1996 was an interesting time. Sonic the Hedgehog didn’t suck, the PlayStation was showing what Nintendidn’t want to do, and a little egg-shaped device was unleashed onto the world.
Created by Bandai (now Namco Bandai), the Tamagotchi was half-video game, half-excuse for a pet fish. It game in various colours, each included a keychain and a small, monochromatic LCD screen that featured a blob of pixels that barely resembled a face.
The device was an instant hit in Japanese schoolyards and soon made it’s way across the seas to the western world. The craze picked up and at the height of it’s popularity over 20 units were being sold every minute in the US alone.
The handheld device started with a virtual egg that would hatch into a baby who would need constant attention lest it die due to neglect. You would care for your virtual pet through it’s life – the better you look after him, the better type of adult he will turn into. And really, that’s all there is to it – making sure your pet it happy and clear of virtual poop.
As the years rolled on, so did the pet’s popularity. A second version was released and then a third, each with a new more virtual toys and a little more things to do with your pet. A year later, Bandai released the Digimon devices which were similar in premise, but included the ability to battle monsters with friends and were more targeted towards boys and also to compete with the rise of Pokemon, which was also released in 1996.
Suddenly, there was a huge consumer war for virtual pets that spanned the entire world – Tamagotchi were on top. In fact, so many were being sold that Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda series, among others, has been quoted as saying he thought the virtual pets would destroy Nintendo.
Tamagotchi’s decline was largely thanks to tabloid media who at the time spread wild allegations about the toy’s effect on children’s brains. Subsequently, the game was banned in Australian public schools, and schools in other countries. The Pokemon video game series was also making waves, and Bandai’s own Digimon franchise was becomming popular thanks to it’s anime series.
Today, the Tamagotichi brand is still around, and is still a hit with school kids. The device has taken a back seat to video games such as Tamagotchi Connection, and most modern titles have been released on Nintendo platforms. In fact, one of the characters from the Tamagotchi series have even appeared in the Mario Kart Arcade title. The critters have also appeared in their own TV show, a movie and have their own arcade systems called the “Tamastation” in Japan.
16 years on, and we all feel extremely old – how is your Tamagotchi doing? Why not take this opportunity to rescue him from the back of your junk drawer, wipe off the layer of filth on the screen, replace the battery and relive that crazy few years of your childhood when a Japanese toy owned the planet.