When I was a kid, I was obsessed with my Tamagotchi for a lengthy two-week period. I carried it with me everywhere, my need to lavish it with attention and food incessantly. Her name was Suzie (related: every stuffed animal or doll I had was given the name Suzie for some reason, although I never knew a Suzie) and I loved her very, very much.
At some point I stopped caring about Suzie. She no longer came with me to school. The phantom hole in my left pocket became less noticeable. I no longer yearned to hold the egg-shaped gadget that I once loved more than anything. Just like that, Suzie disappeared and I ceased to care.
Twenty years later, nothing has changed.
On Nov. 5, Bandai America is marking the 20th anniversary of the original Tamagotchi with a $14.99, limited-edition release of a miniature version of the toy. The screen is approximately 40 percent smaller than that of the original, with the body a staggering 60 percent smaller. Aside from the size difference, everything about the Tamagotchi is the same. The screen still lacks a backlight, the three control buttons at the bottom of the device perform the same basic functions and the static 8-bit greyscale graphics are intact. Nothing about the Tamagotchi has been adapted for the modern age, and that’s one of its selling points.
The new, miniature Tamagotchi became a social experiment for me. I carried my new Tamagotchi, who I named Egg, around for about six days. The first day I cradled it in my hands and I was instantly enamored. Like Suzie before, the prospect of caring for Egg, a digital pet, was invigorating; I held Egg the entire day. I wanted to show Egg off to everyone who walked by, glancing over my suspicious, chirping desk. I fiddled with the buttons, running my fingers across the hard shell back that Egg existed within. I was generous with my displays of affection, handing Egg multiple treats after breakfast, lunch and dinner; praising Egg for his brilliance; playing with him almost every half hour.
This infatuation carried through the second and third day, but by the fourth, my interest in Egg was waning. I ignored its pleading cries to be loved in favor of watching new episodes of The Good Place and hitting a bar with friends, not wanting my chirping egg to annoy me throughout the night. I was frustrated with the responsibility that had been bestowed upon me, even if I was head-over-heels with Egg just a couple of days prior. Flashbacks of my reckless abandonment toward Suzie flooded my mind and, deep down, I knew where my tenuous relationship with Egg was heading.
“Why,” I thought to myself, “would anyone want to do this again when it can exist as a less annoying, intrusive app on a phone instead?”
Tara Badie, Bandai’s director of brand management, said in an interview that the company is hoping millennials will purchase the toy out of nostalgic fondness. Instead of bringing back the Tamagotchi as an official app for Android and iOS devices or even providing an accompanying app for the toy, Badie said the idea is to transport twenty- and thirty-somethings back to 1997.
“This is their opportunity to relive their childhood love,” Badie said. “For many people, this was their only pet as a child. We wanted them to be able to have the play; you still feed it, you still take care of, it still poops and you still need to clean up after it. We thought if we added too much depth of play that it would be too hard for people to work and take care of it at the same time.”
Badie touched upon what made me so excited about the prospect of reacquainting myself with a Tamagotchi two decades later. As a child, my attention span was on par with an ant’s. I went from trend to trend, flocking from one cool thing to the next every couple of weeks. Pokémon cards, Tamagotchis, BeyBlades, Yu-Gi-Oh cards and Digimon devices that you had to shake with fervor were all treasured parts of my childhood for roughly a few weeks at a time. Depending on what my friends deemed cool throughout my childhood, that’s what I played with.
As an adult, however, I would be able to care for this small egg a little better. I could set reminders for myself to check on Egg and confirm it was doing alright. I wanted it to blossom into one of the seven different promising characters available to Tamagotchi owners. The Tamagotchi would be more than just another gadget I added to my collection; it would be a test of adulthood.
Still, I was concerned about the number of gadgets I carry with me on a daily basis and how the Tamagotchi would fit into my life. On a daily basis, I have my iPhone, laptop, headphones, tablet and non-tech items on me. That leaves limited pocket space — and there’s no point in having a Tamagotchi if it’s going to sit behind a laptop in my backpack. With all the clutter that modern gadgets and technology bring to our already busy lives, why would we want to add another one?
Badie didn’t have an answer beyond nostalgic value most of us hold for the adorable, chirping egg. The business plan seems reliant on the joyous rush that comes with rediscovering a part of your childhood. The people who rush out to buy Tamagotchis in the year 2017 are probably the same folks who tweet Daria screenshots or binge watch shows like Boy Meets World. Badie understands that technology — and the never ending line of high-powered, more advanced gadgets available to consumers — is the biggest competition Bandai faces right now, just before the relaunch of the Tamagotchi.
“Even your generation, why would they take this when they have all the apps on their cellphone,” Badie said. “That’s where our competition really is. We’re going after that nostalgia.”
Nostalgia is the reason that I picked up the Tamagotchi again and booted it up. Nostalgia is also the reason why the Tamagotchi failed to amuse me for longer than a week. Nostalgia can never replace the feeling evoked upon experiencing something for the first time. By its very definition, it’s a hollow semblance of what once was. When I was a child, I grew bored and restless with my Tamagotchi, eventually disposing of it entirely upon the discovery that it had died without my attention.
Back then, I didn’t care about it anymore. It’s not that I was incapable of loving a pet or even a gadget; boredom took over my initial intrigue with the pink-colored egg I was supposed to love. The same thing happened now, at the age of 25. The unrelenting chirps grew to be more tiresome. It kept falling out of my jacket pocket, already packed to the brim with a wallet, sunglasses, phone and keys. Keeping Egg alive had become an unfathomable chore and, now with the understanding and ability of an adult, I chose to ignore it on purpose.
I wanted the Tamagotchi to reignite a feeling in me of wonderment and excitement over a new gadget — something I have carried through life with me. The nostalgic factor that Badie reiterated in our meeting lasted a day or two, but it wasn’t able to hold my attention. Not when there’s Netflix to be watched, Snaps needing replies, Instagram photos to like, articles to read and games to play. The Tamagotchi worked because, in 1997 and as a five-year-old, it was the most powerful piece of technology I owned. I didn’t have a Game Boy yet and my Super Nintendo was still a few months away from appearing in our house. The Tamagotchi held my attention because it wasn’t competing with much when I was left to my own devices, no pun intended.
In a new, modern era where every app is competing for a fragment of your time, it’s hard to try and squeeze in caring for an egg that, at the end of the day, I didn’t love. I grew to resent both Egg and the effort it took to not just open my phone and check in on my pet. The Tamagotchi is outdated; the nostalgic aura that wraps around it like a continuously beating glow fades away after a few hours, leaving behind nothing more than an antiquated toy easy to toss away without a second thought.
At the time of this writing, I don’t know where Egg is. I think the little white egg may be deep in the pocket of a pair of jeans waiting to be washed, sitting in the corner of my room. I haven’t thought much about Egg today, but upon reflection, I do feel a strange twinge of guilt over its fading life. Maybe I’m just not cut out to care for a Tamagotchi, but I don’t think that’s the case.
I grew up and, unfortunately, the Tamagotchi didn’t.