It happens every day: another parent is sucked into taking care of a new pet. It might be the stray kitten Jenny found in the alley, the lizard Mikey picked up at school, the puppy bought by grandpa; no matter the critter and no matter how it got there, there were sure to be messes and catastrophes to follow. Worse yet, the biggest of these disasters would come once the excitement wore off and the poop-scooping, feedings, grooming and general maintenance would be foisted onto someone else: the parent.
Throughout the years, a variety of tactics have been mounted against such irresponsible pet caretaking. From mice to fish, from ant farms to sea monkeys, these pets are brought onto the scene to test the mettle of the most strong-willed of children. As often as such ventures were successful, some were ill-fated, at least for the starter pets. Not to mention such efforts did little to thwart the incessant begging and puppy dog eyes. Luckily for parents and kids of the late 90s there was the Tamagotchi.
Tamagotchi was the brainchild of (the probably worn-out) Japanese housewife, Aki Maita, while she watched some bored kids on a train. She set out to create a portable electronic device that would create a virtual reality pet for the children to play with. Best of all, it fit into the palm of a hand. It could go anywhere!
With finished product in hand, Maita went to Bandai Toy Company, the Japanese company responsible for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, to pitch her idea for what would be called the “Tamagotchi,” which in Japanese means “lovable egg.” The toy was pretty simple, a plastic shell shaped like an egg with a screen and a few buttons to press. It came in a variety of colors and was easy to use. Open the box, pull the plastic tab from the side and voila, a Tamagotchi has been “hatched”! Its life would be determined by its owner and the care the “pet” would receive. It could grow into a happy well-behaved creature or a monster born of neglect and virtual torture.
This isn’t to say the Tamagotchi was so perfect and innocent; it needed a tremendous amount of attention, and anyone with a Tamagotchi within 10 feet of them knew it. Beep, beep, beep, Beep, BEEP! BEEEEEP! That meant the Tamagotchi was feeling ignored. Think turning the sound off will save you? Well, it works if you don’t mind flashing lights. The Tamagotchi had a schedule all its own and it had nothing to do with yours. Oh, you’re in school? It’s time for *you* to eat? Forget that! Unless you wanted the monster mutant described in the previous paragraph, you’d best get right to that little virtual reality pet of yours.
The Tamagotchi was introduced in Japan at the end of 1996 and it was an instant hit. Everyone stood in line, from businessmen to celebrities, all alongside their children to get one. Within a few months, Bandai ran out of its original stock and the price for the little electronic toy skyrocketed. People were willing to pay up to ten times the price for what was left and a good number of them ended up on the black market thanks to thieves. It was the Tickle Me Elmo of Japan. By the Spring of 1997, riding the wave of buzz, the Tamagotchi arrived in the United States. It was a hit with the Yanks, and children and adults came to love the little Tamagotchi toys.
It wouldn’t be long before the Tamagotchi became a problem in the classroom, and soon schools began to ban the little electronic creatures as they became a source of social drama and classroom interruption. As a result, and few saw this coming, parents were charged with taking care of the pets, lest they mutate or die. The last throes of a dying Tamagotchi were perhaps the loudest. Squawk, squawk, dead. Luckily, hitting the reset button was all it took to start the process anew.
The virtual pet was a hot market to be a part of in the late 1990s, and a number of electronics manufacturers set themselves up to become rivals of Bandai, including Tiger Electronics – who created the Gigapet – and Playmates Toys – creators of the Nanopet. Other franchises got in on the deal and there was even a tiny digital Yoda available for a while. Soon, adorable pets were replaced with alien viruses and a number of other creatures for just about any imagination.
Though the craze has simmered down, virtual pets continue to be popular toys, especially in Japan, which was ground zero for the virtual explosion. Bandai has continued to expand on their line, which now includes Tamagotchis that can “talk” to one another and become friends. Of course, as popular as the Tamagotchi ever got, it never fully thwarted a child’s desire for a “real” pet, but at least it quieted the masses.
If you were the caregiver for one of these popular pets, or have any other recollections about this memorable 90s craze, we welcome all of your memories of the lovable Tamagotchi in our comments section.