Two pygmy egg-watchers: a morality tale

The word Tamagotchi comes from “tamago” (Japanese for “egg”), and “watch” (English, timepiece.) The Tamagotchi are shaped like eggs that can be opened to reveal a screen and a virtual being, or puppy.

Tamagotchi’s spontaneous functions (that is, functions that are not induced by the caregiver) include sleeping and defecating, while ‘watching the egg’ consists of using various combinations of the Tamagotchi’s three buttons to feed, clean wastes and exercise the Tamagotchi.

This ‘classic’ form has developed over the years – modern Tamagotchi ( can raise a few other Tamagotchi eggs to adulthood, go to school and get a job. There are 66 Tamagotchi characters and 20 ‘families’, with almost 70 million caregivers globally.

An enduring controversy around Tamagotchi is the amount of time and commitment it demands of its caregivers. The problem is simply – unless the Tamagotchi is taken care of – it dies. Some Tamagotchi die if they are starved (not fed) form more than two hours. This necessitated around the clock care – which clashed with family, studies and work. The usual crowing about addictions and technologically induced compulsive behaviour provided great hack-fodder since 1997.

My children (9, 6.5) discovered Tamagotchi, courtesy of Nando’s fast Chicken Outlet. For 48 hours I felt like an anthropologist who observes how two pygmies raise their children. They squealed with delight when the gizmo demanded food, cleaned its wastes (“it’s pooooooing!!”), exercised it and spoke to it in that soft, low voice reserved to best toys and imaginary friends. Now, I asked, how will the relationship with a virtual pet change my kids? Will they become addicted; spend days and nights pressing buttons to keep the thing alive? Will they forsake their favourite toys and activities, neglect their friends and schoolwork?

This story has a morality-tale ending (or is it a morality tail-ending?), but not the kind one expects: virtual, schmirtual, my pygmies simply treated Tamagotchi as yet another pet: the hamster, fish, fluffy dog — unless they get fed by dad (YT) or are able to fend for themselves – they’re history.

Our two Tamagotchi uploaded themselves on to the great digital beyond sometimes during the night. When I expressed my deepest, sincere condolences my female pygmy smiled “ag, dada, it’s only a game!