Tamagotchi: Work or Play?

Video Transcript

Welcome to Sulzbach Talk. I’m your host, Jonathan Sulzbach. This is an audio podcast… Duh! This is a video podcast with an optional video component. The video is me with a laptop, webcam, and some eyebrows. Watch it if you like, it’s not necessary to enjoy the show.

Today, I am talking about Tamagotchis.

Earlier this week, my wife Erica told me that Tamagotchis are making a comeback. I was both surprised and elated, I should say because I have very fond memories of owning a Tamagotchi, but I also have some less fond memories of internal conflict about the nature of work and play. Erica actually began her YouTube channel, indeed, her career by reviewing Tamagotchis. So last year, we actually powered up three of her old Tamagotchis, and in the course of in about two, two and a half weeks, we relived all the highs and all of the lows of providing for digital pets.

If Ban Dai, the company that releases Tamagotchis, decides to release them stateside, I will most definitely be picking one up for nostalgia value. Whether I’ll play it or not, I don’t know. We’ll see.

But in the meantime, what is a Tamagotchi, you may ask? If you don’t know, here’s a definition:

an electronic toy displaying a digital image of a creature, which has to be looked after and provided for by the “owner” as if it were a pet.

Just saying the word “Tamagotchi” is immensely satisfying to me. I think that was intentional. The device is shaped like an egg. It looks like a pocket watch, an oversized pocket watch, and it keeps time like a pocket watch. On many occasions I used it to stop time. I’ll elaborate shortly.

In the United States, Ban Dai released the first generation of their Tamagotchi in 1997, which puts me at the age of 13 or 14. I’m not entirely sure. As a product, Tamagotchi has never gone away, it has only faded. With smart phones in the hands of men, women, and children alike, Tamagotchis don’t offer a lot in comparison.

But truthfully, what amazes me is that Tamagotchis were ever popular at all because underneath the veneer of digital toy aimed at kids, it’s a lot of work and responsibility. Two things that kids generally shy away from.

I remember accompanying my good childhood friend Jon on his paper route. His dad would drive him and he had papers in the back of the van, and he would toss them out.

On this particular occasion, we were both eyeballing this newfangled thing called a Tamagotchi that Jon had, and it had this tiny little LCD screen with these chunky pixels. It didn’t have a backlight, so it was hard to see. He had to angle it just right so we could see what was going on. And his dad was getting frustrated because at each stop, he would say, “All right, hop out, throw the papers.” Jon, bless his heart, would say, “No, just a second, I’ve gotta feed him,” or “I’m playing a game.” He was like, “Pause it! Get out there and do your paper route!”

So right away, I noticed, “Hmm. There’s a lot of responsibility involved with this Tamagotchi thing,” but boy did I ever want one because Jon had an NES, he had a trampoline, he had a Sega Genesis. I was envious of pretty much everything he had. And for a ‘90s kid, he was pretty cool.

But in any event, you had to check your Tamagotchi every ten or fifteen minutes, and if you didn’t, it would become sick, it’d become hungry, sad, or it would excrete excrement the full height and width of the screen, and then it would get sick from that. Tamagotchis were a lesson in personal responsibility disguised as children’s toys. Very cleverly marketing. Some schools actually banned Tamagotchis because they were so disruptive. They’d make little beeping noises unless you silenced them.

But I was home-educated, so I can’t attest to those stories in particular. For me, the biggest draw or appeal of Tamagotchi was having a pet that didn’t take up a lot of space or a lot of time. Or so I thought. My friend Jon also had a dog, and I think the dog was named Hamlin. I always thought it was Hamlet, but it wasn’t, it was Hamlin. Maybe the Pied Piper of Hamlin? I don’t know. Doesn’t really matter, but I really liked this dog.

