I Turned My Phone Into A Tamagotchi For A Week

A few weeks ago, I learned not only that the Apple Watch now has support for the Tamagotchi Classic app, but also that the Tamagotchi Classic app existed at all. That's right — you can literally turn your phone into a Tamagotchi, because what else is a device worth several hundred dollars for but using it to recapture the bloom of youth? Nostalgia: There's an app for that. It's on the Google Play store, too, for the curious.

Naturally, the knowledge that I could raise a Tamagotchi on my iPhone inspired all sorts of questions: What's it like raising one one of these little digital pets as an adult? Is it as fun as it was when we were kids? Or are we all just looking back on our childhoods through the proverbial rose-colored glasses? Luckily, it's actually my job to answers those questions — and as a result, I turned my phone into a Tamagotchi for a week so you don't have to.

I know that later Tamagotchis developed a ton of bells and whistles, including the ability to visit and even mate with other Tamagotchis; this app, however, mimics the original Tamagotchi — the one released between 1996 and 1998. That means that we're dealing with the device in its simplest form. The app itself actually features both a “toy mode,” which displays your pet within a picture of that iconic plastic egg on your phone screen, and an “app mode,” which does away with the egg and employs the whole screen (plus color!). I kept it on toy mode most of the time to achieve maximum nostalgia — and if you really want to go nuts, you can change the egg type. You unlock more egg designs the older your Tamagotchi gets, and the more Tamagotchis you raise. How's that for riding the nostalgia train?

In honor of Throwback Thursday, here's how my week as a Tamagotchi mama went:

Day 1: Friday

I knew that it would be a mistake to hatch my little digital pet during the work week. From what I remembered, Tamagotchis can be pretty demanding right after they're born; I wanted to make sure I could take the best care of my newly-hatched pet as possible, so it made sense to plan his arrival around my own availability. Accordingly, I waited until after I clocked out on the evening of Friday, May 8 to hit the "start" button. And at 6:30 on the nose? Little TJ, as I dubbed him, entered the world.

As I expected, the first hour is madness.

Tamagotchis have a small handful of stats you need to keep your eye on as you raise them: Their age and weight, their discipline level, how hungry they are, and how happy they are. The latter two, which are measured on a scale of one to four hearts, are the ones that will take up most of your time; perhaps unsurprisingly, a newborn Tamagotchi — called a “Babytchi” — starts out with both running on empty. I feed TJ four times to fill up his four hunger hearts, after which I have to put him down for a second. He beeps literally three seconds after I set him on my coffee table, angry because I haven't played with him yet.

The Tamagotchis of my childhood were capable of playing only one game — a guessing game — and it was kind of… well, dumb. When you select that “play” icon (which inexplicably looks like a baseball and bat, even though the only game available to your pet involves neither item), the Tamagotchi sits there on the screen, bouncing up and down, until you select either the button on the far left or the middle button. They correspond to directions — left and right — with the object being to guess which direction your Tamagotchi will choose to face. If your choice matches up with your Tamagotchi's direction, he becomes enormously happy; however, if your choice doesn't match up with it, he rages like the little drama queen that he is. After five guesses, the game is over. Did you guess at least three of them correctly? Congratulations! You have made your Tamagotchi very happy, indeed. Did you guess more than two of them incorrectly? Then you are a terrible pet parent and your Tamagotchi hates you.

Actually, that's not strictly true. But winning the game is what makes his four happiness hearts fill up with joy, so it's best to win if you can.

His rage face is kind of frightening, isn't it?

Interestingly, there's a second game in the Tamagotchi Classic app: Rock, paper scissors. There's a catch, though — you can only use it if you flip your Tamagotchi into app mode. Like the guess-the-direction game, this one is played in rounds of five; if your Tamagotchi either wins or draws three out of five rounds, then he rejoices, victorious in his mastery of these three strange and otherwise unconnected objects. I hold off on playing this one at first, however, determined to make my Tamagotchi experience as authentic as possible.

In any event, the rest of the evening is spent feeding, playing with, and cleaning up after little TJ. He falls asleep briefly at 7:14, only to wake up again five minutes later to poop — and, apparently, have a birthday party, because he's now one year old. Typically one day equals one year in Tamagotchi time, but year one passes in less than an hour. Happy birthday, little guy!

