Tamagotchi, more than any of the other variations of electronic pets that came after it looking to capitalize on its success (GigaPet, NanoPet, etc.), was the one that had the most potential to be traumatizing—because of all the different models, Tamagotchi was the one that came the closest to Real Parenting.
By that, I mean that your Tamagotchi could die, you had to clean up its poo, and the game was never ending.
Compare that, if you will, to another model, one that I owned—the NanoBaby. While you did have to clean up after your NanoBaby (what was it with these children’s toys and the bathroom business? So weird.), if you ignored your Baby, it didn’t die. Depending on how well you took care of it for a period of twelve days, you received an endgame message saying that your Baby went on to have a good life and “married Sweetheart” (because of course, as we know, marriage is the ultimate marker of success), or went on to “get detention for life” (so the kid-friendly way of saying that my Baby’s going to jail, I guess). But no matter what, at the end of those twelve days your ‘parenting’ time was up, and the game was over.
In comparison, Tamagotchi was alive as long as you kept it alive. Those things could go on for months. But heaven forbid you left your Tamagotchi alone to do something frivolous like…sleep. Attend school. You know. Silly things like that. (In order to help combat backlash from schools who were angry about students bringing their Tamagotchies with them so that they wouldn’t die while the students were in class, the game eventually came with a Pause button.)
Tamagotchi, on the surface, was not as strange as Furby, but looking at it closely, it was kind of creepy in its own way. After all, when you think about it, it took ‘playing parent’ to a whole new level. The fact that it ‘grew uglier and meaner’ the more you ignored it (in a distant way, it’s almost like Gremlins and the effect feeding them after midnight had), and that one day, after school, you could grab your Tamagotchi to see your little alien-man-pet-thing with Xs over its eyes (or perhaps the less scarring angel wings, at that point) because HOW COULD YOU LEAVE HIM ALONE TO GO LEARN????...well, that’s pretty morbid for a children’s toy. Tamagotchi wasn’t just a toy—Tamagotchi was a commitment. (And in my opinion, this probably was part of the reason why it was so popular—our generation seemed to have a thing with toys that absorbed in an inordinate amount of our time.) And when your Tamagotchi died, you certainly entered a period of mourning. “How could this have happened? I did everything right! I fed him every time he beeped!”
On the other hand, Tamagotchi was pretty advanced for a handheld pet of the 90s. It was one of those toys that allowed you to play solo, or connect to another Tamagotchi in order to play games or, if your Tamagotchi was old enough, make a love match (again…weird). If your Tamagotchi had a love match, that was the closest you ever got to end game—your Tamagotchi would go off, and get married, and have an egg that would hatch into another Tamagotchi—THAT YOU GOT TO RAISE! YAAAY! (Seriously, this was ‘winning’? How good of a job could you have really done raising your Tamagotchi if it was dumping your Tama-grandchi on your doorstep?)
In the end, while Tamagotchi was pretty intricate for when it was released, it was also pretty intense for a toy. The reasoning was that it could prepare children for having a real pet, but really, Tamagotchis seemed to need even more attention than actual pets! You couldn’t bring your pet hamster to school, after all. Tamagotchi seemed to, instead, be preparing a whole generation of children to be parents as soon as possible while simultaneously earning the ire of school teachers country-wide, all under the guise of ‘teaching children responsibility.’
And yet, if you didn’t have one, you absolutely knew at least eight people who did.
(And come on. You probably had one.)
After examining such an intricate toy, next time I’ll be scaling it back to something much more simple—Skip-It.