And at this time the Sulzbach family, my family, we didn’t have a dog. We’d gone through some other pets, but at this point in time, no dog for the Sulzbachs. And my brother Daniel desperately wanted a dog. My sister Sarah desperate wanted a dog. I liked the idea of a dog, but I didn’t like the idea of taking care of a dog, so
in that way, Tamagotchi really appealed to me.


The drawback, however, as I mentioned was personal responsibility, and I loathed personal responsibility. It’s one of the reasons that I didn’t want a girlfriend for most of my childhood. Another reason was that I had braces, and those eroded my self-confidence.

But still, I saw the benefits of a virtual pet and I wanted one. So I got one.

I’m getting a little off track. Let’s see. This is why I have notes, to consult them.

All right. With Tamagotchi, you were allowed to “pause” your digital pet. You’d go into the clock feature, you’d press one of the buttons to change the time or set the time, and you’d leave the menu without confirming the time. You have effectively frozen reality for your creature.

I felt like a god, holding back the tides of time in my hand. It was a bit of a power trip, especially since I held the power of life and death over these creatures. If you didn’t really like the creature that you were initially growing after it had hatched, you could start the game over either by resetting it or taking the batteries out. The box actually shows you a couple of different creatures that you could get, so for me, it was a challenge, it was a game to overcome. I want to get this one, I want to raise it, I want to get this one, I want to raise that and see how long I can raise it.

Eventually, my curiosity of how the game worked overrode my interest in playing the game. So, I took it apart.

I replaced the LCD screen background which was just a piece of colored paper, and replaced it with a doodle of my own. I even spray-painted the outer shell, the egg shape. I think I made it silver or something. It ended up looking pretty tacky and it chipped off later. It was not good. But… where was I going with this? Oh, right.

Like most of my toys, I lost my Tamagotchi. It was one of the crown jewels in… the crown jewels? It was one of the jewels in the crown of my collection of toys and gadgets.

I was heartbroken. It was stolen while I was at the swimming pool. The fiends! But I’m not sure if I cried. I certainly wanted to. What I remember, certainly, is that that marked the end of my obsession with Tamagotchis.

I was still interested, still intrigued, but something died inside me. I make it sound a little bleak. It wasn’t quite that traumatic, but it was traumatic inside.

Anyhow, more importantly, I was losing interest in the digital pet because my family finally got a dog. A real, live pet, something you’d care for, something that could give affection back.

My brother had been praying desperately for a dog. My sister wanted one, of course. Our dog’s name was Dazy, spelled D A Z Y. She was an answer to those prayers that my brother prayed. And all of us, my dad included, came to cherish her. Even I with my misgivings of responsibility became very bonded with Dazy. She would up in our Christmas letter for cryin’ out loud!

But the night she left a non-pixelated, non-digital pile of poo in my bedroom, was when I knew she was a keeper. And we kept her until she passed away.

She didn’t depart on a spaceship like a Tamagotchi, and she didn’t die prematurely due to batteries being pulled out, but she went in her own time and on her own terms, and we miss her dearly.

This is not where I intended to go with this episode.

Folks, that about does it for this episode of Sulzbach Talk. And now for a quote which speaks to work versus play.

This is by Mark Twain, also known as Samuel Clemens if you want to sound pretentious and say, “Oh yeah, I know what his real name was.”

This was taken from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.

Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”

Talk about Tamagotchis. All this work, but if you perceive it as fun, it’s not work. And then when you realize oh, it is a lot of work, the fun factor kind of dwindles.

Anyway, if you enjoy Tamagotchis or if you enjoyed Tamagotchis, share something in the comments. Let me know. Do you have positive memories? Negative memories? Do you think Tamagotchis are overrated? Are you still confused as to what Tamagotchi are? Is? Plural, singular, I don’t know!

Sound off in the comments section. If you enjoyed the video, give it a thumbs up. As always, let me know why you didn’t enjoy it if you didn’t, but let me know if you did and why. Now I’m just repeating myself.

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Until next time, I’m Jonathan Sulzbach. Thank you for listening, thank you for watching. Adios!