25 years of Tamagotchi in Germany The tiny electronic eggs practice the human-machine relationship
By Andre Sokolow and Lars Nicholassen dpa
Tamagotchi, the small electronic devices you take care of every day, quickly became an electronic buzz and a favorite of the ’90s. But from today’s perspective, they were more than that.
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They are colourful, and need to be fed regularly when they play – and also kept busy until they develop further. “Sure, Tamagotchi!” Everyone who lived through the ’90s will say. But they don’t have to be right: the description also applies to the new app “Peridot”, just launched by the makers of “Pokémon Go”. Virtual objects, however, do not live in a small plastic egg, but on the screen of a smartphone. But the basic idea that the game involves completing missions and having a decent amount of discipline is the same.
Small electronic pets have become a global success
It’s been 25 years since Tamagotchis came to Germany, about six months after they were released in their home country of Japan. The name is easy to explain: “tamago” is a Japanese word for “egg”. The idea for the game came from 30-year-old employee Aki Maita of the toy company Bandai. Many children would like to have a pet, but in fact, within the hectic pace of daily life in Japan, this is difficult to imagine. So Maita wanted to give kids the opportunity to experience everyday life with a pet – but with less commitment and no vet or food costs.
So I came up with an alternative: tiny aliens in a plastic box. In order to develop it, the owner had to take care of it. The show showed if your Tamagotchi was hungry, for example – then you had to feed him. Playing a game with a little fellow made her happy. Sometimes legacies also had to be “cleaned up” – in other words, it was a bit like having a real pet. If not well taken care of, your Tamagotchi will become “sick” and eventually die.
Bandai, one of the leading Japanese toy companies that grew up with car models and action figures, among others, has been able to fully exploit its sales channels. A few months after its release in Japan in November 1996, Tamagotchis was on the market in more than twenty countries and became a favorite toy in the 1990s.
Emotional attachment and communication with a digital object
Historically, Tamagotchis were much more than that. Long before artificial intelligence and voice assistants became a part of everyday life, ten years before the first iPhone opened the door to a variety of applications today, they created a cultural milestone using simple technology: the human-machine relationship. In the UK, a pet cemetery paved the way for the deceased Tamagotchi. In an article called “Love in the Tamagotchi Times,” author Dominic Bateman saw small devices as a gateway to virtual relationships for many.
There were also some problems. Models of the first generations can “die” so quickly that some children have taken them to school. Teachers saw this as a distraction and the devices were banned in some schools in the US, for example.
Despite attempts to keep up with the times and allow Tamagotchis to communicate with each other, for example, they have finally been sidelined in the history of technology over the past decade. Today, apps are more likely to compete for users’ attention. They are often more tolerant than Bandais once were: Niantic Vipers, for example, can’t die from it even if they aren’t well cared for.
However, Tamagotchis haven’t quite gone away either: For the 25th anniversary of Tamagotchis’ birth, Bandai has directed Tamagotchi Smart. Based on a smartwatch, you can now wear it on your wrist and communicate via a touch screen and voice input. However, the numbers shown add an air of nostalgia.