0 lbs. 1 oz.
As a former Pet Rock parent during my adolescent years (I had the pendant -- "leashed" -- species, which lay beneath my undershirt so as not to draw stony stares), the Tamagotchi appealed to me at once as the natural next step in my small object-of-affection nurturing habit. (Plus, I rationalized, the key ring from which the time clock-enabled Tamagotchi depended was doubly practical, as it would keep both keys and time.) However, unlike the pet rock -- cold to the touch, inanimate, basically just a rock -- the Tamagotchi gives birth to its own, simplistic artificial life-form.
A visit to the Web site of the toy's maker, Bandai, revealed a couple close ups. Judging by its tiny screen and simple three-button interface, it was hard to imagine a very fulfilling life-form could emerge from this thing. How it was born, what it did for a living, and how its early adopters interacted with it, raised it, was a mystery to me. I had to have one.
Early Adoption Plans
In preparation for the little life I was about to bring into my own, I called FAO Schwarz to find out when the eggs would arrive and how much they would cost. "They're these little egg-timer-computer-toy things coming on May 1 -- Tom-katchi I think they're called -- and I was wondering if you could put one on hold for
The salesperson on the other end corrected my mispronunciation and laughed at my pitiable naíveté in the significance of the Tamagotchi's imminent arrival. "Yeah, right. No holds. No advance credit card orders. They go on sale on Thursday, 10:00 a.m."
Unlike Wednesday's release of Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Mason and Dixon, which found me at the bookstore at my earliest convenience, rushing downtown as soon as the store opened to grab my own Tamagotchi seemed a little excessive by comparison. Still, I found myself starting to get anxious at around 9:00 a.m., calling the store and getting only endless ringing. At 10:01 I got an answer. Yes, they had arrived. No, they would not hold one for me. Come and get it.
The bus through Chinatown was so claustrophobic I got off one stop later. I hailed a cab, calmly told the driver to take me to FAO Schwarz. We hit a clog two blocks from the store. I climbed out, over-tipped the driver, and then sprinted for the store. And stopped dead in my tracks.
There was a line, of epic proportion -- the sort you'd expect to see if Kurt Cobain's suicide were discovered to have been a hoax and the band was ready to tour again. It stretched from out the front doors, past the Planet Hollywood, around the corner dominated by the Virgin Megastore and clear on down Market Street to Eppler's bakery at the end of the block. Two thousand? Three? It was hard to say.
And what a fashionable line it was -- by the looks of it 75 percent Japanese tourists decked out in fabulous trendy outfits, accessorized to the max with glossy backpacks, cell phones, beepers, sleek sunglasses and bored expressions. Most were over 20, and here and there San Franciscan business types settled into the arduous line shuffle on what would likely be their longest early-lunch break ever. (Thank goodness it wasn't raining.)
There had to be a better way. Perhaps I should rush to the front of the line and claim that I, as someone into both computers and pet rocks, had a hybrid techno-organic experience of sorts and thus would make the ideal Tamagotchi parent, so why not let me cut. But one look at those normally cheery man-boys dressed like toy-soldiers, who welcome patrons inside made it clear that I needed a better plan. Then I remembered: Toys R Us. Hadn't I seen The World's Biggest Toy Store's logo also displayed on the Bandi home page?
An Alternate Adoption Plan
A quick call confirmed it. Yes, Toys R Us had the Tamagotchi. No, they did not have to hold one for me because they had tons of them on hand. And no, there was no line -- they'd already had their line, and now would-be Tamagotchi parents were trickling in two or three at a time, no pushing or shoving or going home empty handed.
A cab ride across town later, I'd made it. There, stacked up on long picnic tables, were the colorfully packaged Tamagotchi, $14.99 each, limit two per customer. A quick scan revealed that my two preferred color choices -- see-through turquoise, or eggshell white -- were all gone. The remaining choices: hot pink, hot yellow, hot green, and a reasonable shade of purple.
The clerk talked me into laying out an extra dollar, which the store would donate to a local children's hospital. I was asked to write in the name of the little boy or girl who would receive my benefit. Figuring there probably weren't any Silio's at the hospital (my Italian grandfather's name), I settled on Tom, after my older brother, who passed away when I was a teen. (A little later I would realize Tommy was the only appropriate thing to name my Tamagotchi.)
Bringing Home Baby
Eager to understand the care and feeding of my new dependent, I read the package:
Tamagotchi is a tiny pet from cyberspace who needs your love to survive and grow. If you take care of your Tamagotchi pet, it will slowly grow bigger and healthier, and more beautiful every day. But if you neglect your little cyber creature, your Tamagotchi may grow up to be mean or ugly. How old will your Tamagotchi be when it returns to its home planet? What kind of virtual caretaker will you be?
The owner's leaflet was spare, succinct in its description of the Tamagotchi's three function buttons, and its instructions for interpreting the tiny LCD display, approximately 20 by 40 pixels in size, like those found on digital watches. It is here where the Tamagotchi's virtual life plays out, where it hatches, dwells, eats, sleeps, eliminates, plays, complains, grows and, ultimately, departs, soulless, back into cyber nothingness.
Safely back at home and at my desk, I was suddenly terrified to bring the little thing to life. What if I did something wrong? What if my Tamagotchi lived only a day or, perhaps worse, what if it lived 20 or 30 days, which the leaflet described as an amazingly long life span for a Tamagotchi.
