We all remember the Tamagotchis summer of 1998. The cool kids rocked up at school that September with these brightly coloured plastic keyrings, not all that different from a BabyBel cheese, but only noisy, obnoxious and demanding… Suddenly the toy crazes of the minute, like Hot Wheels and Thunderball yo-yos, seemed terribly English and eccentric. Japan had hit the jackpot big time. Pogs seemed medieval in comparison. The country that invented Nintendo and Pokémon had managed to compress their talents into one tiny electronic device, or just vice even, that was addictive and succinct.
The press simultaneously splashed their front pages with news of how in-demand Tamagotchis were, and how many poor little children would be disappointed that Christmas when Santa couldn’t ship them over in time.
Then came bigger stories, high schools were banning Tamagotchis, the elderly were complaining that they destroyed attention spans, The Daily Mail apparently thought they were a Japanese war tactic – a widespread invasion of our educational system, a sinister way to fill British boys’ minds with domestic trivialities. Girls were encountering depression when their virtual pets died. It was practically a Tama-nami, Tama/11, Tamagate.
10 years later, the Tamagotchi palaver seems like a bad 1990s dream. But despite being a flash in the pan here, just water under Monet’s bridge, over in the Far East they never stopped. And now.. in 2009.. the latest model is Tama Fama V5, a Tamagotchi that allows you to have three pets at once, known as a Famalitchi.
As soon as I saw these in a French supermarket last month on my travels, I knew I just had to have one. Not only does it have the usual functions of feeding, snacking, sleeping, shitting and playing, there’s MORE. Brace yourselves for afternoon tea parties, volleyball, country walks and shoe shopping. This is serious.
I took mine to lunch with friends today and people asked if it was meant to be ironic, part of my selected 90s comeback. What shocked me was the personal revelation that it wasn’t. I’ve genuinely rediscovered my love for Bandai’s iconic toy, there’s not a hint of irony.
The graphics are shit, agreed. But there's a satisfaction in the balance between simplicity and elaboration of Tamagotchis. Also, they tell the time so you can leave your phone at home and just take your Tama Fama V5. Sure, you can't ring anybody, but who cares - you've got all the friends you need.So. Let me know what you think. Cool? Sad? It’s certainly sexy. I took someone home from a party the other night who mockingly condemned my Tamagotchi, and then I woke up in the morning to find them playing with it. You see, secretly everyone wishes they had one.
My pets are currently in their adolescence. I’ve got a Watatchi, a Uhyotchi and a Love Zukintchi. You can have upto three at once now you see. Their personal possessions include a top hat, a hoodie, a souvenir of the Eiffel tower (you can take your pets on Tama holiday) and a beach ball.
Of course if you grow tired of nurturing, you can always become a sadist, let your pets go hungry, sit in their own shit and sport little Japanese frowns all day. Not me though, my pets are climbing the Tamagotchi genealogy chart, as fictitious, evil, joyous and ridiculous as any other social ladder.
Words: Jack Cullen