New Tamagotchis, and the Trials of Digital Parenthood in 2018

PET PROJECTS Beyond a flashy paint job, the new 2018 model differs little from the 1997 Tamagotchi—but that's part of the kick.
PET PROJECTS Beyond a flashy paint job, the new 2018 model differs little from the 1997 Tamagotchi—but that’s part of the kick. Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

AS I WAS recently fiddling with my new Tamagotchi, a glinting rehash of the “original virtual reality pet” from 1997, I couldn’t help but think back to my bustling sixth grade lunchroom. My 2018 pink leopard-print egg-shaped plastic plaything, which would have been the preteen status symbol among my friends, looked and operated just like the pale blue one that seemed permanently clipped to my hip or backpack as a kid.

Developed by Bandai in Japan, the little dancing blobs that sprout into animals living on LCD screens the size of watch faces have evolved since their ’90s days as needy digital “pets” children loved to nurture. Today, you can even find high-tech versions for the Nintendo DS. But the one in my hand, the latest nostalgia play for millennials, replicates the simplistic first-gen edition, with the same basic software and ear-piercing beeps for attention.

Three rubbery unmarked buttons let you control your Tamagotchi’s universe. Toggle through menus to give it a snack or meal when its food icon lights up, exercise it with childish games, nurse it to health and tediously clean up after virtual steaming messes it leaves behind. Neglect it for too long, and an angel swoops down to take your heartbroken Tamagotchi, forcing you to begrudgingly push reset.

“My favorite part was taking care of something,” recalled Nicole Montano, 25, an artist manager who, as a kid in Eatontown, N.J., was enraptured with her pink Tamagotchi. “You got to check in throughout the day and see what it needed. It was the electronic way of taking care of a baby doll as a kid.”

My replay didn’t go so well. As an adult struggling to feed it or play with it enough (and keep it quiet so co-workers wouldn’t revolt), I remembered how demanding a budding Tamagotchi can be. As a skull icon flashed above my gremlin, foreshadowing its demise, I was oddly stressed. Maybe I was a bad Tamagotchi parent even as a grown-up.

“There’s a pause button if you really need to take a break,” teased Tara Badie, a company rep at Bandai after I detailed my struggle. “Millennials today are a bit busier than they were back in school.”

Sorry little guy. It was a fun reminder, but I’ll stick to houseplants. $20, bandai.com

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