Tamagotchi turns 25: the story of an electronic pet

Tamagotchi turns 25: the story of an electronic pet

25 years ago today
The first Tamagotchi: the history of the relationship between a person and an electronic pet

Tamagotchi turns 25 today

In the UK, there is a separate cemetery for Tamagotchi electronic pets.

© OLIEL / Picture Alliance

Tamagotchis shaped a whole generation in the 1990s. For many, it was more than a fun toy. Now a new generation of electronic pets is entering the market.

They are colorful and need to be fed regularly when they play and kept occupied to keep them developing. “Of course, Tamagotchi!” everyone who lived through the 90s has to say. But they don’t have to be correct: the description also refers to the fresh Peridot app that the creators of Pokemon Go are just releasing. Only virtual creatures do not live in a small plastic egg, but on a smartphone display. But the basic idea that the game involves completing tasks and having decent discipline remains the same.

Tamagotchi: a pet for the hustle and bustle of daily life in the big city

This Thursday (May 12) marks 25 years since the Tamagotchi arrived in Germany, about six months after it hit the market in Japan. The name is easy to explain: “tamago” in Japanese means “egg”. The idea for the toy belongs to the then 30-year-old employee of the game company Bandai, Aki Maite. Many children would like to have a pet, but in reality, in the cramped and hectic pace of everyday life in Japan, this is hard to imagine. Therefore, Maita wanted to give children the opportunity to experience everyday life with a pet, but with less commitment and without the expense of a veterinarian or food.

So she came up with a replacement: tiny alien creatures in a plastic case. In order for them to develop, the owner had to take care of them. The display showed, for example, that if the Tamagotchi is hungry, then it needs to be fed. Playing with the little guy made him happy. Sometimes it was necessary to “clean up” the inheritance – in other words, it was a bit like having a real pet. If not cared for well enough, Tamagotchis “get sick” and eventually die.

Relationship between man and machine

Bandai, one of Japan’s leading toy companies, having grown up with car models and action figures, among other things, has been able to make full use of its distribution channels. And just a few months after launching in Japan in November 1996, the Tamagotchi hit the market in more than two dozen countries and became a cult toy of the 90s.

Historically, Tamagotchis have been even bigger. Long before artificial intelligence and voice assistants became a part of everyday life, ten years before the first iPhone opened the door to today’s variety of apps, they created a cultural milestone with a simple technology: relationship man and machine. In the UK, the pet graveyard has given way to the dead Tamagotchi. In an essay titled “Love in the Time of the Tamagotchi,” author Dominic Pettman saw small devices as a gateway to virtual relationships for many.

There were also troubles. First-generation models could die so quickly that some kids even took them to school. Teachers saw this as a distraction and, for example, the devices were banned in some US schools.

New generation Tamagotchi

Despite attempts to keep up with the times and allow Tamagotchi to communicate with each other, for example, they have finally faded into the background in the history of technology over the past decade. Today, apps are more likely to compete for user attention. They are often more forgiving than Bandai once was: Niantic peridots, for example, cannot die from it, even if they are poorly cared for.

However, the Tamagotchi did not completely disappear either: on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Tamagotchi, Bandai released the Tamagotchi Smart. Based on the smartwatch, you now wear it on your wrist and communicate using the touch screen and voice input. However, the exposed figures add to the nostalgia.

Andrey Sokolov and Lars Nicolaisen, DPA/ldh/rös

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