. Furbies, Poo-Chi, Neopets and Tickle-Me-Elmo all captured the hearts and imaginations of kids in the ‘90s. Our generation had the first toys that could respond and interact with the surrounding world. Caring for a real dog became insufficient, outdated; we wanted robotic pets or virtual pets. We wanted Tamagotchis.
First released by Bandai in Japan in 1996, Tamagotchi became the most time-consuming keychain toy to date. Bandai derived the name Tamagotchi from a combination of the Japanese word tamago, meaning egg, and the English word watch. In fact, watching the Tamagotchi vigilantly is crucial for success in raising the virtual pet. First generation Tamagotchis could actually die from neglect; or if raised poorly, the pet could become vicious or misshapen. Overfeeding and neglecting to clean up the Tamagotchi’s poop could also make the digital pet ill. Nevertheless, ‘90s kids rose to the challenge of caring for the needy little digital beasts and brought their pocket-sized pets everywhere.
We spent hours of our lives with the non-cuddly keychain pets, and Tamagotchi inevitably became the means through which we bonded with and impressed our school friends. Of course, given Tamagotchis’ neediness, the sudden influx of children bringing their Tamagotchis to school became a problem. Distractions and disputes related to the virtual pets frustrated teachers and parents alike; several schools even banned Tamagotchis completely from the classroom. In order to meet Tamagotchi’s demand for constant care, smuggling the noisy keychain into school soon became the only option for Tamagotchi lovers. As a result of the widespread ban of Tamagotchis in school, the popularity of the toy in the U.S. declined.
However, the world itself had not seen the last of Tamagotchi. Since the 1996 debut of Tamagotchi, Bandai has subsequently released over 40 new versions primarily in Japanese. Among these many versions is a Christmas-themed Tamagotchi named “Santaclautchi.” Released in December of 1998, Santaclautchi was exclusively sold in Japan. The gameplay of Santaclautchi differs from normal Tamagotchi gameplay. That is, the caretaker must help Santaclautchi deliver presents to other Tamagotchis. If Santaclautchi delivers the gifts late, then the Tamagotchis and Santaclautchi become upset. Santaclautchi even has a unique health meter that indicates his “Santarashisa,” or “Santa-ness.” Unlike other Tamagotchis, failure to successfully raise Santaclautchi does not result in Santaclautchi’s death; rather, the neglected Santaclautchi sulks inside his house and the player must start over.
Modern Tamagotchi releases have color screens and infrared ports enabling players to connect with other Tamagotchis. Connecting with other Tamagotchis opens up opportunities for Tamagotchis to get married and reproduce. In recent years, Bandai has also released a version that can connect with Japanese cell phones. This knowledge led me to wonder if I could download Tamagotchi on my cell phone, but Bandai has not released a U.S. version of the game designed for cell phone use. Perhaps that is for the best since focusing in my large lecture classes is already hard enough. Given our generation’s history with Tamagotchi, the last thing we probably need is Tamagotchi and texting on the same electronic device. It’s one thing to get caught with Tamagotchi in elementary school; getting caught in class with Tamagotchi by a professor at the College of William and Mary would definitely be a completely different experience.