An E-Waste Retrospective: Episode 4
Few toys, let alone electronics, ever breach the level of a true pop culture toy craze. We had Cabbage Patch Kids and Go Bots in the 80s. Then Beanie Babies, Pogs, and Tickle Me Elmo in the 90s. The 00s brought Bratz Dolls and Furby.
However, in 1996, Japanese toy company, Bandai, introduced Tamagotchi. And the world was never the same.
The name “Tamagotchi” is a combination of the Japanese words for “egg” and “watch.” The toy itself is a “virtual pet” simulation game, housed in a keychain-sized, egg-shaped computer with a tiny digital interface and three buttons. The perfect size for carrying with you, everywhere, as was necessary for a player to be successful. Ironically, this was also a key factor in the game’s eventual dominance among pop culture.
For those playing, Tamagotchi was more than a game. It was a commitment.
So it goes, a small alien species deposited an egg on Earth in order to evaluate life here. The player must raise the egg from baby to teen to adult. The better you care for the creature, the more well-adjusted it becomes. Players feed it meals and snacks to battle hunger, entertain with games to make it happy, discipline it by scolding, provide medicine when it’s sick, and put it to bed for proper rest. Oh, and it defecates everywhere if not taken to the restroom. Then becomes sick if the poop isn’t cleaned up. Uncheck the poop, or fail to feed the creature, it dies. Old age, naturally, is also a cause for demise.
With over 82 million units sold, it’s popularity is unquestioned. In fact, at its peak, fifteen Tamagotchis were sold every second in North America.
With anything this popular, crossover is inevitable. This included Tamagotchi-based video games for Game Boy, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Wii and even Sega Saturn; a cameo in Nintendo’s Mario Kart Arcade game; a feature film; Anime TV series; dedicated retail stores; and a litany of Tamagotchi-inspired hit pop songs, one most recently by rap duo, Taconafide, appropriately called Tamagotchi. It reached #1 on the Polish charts.
However, when reaching such heights of notoriety and influence, there’s always the inevitable blowback. National controversy hit hard when kids started taking their Tamagotchi to school--though critical to keeping it alive--causing a supposed mass disruption to education. On a bit darker note, Tamagotchi deaths took an emotional toll on a number of kids. This all led to widespread bans in schools, and even a pet cemetery in England dedicating an entire plot of land to deceased Tamagotchis packed in tiny coffins.
From 1996 to 2009, over 40 versions of the game were released. Bandai finally laid its game-changing toy line to rest in 2014. RIP.