Tamagotchi On

I killed my Tamagotchi last night.

Or rather, I took the batteries out of the device. I’m not sure what effect that will have, but I’d rather not know. After playing with it for two weeks, it was time to stop, but I loved that stupid little thing.

One of the students in my Media Studies course in the fall semester did her class project on Tamagotchi. She did a lot of research, and I was so interested in her work that I tracked down all of the articles, blog posts, and videos she referenced. I also ended up buying the newest Tamagotchi model, Tamagotchi On, which was released last summer and retails for about $50 to $60 (depending on which color you want).

Like a lot of other 1990s children, I had a Tamagotchi back in the day, and the game was as basic as it gets – keep the creature in the plastic egg alive as long as you can by feeding it when it gets hungry and cleaning its poo. It beeped at you when it needed attention, and it needed attention about once every ten minutes or so. It would die if you left it alone for more than an hour or two, but I was a devoted Tamagotchi parent and managed to keep mine alive until the batteries ran out, at which point I put the device back in its box and promptly forgot about it.

According to my student, who gave a fantastic presentation of her work, the current “Tamagotchi On” generation is both more interactive and more forgiving. I spent a lot of December being very conflicted and unhappy, so I decided to take advantage of a holiday sale and get myself a new Tamagotchi. I put the box on my desk and let it sit for two weeks before finally starting the game on January 2. I needed to make sure I had enough free time, because the creature demands attention.

Your job is still to keep your Tamagotchi alive by feeding it and cleaning its poo. You also have to give it baths, help it vacuum its little house, and give it medicine if it gets sick. The most time-consuming aspect of the game, however, is making sure your Tamagotchi is happy, which you do by playing with it and taking it on (virtual) trips. You can earn in-game currency by playing minigames, and you spend this currency on toys and fancy food and snacks. Aside from your hometown, you can also visit other areas, which you unlock by meeting various conditions that you more or less have to learn about from a fan-written walkthrough. You can have simple interactions with other Tamagotchi characters outside your town; and, if you romance them properly (for which you might also need a walkthrough), you can create a baby that you raise using all the resources you acquired from the previous generation. In addition to breeding Tamagotchi children, you can breed pets for them, which serves no purpose aside from being cute. There’s also an app that will connect the Tamagotchi device to your smartphone via Bluetooth, but I didn’t want to mess around with that.

This generation of Tamagotchi seems to be programmed to pick up on the patterns of its user’s activity, meaning that it will leave you alone during the hours you tend not to interact with it and demand attention at times when you’ve given it attention before, which I appreciate. You can also turn the sound off entirely and pause the game by leaving your creature at its parents’ house, which I appreciate even more. I think that, if I wanted to, it would probably be possible for me to keep playing the game indefinitely.

The pixel graphics are wonderful, and the art direction and animation are lovely. The character design is a bit odd, but I think that’s probably part of its appeal. The physical design of the egg-shaped device is aesthetically pleasing, and it’s sturdy and sophisticated enough to warrant… maybe not $50 to $60, but the $40 I paid when it was on sale.

I quit playing for the same reason I quit playing Pokémon Go, which is that I passed my peak balance of time invested vs. emotional engagement. Basically, I realized that I was going to have to put in a lot more effort if I wanted to get more out of the game, and I wasn’t willing to do that. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun, but rather that I had no desire to be anything more than a casual player.

All things considered, I enjoyed my two weeks my with tiny little virtual pet…

…but I have to admit that I was also embarrassed to take it out of the house. Tamagotchi On is a neat little toy, but it’s designed for eight-year-old girls, and it’s so cute that it’s obscene. I accidentally left it in my laptop bag one afternoon, and it beeped when I happened to be riding an elevator with someone. They were like, “That’s such a cute text alert ringtone,” and I was like, “Yes… I receive text messages… like a fellow adult.” The downside of the game having its own device is that you can’t pretend to be checking your messages while you play it. I suspect that it’s intended to train children too young to have their own phones in the sort of behavioral patterns involved in constantly checking messages, which is somewhat disturbing. Still, I got some good serotonin out of the experience, so I’m not complaining.