©Lisa Horstman


The damn Tamagotchi’s not dead yet. It’s a beautiful, sunny October day, and I’ve sneaked home from work early to revel in the demise of my inane virtual pet–to ceremoniously bury it deep in the kitchen garbage can, then throw a celebratory wake. But no, there it is, happily waddling back and forth on the palm-sized screen, oblivious to my overt attempts to cut short its virtual life.

Of course, it’s not waddling far, owing to the steaming heaps of Tamagotchi excrement I’ve allowed to collect on the screen and the large skull symbol hovering menacingly overhead. Were I a caring virtual parent, I’d see that as a sign that the little fellow is sick and in desperate need of medicine.

But I’m not.

A cursory glance at the Tamagotchi’s health-o-meter lets me know that it’s nearly starving to death and deeply unhappy—as it should be, since I’ve purposely not fed it, cleaned it, played with it, or even let it sleep for a good 48 hours now. Still, the damn thing won’t expire.

I’ve tried everything, too, mind you. Cramming food down the critter’s virtual gullet continuously until it expanded from 5 to 99 pounds in a five-minute period, turning the lights off in the middle of the day and on in the still of the night, shocking it repeatedly and for no good reason with the gizmo’s "discipline" function—seemingly none of these heinous acts diminished the varmint’s virtual joie de vivre. I’ve screamed at it, insulted it, and done everything in my power to erode its self-esteem and will to virtually live, all for naught. Letting my actual pet, a hyperactive adolescent tomcat, have a go at it did no good either. All that batting, gnawing, clawing, hissing, screeching, and slobbering, and then…nada.

And now that malevolent neglect seems to be failing, I simply don’t know what to do, where to turn. I realize I could crush the thing like a bug, smash it until its microprocessors were reduced to so much house dust, but that would be cheating. And though I’m a virtual homicidal maniac right now, I do have my ethics. No, I’ll just have to wait patiently for the thing to give up, for the elixir of starvation, toxic environment, psychic abuse, and play deprivation I’ve concocted for it to cast its lethal spell.

Stick a Fork in Mork… He's Done

It’s the irony that’s killing me. For I didn’t start out this way, bucking to commit a virtual felony like voluntary Tamagotchi-slaughter. I had nothing but the best intentions, plans to provide for the little cyber creature to the best of my ability.

I’d been interested in Tamagotchis from the moment the little Japanese imports hit our shores back in May of 1997. These virtual pets—or "lovable eggs" as their name directly translates—had taken the Japanese youth market by storm, so the hype had it, the hottest thing since Ultraman. Like so many others of the post-Space Invaders generation, I’m instantly fascinated by video-game technology, and so was more than mildly curious. Plus, I love pets–the more the merrier. And the idea of reaping all the love and affection without the veterinarian bills, Science Diet expense, and compounded litterbox output was appealing.

Still, I probably wouldn’t have invested my $5 had not my clever PopCult editor seen the potential humor in having a now firmly mid-30s single career gal with no prospects of marriage or desire for family life (despite the wheedling pleas of her near-desperate mother) appease the assumed urgings of her biological clock by writing a tongue-in-cheek account of her experiences as a "virtual mommy." Ha.

Assignment accepted, I underwent a blissful virtual pregnancy, one in which my cheeks glowed as I ran from store to store in search of a genuine, Bandai-produced Tamagotchi, my complexion radiant under the fluorescent lights. This task proved more difficult than I’d imagined—surely Toys R Us cut-out bins would be brimming over with Tamagotchi bargains, I reasoned, the cultural groundswell having crested a good two years ago.

But the original trendsetter had apparently been hunted to extinction by Nintendo’s Pokémon Pikachu, an infinitely less charming, yellow ovoid-encased virtual entity whose primary interactive features involve counting your steps as you walk and letting you know how it "feels" about your relationship with it–based in large part on how many times you’ve hefted your lard-ass around the block. Burn lots of calories, receive love; sit through one Ally McBeal rerun too many, and earn the cute lil’ critter’s contempt. What could be less endearing to a mid-life Bridget Jones wannabe already keenly aware of the vicious natural cycle of waning metabolism and waxing gravitational-pull?

No, I needed the original electronic pet in order to find true fulfillment. Thankfully, the Tamagotchi—like Cabbage Patch Dolls, Tickle Me Elmos, and Earring Magic Kens before it—enjoy an extended life via the geek-fueled secondary market that is the World Wide Web. After a quick search on the web, I found several devotional homepages to the beloved Tamagotchi, from cutesy shrines to academic thesis papers—apparently, it still occupies the hearts and minds of those with lots of time and few social outlets. I was able to procure one on ebay.com, "mint in box," and soon set out to become a mommy.


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©2005 PopCult™