On your way to school. Backpack full of books, notebooks and a pencil case which has seen better days. Inside a small pocket something beeps trying to grab your attention.
Children from the 90s and 2000s are probably familiar with this sound. You used to love that toy and you probably begged your parents to buy you one. Who didn’t have to feed and take care of a little alien, carrying it everywhere in a keyring in the shape of an egg?
Tamagotchi was a real phenomenon in that decade. A toy for a generation who lived how the world was transforming along with technological changes and is celebrating its birthday the next November 23rd.
An egg shaped history about a tech toy
Hatching, the origins of Tamagotchi
The history of this virtual pet starts in 1996. Bandai, the company that commercialized Tamagotchi, wasn’t going through its best momento at that time. They had even thought of merging with SEGA, which was in good health at that moment. That’s when Aki Maita, a Japanese inventor and pedagogue, appeared with a digital toy which originated by her childhood desire of having the pet she never could have. That’s why she had designed a “virtual pet” that could be taken care of.
Commonly, the term “Tamagotchi” has its origins in combining tamago, which means egg in Japanese, and wo’chi, which comes from watch in English. However, there’s another explanation for the last part of the term, which relates to the Word uocchi, the Japanese term for look after.
Basically, those were the main functions of Tamagotchi. A pocket-size technological toy in the shape of a key ring which demanded constant attention and care from its owner. Depending on how it was grown and looked after, Tamagotchi evolved and transformed. It could be ugly, undisciplined and have poor health o being adorable and full of energy. Its way of demanding our attention was through “beeps” that, if we decided ignoring, well... we could provoke its death
Maita and Bandai worked on the concept of virtual pet under the principles of portability, accessibility and constant care. It was crucial that the pet wasn’t left alone at home, it was your responsibility and should travel with you.
Before the release of Tamagotchi, the company performed a test with the best prototype they had developed. They went to Shibuya in Tokyo and gave 200 units of the device to several kids, with the condition that they had to try it and answer a questionnaire. The results were so positive that the company decided to prepare a massive release at the en don 1996 in Japan. At this moment, Bandai had started a revolution in the toy industry. Tamagotchis hit the US about a year after with a branding and design by Bob Nenninger. Over 82 million Tamagotchi toys have been sold worldwide since its introduction.
Tamagotchi, the great success of Bandai
From that moment, Bandai as well other companies had launched dozens of variations of the pocket pet original formula. In 1997, Bandai extended the concept implementing RPG mechanics including battles with digital monsters which also needed care. This concept is better known as Digimon, the successful multimedia IP featured in different platforms, from video games to series and films.
Bandai also tried to take Tamagotchi further, releasing Tamagotchi video games for consoles including Nintendo DS, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Nintendo 3DS, Game Boy and Wii and mobile and mobiles, although most of them were never released outside Japan and no one of them gathered the same attention as the initial toy.
The Tamagotchi Effect
Miyamoto himself once recognized “When we are talking about 3D spectacular graphics, such as those from Mario Kart and other Racing cars games, we need to be aware that the true success in Tamagotchi, being no more that a key ring with 10 to 20 pixels graphics. Now I am aware that we have lost as a company having to face them with titles such as Mario 64. I am very serious about it”
Such was the Tamagotchi success and impact on society that the expression “Tamagotchi effect”was born. It is described as a psychological effect that some robots and artificial intelligence can produce in humans.
Basically, the Tamagotchi effect refers to our capacity and tendency to develop an emotional bond with machines and robots. The evolution of AI has arised awareness of this issue in our society nowadays.
What we love about Tamagotchi
These pocket-size pets got to teach a whole generation of children the meaning of responsibility and how difficult it can be to look after a “living” creature. There’s no doubt that Tamagotchi was a cornerstone in the 90s culture.
Taking care of things or creatures makes you love them and you are willing to watch them grow up. You develop a bond and you want it succeed.
One of the things we love most about Tamagotchi is the way it was capable of introducing technology in children’s life: in a simple way and thanks to a groundbreaking interface. It helped to change the vision of technology, making it more accessible, in a very changing era. Tamagotchi represented a childhood fantasy came true: a toy that becomes alive.
Melbits POD, hatch your own virtual pets
Bringing fantasy to life is what we are pretending to do with the Melbits POD. A toy like Tamagotchi that encourages positive digital habits and nurtures soft skills like emotional intelligence, empathy or creative thinking.
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