And when it had lived its life? What would I do then? Throw its shell away, the way, as a kid, I once threw away my hermit crab's shell when he'd vacated it in a shriveled curl one freezing morning? No, thank goodness. For unlike my hermit crab or Pet Rock, the Tamagotchi is equipped with a tiny reset button, which starts the birthing process all over, offering another shot at virtual pet upbringing.
I had a million questions, but knowing I was not likely to find a Dr. Spock guide to Tamagotchi parenting, I decided to pull free the little plastic tab that lets the battery juice flow to the creature's bit of a brain.
Weigh In: 12:30 p.m.; 0 years, 0 lbs. 1 oz.
Moments later, a pulsing egg appeared. Using the left and middle buttons, I set the time (the Tamagotchi also doubles as a handy watch). About five minutes later, the egg beeped. On the display, a strange little circle with eyes emerged and blinked. Tentatively, it floated around in its LCD confines, reminding me of a childhood petri dish experiment with fungus but speeded up a million cycles a second.
It beeped some more. I pressed the first button to choose the fork and knife icon, then pressed again. My pet had a food choice: meal, or snack. I fed it its first meal, a cake-like graphic that floated down onto the display. My Tommy promptly gobbled it down in a few bites. I fed it some more. It ate. I waited. Checked its status, where a row of four hearts -- depending on whether they were filled or not -- indicated my Tommy's state of hunger and satisfaction. Both were low. I fed Tommy some more. The hunger scale went up, meaning my pet was getting full. But happiness was still very low. The manual suggested we play together.
Using the first button to move along the icons, I selected the tiny baseball and bat, which activates the Tamagotchi's play mode. The game was simple: Guess which way the Tamagotchi is going to turn its face, using buttons one and two to decide. Getting more than three guesses right makes the pet happy. Less than three, Tommy gets sad. You can tell which is which by his expression -- a sort of smiling joy, or a crude crying jag. This went on for a little while, until Tommy's happy meter was up a few hearts. I'd spent less than an hour with my new thing and I was already exhausted. I put Tommy down until 10 minutes later he started beeping. He was hungry again. I fed him a few snacks and prayed that he would nap soon.
Changing Diapers and Taking Ill
From the leaflet: "Just like real pets, Tamagotchi goes to the bathroom."
This feature is depicted by a small, triangular collection of pixels animated to appear as though it is, well, steaming. Choosing the little duck icon cleans up the mess. Unfortunately, Tommy does not beep when he has soiled his small space, so I have to check every now and then. Leave a mess around for too long and he'll get sick, at which point I can invoke the syringe to give him a shot and make him better. Sometimes he needs two or three shots, depending on how long he's been exposed to his own mess. Isn't this fun?
Our First Outing
Having spent all of my morning acquiring Tommy, then the early afternoon giving him life, feeding him, playing with him, and cleaning up his little messes, I decided it was time to get back to work. My sole task right now is rewriting my novel (which is slated for serialization here on CyberTimes, as soon as I finish the rewrite). But already my Tamagotchi had come between me and the work.
To compromise, I stuffed Tommy in my pocket and took my manuscript down the hill to this sandwich shop. Halfway through my order, Tommy started beeping. I finished ordering my sandwich, then took out my Tamagotchi, hiding him in my palm. He was hungry again. I fed him quickly and stuffed him back in my pocket, ignoring the few seemingly disinterested stares I noticed along the bar. It wasn't until halfway through my sandwich that Tommy started beeping again. He was not only hungry; he'd also dirtied himself again. I fed him, cleaned up after him, then chose the light icon to darken the screen, hoping this would encourage him to sleep for a while. Instead, he complained. He wanted to play. My first real sense of frustration flared.
To Spank or Not to Spank?
I wanted to, well, give him a spank, tell him to stop being so selfish and take a nap like a good bit of a baby. I let him go on complaining, while I consulted the owner's leaflet. Sure enough, discipline was encouraged. In fact, not disciplining Tommy might mean hampering his growth, causing him to become mean-spirited, disinterested or just plain ugly, as depicted by a few of the odd examples in the leaflet. I didn't want my Tamagotchi to turn out like that, so I did as advised, disciplining Tommy twice. He stopped complaining. For now. I had to remind myself. He was still very young, and, according the leaflet, still very needy at this early stage. Little did I know that that was about to change. Tommy was about to mutate.
About four hours into his new life, Tommy made a strange sound. The display changed, as though shaken up like one of those water-filled snow balls. A moment later, Tommy burst into a larger shape, this time with a little more character. Wider, rounder, with a bigger mouth. Consulting the leaflet again, I was pleased to see that my creature was evolving nicely, nothing at all like the scary pictures. I fed him some more, played a few rounds of the guessing game, then set him down in the shade of my backpack. A few minutes later, I saw little Zs and realized that Tommy was napping. I darkened his space and fell into a half sleep myself.
1 lb. 0 oz.
Lying there in the hot sun, Tommy snoozing quietly beside me, I began to wonder what kind of creature he would turn out to be. Would I pay enough attention to him to let him live more than a day or two? I fussed over him, checking to be sure he was still asleep, whether he was hungry. I wondered what the night would hold for us. Would his internal clock sync with mine -- the one built into his little egg? Would 11 p.m. in Tamagotchi time mean he would sleep for perhaps eight hours, letting me rest for as long? Or would Tommy's needs reflect Tamagotchi-hours -- translation: one human day equals one Tamagotchi year. Would he wake me every hour, on the hour, till dawn?
For now, he is fed and happy, content. But tonight? We'll know when we get there. It could be a long one.
See you in the morning.
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