In the year 2018, as the world seemd to regularly get more Hellworld on a daily basis, I decided to buy a Tamagotchi. I can admit that I decided to do it long before then, particularly in 2017, when this article showed up on the Ringer, but in 2018 I finally did it. Maybe I was pushed to this by the feelings of Hellworld closing in. Maybe I was pushed to it because they released a remake of the second generation ones in the US, and one of them was a rainbow, another a galaxy. I can’t fully explain it, but it happened, and here we are.
My first one was one of the Gen 2 remakes, a Galaxy one that I never named, but a friends suggested Gritty Jr., so we will go with that. Gritty Jr. was specifically suggested as the name of their first full-grown incarnation, a tentacled little monster who woke up at like 11am and didn’t go to bed till 11pm, and their super relaxed schedule was a pain for Grown-Adult-with-like-a-Real-Job me to keep up with.
Gritty Jr. made it 13 days before eventually deciding to return to the Tamagotchi homeworld, which is I guess what they do instead of dying. This probably meant I wasn’t taking as good a care of them as I should near the end, but that is OK. The interactions with this one are pretty limited as a whole, mostly just feeding them and playing a number guessing game that is pretty easy to win unless the tama decides to get sassy with you.
My time with Gritty Jr., chronicled in the linked Twitter thread, was fun enough that I finally sprung for a modern Tamagotchi, a Dream M!X (actual title). Jumping from a rerelease of the almost-original Tamagotchi line to a modern one was a leap. A leap into a weird world where capitalism and maybe-eugenicism have infected the previously innocent land of digital pets, but there is still some hope here.
The Tamagotchi asked for my name right away when I booted it up, so of course it used it for manipulative pleading once the original egg hatched. I would be lying if I said it didn’t work, as I immediately went about getting food and toys out for the little guy. As he grew, more and more basic functions unlocked, most specifically the ability to take him out to visit other locations.
And here’s where it gets…complicated. Not to play as much as to think about
There are two locations to visit in the town my Tama lives in. One is a park where I can meet other Tamas (more on this later) or go to day care; the other location is Tama Depa, where I can buy all sorts of things for my Tama or play a few games to raise money to buy the things for my Tama. Yes, unfortunately, capitalism has become a part of Tamagotchis. This seems like an inevitability, looking back on it; these are, after all, the products of Bandai, masters of pure capitalist toy making, designed to be collectible but also disposable. It’s only natural then that the toys would eventually come to reflect the very condition of their existence.
That being said, maybe it didn’t need to be so pervasive. To get money, Tamas need to play games at the Tama Depa. In my version, there is a dance game I can never getting the timing for, and a memory game that takes just enough focus to divert my attention. Playing these games not only brings in some cash, but as long as I do well enough, my Tamas actually get happier. So in short, the Tamas go to work, and work makes them happy. Well, shit.
There is a bit of a silver lining here though, in that it seems like Tama society is largely socialist as heck otherwise. Tamas don’t pay rent. When they get sick, their healthcare is free. They will never starve, always having some basic food options provided free of charge, but they also might not really like those free options. There is a basic safety net there, one that sadly is nowhere near as comprehensive in modern America. It might not make them super happy (I know my grown up Tamas have not enjoyed the onigiri much), but it will sustain them.
Lest you think the capitalism is all just for luxury goods, I can’t ignore that in addition to keeping the Tamas happy, it also plays an integral role in the other goal of the game: breeding Tamagotchi. As I play the game, I unlock more locations, each of which has a park where my Tama can meet other Tamas and eventually partner up* and have kids.
* : Sadly, the Tamagotchi have binary genders and will only partner heterosexually. This seems like a silly thing to insist on in a game, but games have struggled with this for a while, which of course is no excuse at all.
To meet a partner, Tamas need to hang out with the other Tamas a lot, and eventually either buy a ring and propose, or wait for their desired partner to propose to them. The best way to hang out with a Tama and get the love meter (yes this is a thing) is to find what toy that Tama likes, and bring that along with you to the park. This means, of course, spending money on the toys, which means working/playing minigames, which means that yes, this is still kinda a capitalism hell.
But that isn’t the only kind of hell this falls into, pretty quickly. I notice right away some of the Tamas I meet are super effing cute, so of course I want my Tama to look like them, and through the magic of inherrited traits, I might be able to pull that off. Very quckly, the game becomes about finding Tamas with the traits I want and then breeding new tamas to get that. Tamas inherit a mixture of looks from their parents (who can also act as babysitters, a very helpful feature for those of us with things to do like working in our own real capitalist hell). Figuring out what will be inherited is fun, but also led me to no small end of frustration, as the first 4 generations of Tamas all ended up with that same bunny ear hat the Tamagotchi mascot wears.
So that is where the feeling of being a eugenicist comes in, as I start trying to make better/cuter/more adorable little digital pets. I find desirable partners for them at a very young age and spend my way into their hearts, so that as soon as they reach adulthood, my Tamas don’t even have to pay for the ring as their partners will propose to them, and the cycle begins anew. I think it is pretty obvious how creepy this can feel pretty quickly, but I can also tell you that the feeling of finally being rid of that bunny hat was a good one. It took four generations.
Despite how disconcerting this all sounds, the little toy is really enjoyable to just keep around and mess with regularly, as long as I disengage my brain from the weird morality it maybe advocates for. I don’t know that I would give it to a kid, or at least not one that I hadn’t instilled a healthy skepticism of…well…everything in.
With all that in mind, this might be the most invested I have felt in a physical object/game in awhile. I just keep it with me all the time, and check in on it occasionally to see how it is doing. In writing that, I remembered that the sixth generation was just born, and babies take a lot of extra care, so I went to do that. The baby was sick and there was poop and he needed food and playing with and and and.
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