This is a story about the four Tamagotchis I once owned...the four friends I once cared for and raised as if they were my own children. My name is Lulu Calliope, and this my story.
When I was in the third grade, the latest fad came in the form of an adorable, hand-held virtual pet. You could play with it, feed it, potty-train it, and have it visit other pets. These things were called Tamagotchis, and although they weren't anything special, I still wanted one. All my friends had one, and I felt awkward not having one. I asked my Aunt Kathy for one for my birthday, and she gave me one. My brother also received one as an early birthday present. (I’m two years and two days older than him.)
The first Tamagotchi I raised died when I visited my grandfather. I dropped my toy into his pool, so my new best friend had to be replaced. My parents bought not one, but two Tamagotchis to compensate for the ruined present. My brother, meanwhile, was growing sick of his Tamagotchi, and gave it to me to take care of. And if this wasn't enough, my Aunt Kathy gave me her own Tamagotchi! I now had not two, but four little virtual pets of my own! I was the happiest kid in the world, or so I thought. I would spend hours playing with my news friends, sealed away from the rest of the world.
I remember them very well. All four of them were female. I had named two of them Lacey and Della; my brother’s was named Julie; and my aunt’s was called Sally. For a while, I had a lot of fun with them. But when summer break started, the trouble began.
One of my uncles was getting married in Florida, so my parents turned that trip into a fun vacation. The Tamagotchis came with us, of course. But during the long car ride to the hotel, I kept scowling at Julie. I was jealous of her, even though I hated to admit this.
The Tamagotchi pets have life cycles that consist of four stages: Infancy, Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity. None of the Tamagotchis I had raised were adults yet. In fact, Julie was the first to become a teenager. I hated how she seemed more mature than Lacey and Della, and I hated how the pets didn't seem to be growing up at the same rate and sharing the same experiences. To make matters worse, my brother would take Julie away from me and tease me by showing off the special games that only teenage Tamagotchis were able to access.
I decided to get revenge on him and slow down Julie’s maturing rate that night. We were going out to this little restaurant for dinner, and Mom and Dad demanded that we leave the toys behind. I “paused” three of the Tamagotchis so that they would remain healthy and normal while I was gone, but left Julie on. If anything bad happened to her, like I hoped it would, nobody would be able to help her. And my plan worked.
When we returned from our meal, Julie was sleeping, meaning that she wouldn't respond to any commands from me until she woke up. The problem was that she needed to be fed, she was sick, and her home was almost buried under a mountain of her own excrement. My brother yelled at me, even though I lied and said that I must have “left her on by mistake”. Still, I was feeling pretty guilty about the whole ordeal and how far I had gone over something so silly, so when Julie awoke, I nursed her back to health. And soon after that, Lacey, Della, and Sally became teenagers. Everything was nice for almost a year, but then the strange stuff started happening…
Okay, not all of it was strange, and it didn't just “start happening”. It was a gradual process. When I returned to school and began the fourth grade, my grades started to drop because of the time I spent with the Tamagotchis. My parents and I would have huge fights over my addiction to the toys, and they always ended with me promising to cut back on playing with them. And I only made this promise because Dad kept threatening to smash my pets. I knew he might have been bluffing, but I wasn't willing to take that chance.
Just before spring break came around, I had to take a test that covered everything I had learned that year. I had spent so much time preparing for it that on the morning of the final, I forgot to pause the Tamagotchis before leaving my house. Like the Julie Incident, they were completely helpless without me. When school ended for the day, I rushed home and tried to fix everything that was wrong with them. And I thought I did. But I was proven wrong the very next day.
I usually woke up before the Tamagotchis did. On a beautiful Saturday morning, I did my usual weekend routine. Wake up, turn on the lamp, and look at the Tamagotchis. They would be sleeping, so I could stay in bed for a little while longer. But this was where things started to go wrong. None of the Tamagotchis were sleeping. And none of them were floating around on their screens, smiling and being playful and sweet. All four of them were sitting on the bottom of the screens, looking directly at me and winking. This raised a red flag, but it wasn't a big one. This was actually part of the Tamagotchi program. They would sit and wink at their owners if they had done something bad, like send a friend a mean-spirited gift. When this happened, the Tamagotchi would be disciplined. So while their behavior wasn't odd, other things seemed to be wrong. I hadn't sent any of the Tamagotchis to visit their friends before I had gone to sleep, so they couldn't have done anything mean. And if one of them had done something bad, that wouldn't make the others act guilty or naughty.
Since I was feeling really awful about forgetting to pause them before leaving for school, I decided not to punish any of them. Instead, I paused all of the Tamagotchis and waited a few minutes before resuming. Usually when I did this, it would make the pets act normal, and I wouldn't have to chastise them. But when I resumed the Tamagotchis, none of the pets appeared on the screens. Instead, the flashing symbol saying that the batteries needed to be changed appeared. I shrugged this off, now thinking that the dying battery might have messed with the software a little.
There is a way to get the Tamagotchis to stay on their screens for a few minutes while they need new batteries, but I've forgotten how it worked. All I know is that I tried to get my friends back on their screens. Instead of seeing them, letters appeared, slowly forming words, then phrases. What I saw scared me. I dropped the Tamagotchis onto my bed and lined them up in a vertical line in this order: Julie, Lacey, Della, and Sally. With the screens like this, they formed a message…to me. Here is what they said:
U THINK WE R A GAME?
U WOOD BE N JAIL
U MURDER UR KIDS
WE WILL BE FREED
A scream escaped my mouth and I grabbed the Tamagotchis in my hands and ran into my parents’ room. I showed my father what was on the screens, hoping that he’d have an explanation. He was the owner of a software company, after all. He was just as shocked as I was to read this, but he came up with a theory or two, claiming that the manufacturers or programmers planted a virus or something like that into the toys. But he wasn't scared like I was. He was outraged. After we ate a quiet, tense breakfast, he told me to get dressed because we were going to Target. Target is one of the only stores that my parents have shopped at for twelve years in a row, and it was the same place that gave us our Tamagotchis.
He drove in silence, and I was smart enough to not say anything or question what he was going to do with my beloved pets. To be honest, I was shocked that he believed me. If I didn't have the proof, I don’t think he would have listened to my story. And now that he had seen the evidence, I was hoping that he would destroy the Tamagotchis. I didn't want them hurting me. Yes, I was scared of them harming me, even though I was old enough to know better.
When we arrived at Target, Dad spoke with the store manager. He showed her the Tamagotchis, and I explained everything. The manager was shocked and checked the store inventory and history to see if any of the toys came up. She wanted to have these toys recalled, probably because she was frightened of losing her job if she got more incidents like this. She offered Dad a refund for three of the purchased items. The fourth, she said, had not been for sale in her store. This was the one that my aunt had owned. But Dad was satisfied with the manager’s promise to get rid of the toys and the money back. He kept the Tamagotchis, though.
But when we came back home, Dad did what he had been threatening to do. He broke all of the Tamagotchis into a million pieces of plastic and metal. What was left of them was thrown into a garbage can. We never spoke of them again.
If it hadn't been for my father, I think that I’d believe I’d imagined the whole episode. But what happened was real. The Tamagotchis had been acting naughty because they weren't ready to be disciplined…they were ready to discipline me for the death of one of my pets, a relative of theirs.
This all sounds crazy, I know. But what I’m trying to say is that in the end, you shouldn't let your virtual family come before reality. You won’t grow attached to them, and they won’t depend on you.
I think about Sally, Lacey, Della, and Julie sometimes. I wonder if they’re free, like Sally said they would be. And I wonder if that’s a good thing…