Tamagotchi was small, but her influence was enormous

But more importantly, Tamagotchi was also one of the first video games marketed primarily for girls. When consoles like Nintendo were first released, according to Crowley, they were shelved exclusively in the boys’ section of Toys “R” Us. With Tamagotchi, the opposite happened. It challenged the hyper-masculinity that was associated with video games at the time, he says.

“Tamagotchi has given access to people who have been overlooked for the past decade in the video game industry,” Crowley says.

Ironically, she did so by playing with the gender stereotypes that were prevalent at the time, and still are to some extent. It was a game that appealed to girls with what were seen as stereotypical feminine traits – such as maternal instinct or the concept of nurture. In order for girls to be allowed to play video games, they would have to take on the role of custodians of their businesses.

“A Tamagotchi largely reflects the social conditions at the moment of its appearance,” Crowley says. “On the one hand, we’d finally show it to the girls, and on the other hand, he’d say ‘That’s what girls do, that’s what’s appropriate.'”

The past and future of virtual reality

If not the first, Tamagotchi was an early example of a video game that blurred the lines between the digital world and the real world, or virtual reality.

In 1997, Finnish addiction specialist and sociologist Teuvo Peltoniemi issued a somber warning about Tamagotchi in South China Morning Newspaper: “Virtual reality is a new drug, and Tamagotchis is the first wave. It’s not just a fad that will disappear. [Tamagotchis] It is a perfect example of the potential threat of a virtual world becoming, in the future, a real dependence problem that needs to be addressed.”

As an addiction specialist, Peltonemi became increasingly anxious when he saw children sticking to their maggochis in schools and at the dinner table. In his work, he used Tamagotchi to show how children and adults can develop superior emotional responses to virtual characters.

“I think Tamagotchi was the first accessible little tool for the average consumer where you can find virtual reality, and its most important feature is that it appeals to people’s feelings and emotions through care,” Beltonemi told WIRED magazine.

He continues, “People developed a really strong emotional attachment to the Tamagotchis because, in a way, they had such a connection to the digital pet, that people felt they had enough human traits to hold funerals when they died.”

For some, Tamagotchi has maintained its appeal into adulthood. Kim Matthews, 32, from Australia is one such person. In her childhood, “Tama” was one of her favorite toys. In adulthood, it still is – although now for nostalgic purposes. She was given her first Tamagotchi for her eighth birthday and she instantly fell in love – competing with her friends to see who could keep their girlfriends alive the longest.

“Tragically, my first Tamagotchi inadvertently went swimming with me in the pool one day,” Matthews says. ‘Nowadays, laptops come with a high-quality graphics card.’

With a group of 71 Tamagotchis amassed over the course of her life, Matthews still struggles to articulate what makes her care about them so much, even 25 years later.

“I just think they’re stylish,” she jokes, referring to Marge Simpson’s meme. “Maybe it’s a ’90s thing.”

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