Five minutes after that, though, disaster strikes: He beeps at me (while, it should be noted, I am face deep in a burrito, because dammit, mums have to eat, too) — and there's a menacing black skull floating in the corner of his screen. What? What does that mean?! Is he dying? He's dying! Or, at least, he's sick, so I stick him with the medicine icon. That doesn't do anything other than make him angry, though, so I start Googling old Tamagotchi manuals (failing to realize that the whole thing actually comes programmed into the app in the "Help" menu) — which subsequently remind me that sometimes, you might have to give your buddy more than one dose of medicine for it to have the intended effect. I dose him a second time, and though he's still angry at me, at least it makes the skull go away. Crisis averted. I play with him afterwards, too, because he's kind of miserable after his little ordeal.

At 7:40, something big happens: He morphs! No longer a Babytchi, he's now a “Marutchi” — the shapeless little blob representing childhood that most of us think of when we think of a classic Tamagotchi. In app mode, he's yellow, which is probably an arbitrary color choice.

He's had a big day, though, so it's not terribly surprising when he conks out 20 minutes later. At 8 PM, he's down for the count, so I turn his light off for him and let him sleep.

Day 2: Saturday

Saturday is markedly less manic than Friday night was. We both wake up at about 9 AM (I know, I know — if I had good sleep hygiene, I'd wake up at the same time on the weekend that I do during the week… but I don't. I do so enjoy a good lie-in!); he's now two years old and 11 ounces. He's one heart's worth of hungry, so I give him breakfast before I head to the gym. When I get back shortly after 10, I play with him even though he hasn't beeped at me — I always feel like beeping for purposes of playtime or food should be an absolute last resort (that is, he's down to no hearts for hunger, happiness, or both), so I'm trying to anticipate his needs as much as I can. Playtime is good for you, right?

I discover something interesting after this play session when I check up on his vitals: Playing with him apparently also makes him lose weight. Although he was 11 ounces when we both woke up this morning, he's dropped down to 10 after a good ol' fashioned game of Left or Right. This is useful knowledge, so I squirrel it away in my mental “The Care and Keeping Of Your Tamagotchi” notebook. I obviously don't want him to grow up with body image issues (all bodies are beautiful, even when they're Tamagotchis!), but I do want him to be healthy; as such, I decide to start playing with him after feeding him as a matter of course. Given that his hunger hearts and happiness hearts generally seem to drop at the same rate, this also makes caring for him rather efficient — it's a system, and it works.

At 11:28AM, he beeps at me, but he's already both full and happy. I consult my instruction manual — the one programmed into the app itself this time, as I have finally discovered that it exists — and realize that the time has come to introduce some discipline into our routine. The “Discipline” button sits on the bottom of the screen, one icon over from what I call the “Hey! Listen!” icon; you'll typically need to use it for three different reasons: Your Tamagotchi is hungry, but won't eat; your Tamagotchi is unhappy, but won't play with you; and whenever your Tamagotchi calls you, but doesn't actually need anything. His vitals are fine — both health meters are full up — so apparently my mischievous little buddy has decided to bug me just for the hell of it. I'd like to raise a well-behaved Tamagotchi, so I hit the discipline. He rages at me for a bit, but the “Hey! Listen!” icon turns off, so clearly he was in need of a good scolding. If only disciplining a real pet or child were that easy!

In between the rest of the day's feeding, playing (that's the rock, paper, scissors game up there on the right, by the way), and cleaning (I was unprepared for how much Tamagotchis poop), TJ requires disciplining two additional times today: Once for a second “I'M YELLING AT YOU EVEN THOUGH I DON'T NEED ANYTHING!” incident, and once because he's hungry, but turns his damn nose up at his meal. He rages again each time, but he gets over it pretty quickly; he also eats and plays when he's supposed to, so the finger-wagging is doing what it's supposed to.

He finally asleep at 8PM again. I'm a little late turning out his light — I didn't hear his beep for some reason, which results in my flicking the switch at 8:15 — but he's dead asleep and doesn't seem to care. It's a good thing Tamagotchis sleep straight through the night without waking up, right?

Day 3: Sunday

To my extreme surprise, I don't wake up until 10AM on Sunday. I must have been even more exhausted than my little extraterrestrial pet, because I slept for a whopping nine and a half hours last night. Assuming TJ woke up at 9AM again, he's been awake for about an hour by the time I get to him, during which time he's both pooped and gotten a little hungry and bored. I clean him up, feed him, and play with him before making note of today's stats: Three years old and 10 ounces.

