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Tamagotchi turns 25: why the cult toy was so successful

2022-05-12T13:24:40.396Z

Tamagotchi were a small digital revolution 25 years ago. Colorful body, tiny monochrome screen - and a miserable end if left unattended. Does it still exist?



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Digital Pet Substitute: A Japanese girl shows off her Tamagotchi

Photo: YURIKO NAKAO/ REUTERS

They are colourful, they need to be fed regularly when they are playing and they need to be kept busy so that they can develop further.

"Sure, Tamagotchi!" Anyone who lived through the 1990s would say.

But they don't necessarily have to be right: the description also applies to the new app »Peridot«, which the makers of »Pokémon Go« are just releasing.

Except that the virtual creatures don't live in a small plastic egg, but on the smartphone display.

However, the basic idea that the game involves completing tasks and having a decent amount of discipline is the same.

It's been 25 years since the Tamagotchis came to Germany, around six months after they were introduced to the market in their native Japan.

The name is easy to explain: »Tamago« is Japanese for »egg«.

The idea for the toy came from the then 30-year-old employee Aki Maita at the games company Bandai.

Many children would like to have a pet, but in the narrow and hectic everyday life in Japan, this usually remains a dream.

Maita wanted to fulfill that for the children – but with less commitment and without the cost of veterinarians or food.

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Image commonly seen at the turn of the millennium: a woman playing with a Tamagotchi

Photo: Maurizio Gambarini / dpa

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.

For example, the display showed if a Tamagotchi was hungry – then you had to feed it.

Playing a game with the little fellow made it happy.

Occasionally, legacies had to be »cleared away«.

In other words, it was like having a real pet.

If not looked after well enough, a Tamagotchi would become "sick" and eventually die.

Pet cemetery space and school ban

Bandai, one of the leading Japanese toy companies, which grew up with model cars and action figures, among other things, was able to fully exploit its sales channels during the launch.

A few months after launching in Japan in November 1996, Tamagotchis were on the market in more than two dozen countries and became a cult toy of the 1990s.

Historically, Tamagotchis were even more than that. Long before artificial intelligence and voice assistants became part of everyday life, ten years before the first iPhone, which opened the door to today's variety of apps, they created a cultural milestone with simple technology: a relationship between people and Machine.

In the UK, a pet cemetery made way for deceased Tamagotchi.

In the essay titled "Love in the Tamagotchi Times," author Dominic Pettman saw the small devices as a gateway to virtual relationships for many.

There was also some trouble.

The models of the first generations were so sensitive that they "died" after just a few hours without human attention, which is why some children took them to school.

Teachers saw this as a distraction, and the devices were banned in some schools in the United States, for example.

Tamagotchi on the arm

Despite attempts to keep up with the times and let Tamagotchis communicate with each other, for example, they have finally been sidelined by the history of technology over the past decade.

Today, apps are more likely to vie for the attention of users.

They are often more forgiving than Bandai once were: Niantic's peridots, for example, cannot die from poor care.

However, the Tamagotchis have not completely disappeared either: On the occasion of the 25th birthday, Bandai brought out the Tamagotchi Smart.

The new model is worn on the wrist like a smartwatch and communicates with the digital pet via touchscreen and voice input.

Only the angular figures on the display convey a touch of nostalgia.

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-05-12

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