The word Tamagotchi is the name of a Japanese pocket pet that simulated social and material needs. The Tamagotchi became a household name shortly after Japanese toy producer Bandai released the small egg-shaped computer into the hands of millions of adoring youth. The technology, developed in 1996, by Aki Maita, would see sales of over 70 million by 2008.
Pocket pets had characteristic cries that would interrupt class if not turned off. Caring for the pet was fairly simple. A tiny creature would appear on screen after the egg was turned on. By pressing the three buttons, the owner could feed, bathe, discipline, or amuse the pet. If these four actions were done in moderation and at a fairly regular pace, the creature would eventually evolve into a better animal. If the creature was poorly cared for, it would either die or evolve into a sickly weak animal.
A cell phone contains multiple contacts to care for. Each text message represents the need of a contact, which must be maintained by feeding (talking or texting with the contact). Like the Tamogotchi, a cell phone constantly calls the user to it, and has penalties for ignoring it. Missed parties or business deals reinforce responsive behaviors and maintenance strategies. "The interesting thing here is that we are dealing with a toy", writes philosopher Slavoj Žižek, "that provides satisfaction precisely be behaving like a difficult child bombarding us with dements. The satisfaction is provided by our being compelled to care for the object any time it wants - that is, by fulfilling its demands (…) The whole point of the game is that it always has the initiative, that the object controls the game and bombards us with demands".
The Tamagotchi could be considered to be a technosocial training wheel for the later adoption of the mobile device, a harbinger of technosocially mediated days to come, when cell phones and Facebook would become a normal part of the everyday class experience. The structure of the cell phone is very similar to that of a pocket pet. Text messages, phone calls to friends, and E-mail now live on many students’ mobile devices, making cell phone use in school almost completely necessary to stay in touch with friends. This makes cell phones a real-life Tamagotchi, where multiple creatures exist inside each device, and relationship maintenance becomes a push-button system.
- Takahashi, Dean. “Here kitty kitty! FooMojo launches virtual pets game FooPets”. Venture Beat. Published Dec 17, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-12-31. http://venturebeat.com/2008/12/17/foomojo-launches-virtual-pets-game-foopets/
- Author Unknown. Tamagotchi - virtual pet game created by Aki Maita. Japan-101. Publish date unknown. Accessed Oct 2011. http://www.japan-101.com/culture/tamagotchi.htm
- Žižek, Slavoj. 1999. Is it possible to traverse the fantasy in cyberspace? In The Žižek reader, eds. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright, 102-124. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing in van den Boomen, Marianne, Sybille Lammes and Ann-Sophie Lehmann. Digital material: tracing new media in everyday life and technology. Amsterdam University Press, 2009. Page 23.