Now that we've encountered all the care mechanics, life with TJ is pretty much just a matter of routine: Feed him when he's hungry, play with him when he's unhappy, clean him up after he poops, give him medicine if he gets sick, and turn his light out for him when he falls asleep. I perform all of these actions multiples times throughout the day, minus giving him medicine (at least he's healthy, right?) — but I can't deny that the whole thing is getting a little repetitive.

But still, I keep at it — and at 3:49PM, he calls me for a more exciting reason than feeding, playing, pooping, or disciplining: He's morphed! Now a “Tamatchi,” he's apparently entered his teen phase; according to the Tamagotchi Wiki, he's “cheerful and usually in good spirits,” but also sometimes annoyingly talkative and very active. He's both well cared for and well behaved, so all my disciplining and preemptive feeding and playing seems to have paid off. This is one of two possible teenage Tamagotchi forms, the other being the duck-beaked “Kutchitamatchi.”

One other notable characteristic: 8PM rolls around, and he doesn't drop off to sleep. This new iteration stays awake until 9PM, and I can't help but wonder what kids who aren't allowed to stay up that late do. Reset his clock? Let him sleep with the lights on? Turn them out an hour early? Can anyone with access to a child who both has a classic Tamagotchi and isn't allowed to stay up until 9PM enlighten me?

Days 4 - 7: Monday Through Thursday

Although is undoubtedly true that hatching a Tamagotchi during work hours would be a bad idea, it's actually not so bad once he's grown up a little. Tamagotchis actually require very little care; as such, checking up on him a few times a day and taking maybe 10 seconds at a time to see to his needs won't at all interfere with your ability to do your job (again, if only raising an actual child were that simple). TJ gets sick Tuesday evening, but it's nothing two doses of medicine won't fix—and until Wednesday at 2:05PM, that's the most exciting thing that happens with him.

So what goes down on Wednesday? He achieves his final form, of course. Just after two o'clock in the afternoon, little TJ morphs into a "Pink Mametchi"— which means he's officially an adult now. They grow up so fast, don't they? The healthiest of the adult Tamagotchi forms, Mametchis are likely to have long lives (or at least, that's what the Tamagotchi Wiki tells me). He's smart, with an IQ of around 250, and a little bit serious; though he can be inflexible on some issues, though, he's well-mannered and quite clever. Apparently there are two other color options, although I'm not sure what they are — they're a secret until you raise Tamagotchis that turn out to have them. To the best of my knowledge, though, they're randomly achieved, so the color doesn't indicate how well you cared for your pet. The color is also inconsequential unless you're using app mode; he's just the same ol' gray scale design in toy mode.

Also, he's adorable.

TJ won't grow anymore after this, so as long as I keep playing with him after I feed him, he'll stay at around 30 ounces in weight; each day will add another year to his age, but he'll stay the same form until he reaches the end of his lifespan. I guess this means I win, right?


Although my trip down memory lane was fun from a nostalgic point of view, it's apparent that Tamagotchis just aren't meant for adults — even adults who grew up playing with them as children. The most obvious indication about how far I am outside the toy's primary demographic is undoubtedly how bored I got with the repetitive nature of caring for the digital pet on day three: Once you get past the first few hours after your pet is born, there just isn't enough variety to keep an adult occupied. Heck, maybe there's not enough variety to keep a kid occupied, either. I kept my childhood Tamagotchi alive for an impressively long amount of time, but that's mostly because I've always been a weirdo perfectionist and couldn't bear not to look after him — less conscientious children might not have the same qualms.

In any event, though, I can at least draw one helpful conclusion from this whole experiment: If you can't keep a Tamagotchi alive, you probably aren't ready to adopt a flesh-and-blood pet, let alone raise a child. I would even argue that if you can't raise a Tamagotchi to achieve his healthiest adult form, you're not ready to take care of something living and breathing — because you guys? It is so. Easy. Seriously. It would be harder to raise one with one of the less ideal final forms than it is to raise a healthy, happy adult Tamagotchi.

My little guy is still alive, by the way. He's doing great, and if I keep taking good care of him, I can expect him to live upwards of 23 days (or 23 years, in Tamagotchi time). Hopefully he'll have a long, full life before passing on to the great unknown — although I doubt I'll be hatching a second one after he's gone. I already have two living Tamagotchis of my own; you might otherwise know them as “cats.” And as adorable as my little digital pet is, he can't hold a candle to my two goofy kitties.

Images: _mubblegum/Flickr; Lucia Peters (10)