The Tamagotchi is a handheld digital pet that was created in Japan.
Tamagotchis are a small alien species that deposited an egg on Earth to see what life was like, and it is up to the player to raise the egg into an adult creature.
It was invented by Aki Maita and created by Akihiro Yokoi in 1996.
In the early 1990s inspiration struck Aki Maita, a regular old ‘office lady’ working at the Bandai toy company. While watching television, she was inspired to create a pet that children could care for and take anywhere, that had all the benefits of a pet without any of the downsides – messes, vet bills, and noise, to name a few.
Maita brought her idea to Akihiro Yokoi, a toy designer. Yokoi worked at WiZ, a company that specializes in animation and related toys (Tamagotchi’s success would pave the way for the Bandai-WiZ Digimon partnership). Together, they thought up the name and even an origin story for the egg-shaped, handheld pet: the alien Tamagotchis’ casings were built to protect them from Earth’s atmosphere. Maita then took a couple of hundred prototypes and handed them out to high school girls she found in Shibuya for field research. She conducted surveys and used the feedback to improve the product until its release.
The Tamagotchi was released by Bandai on November 23, 1996 in Japan and on May 1, 1997 in the rest of the world, quickly becoming one of the biggest toy fads of the late 1990s and the early 2000s.
It has three buttons (A, B, and C) which allow the user to select and perform an activity, including:
• Feeding the Tamagotchi by means of a meal or a snack.
• Playing a game with the Tamagotchi.
• Cleaning up a Tamagotchi’s fecal matter.
• Checking its age, discipline, hunger and happiness levels.
The pet goes through several distinct stages of development throughout its life cycle. Each stage lasts a set amount of days, depending on the model of the toy, and when it reaches a new stage, the toy plays a jingle, and the pet’s appearance changes. The pet can “die” due to poor care, old age, sickness, and in a few versions, predators. The pet’s life cycle stages are Baby, Child, Teenager, and Adult. Later Tamagotchi models have added a Senior model. Usually, the pet’s age will increase once it has awakened from its sleep time.
Poor care can cause a pet to die, but it can also die of old age. If an old pet dies without producing offspring, the family line has ended. The Japanese Tamagotchi toys usually feature a ghost and headstone when the pet dies, but English language versions have been changed to show an angel at death, or with good care or a high Training bar, a floating UFO and the pet laying an egg to indicate its return to its home planet. Pressing the C button shows the age at which the pet died. After the pet dies, a player can restart the game by pressing the A and C buttons at the same time.
Like most toy fads, Tamagotchi enjoyed a surge of popularity before being eclipsed by the next hottest thing. In this case, it was Furby, the talking animatronic creature that could “learn” English and speak Furbish with other Furbys. Best of all, parents didn’t need to worry about Furbys dropping dead … at least not in the normal course of play.
As of 2021, over 80 million units have been sold worldwide.
At its most popular, fifteen Tamagotchis were sold every minute in the US and Canada.
When the company offered a free Tamagotchi to anyone holding at least 1000 shares of its stock, the value of each share rose by 60 yen the following day, about 60 cents per share in today’s dollars, and saw four times its normal trading volume. All throughout Japan, millions of kids—and quite a few teenagers—doted on their Tamagotchi, responding to its beeps for attention and hoping it could survive long enough to morph into a novel-looking creature.
According to Bandai, the name is a portmanteau combining the two Japanese words tamago (たまご), which means “egg”, and uotchi (ウオッチ) “watch”. After the original English spelling of watch, the name is sometimes romanized as Tamagotch without the “i” in Japan. Most Tamagotchi characters’ names end in chi (ち) in Japanese, with few exceptions. (Not to be confused with tomodachi or “friend”).