I can’t explain why I adopted a virtual pet while also navigating the wild world of new parenthood, though maybe it has something to do with our species’ penchant for falling back on the familiar. The pandemic added to the chaos of life with a newborn, so I found myself drawn to anything nerdy and nostalgic from my youth that seemed like it could provide a distraction from the mess that was my day-to-day life. That’s how I found myself with a Tamagotchi On in my Target cart.
I bought the Tamagotchi thinking it’d be a harmless way to pass the rest of the pandemic. When I brought it home, I remembered how hard it was to keep the digital aliens alive. Tamagotchi require around-the-clock care, just as much as my baby needed feedings and diaper changes. It was too much to keep up with in the midst of my already-hectic routine.
From the day they launched, Tamagotchi have been infamous for making anyone feel like a failed parent. I wasn’t about to compound my postpartum depression by letting my Tamagotchi die, so I went looking for a hack. What I found was a small niche world of makers and creators keeping the Tamagotchi legacy alive. I started buying wallpapers and custom items for my Tamagotchi and even went to great lengths to import an Android phone so that I could transfer goods I acquired via infrared. I learned that Tamagotchi fandom runs deep, and I found it a comforting place to be.
Whenever I tell people about my Tamagotchi hobby, they’re quick to respond with a story about how difficult it was to keep one alive “back in the day.”
But the thing is, Tamagotchi never went away. They’ve been revived and rebranded every few years since Bandai debuted them in 1996. The latest generation, called Tamagotchi On (or Tamagotchi Meets in Japan), comes in seven colors, with three different “collections” to explore. The Tamagotchi connect through infrared to each other and via Bluetooth to the Tamagotchi On smartphone app. The app enables your Tamagotchi to “leave” its plastic shell and venture to the virtual world to collect Gotchi points along with food and wearable items.
This generation of Tamagotchi has the same goal as the original: Breed your Tama (Japanese for “egg”) and come up with as many combinations as you possibly can. If you fall in love with one variety of Tama in particular—you’ll find some cuter than others—then the objective is to keep that one alive for as long as you possibly can.
I never intentionally sought to become a Tamagotchi collector. But, to borrow a cliche, you really can’t just stop at one. Tamagotchi debuted back in 1996 when most millennials were straddling the line between childhood and adolescence. We weren’t quite old enough for the kind of critical thinking the “real world” required, and we were still young enough to find fulfillment in playing with toys. And since I’m an aging millennial, that might explain why I was drawn to the virtual pet for comfort.
In 1997, Bandai launched the original Tamagotchi in the U.S. It sold more than 40 million units worldwide, helping spur the launch of other virtual pets at the time. I was sucked into the world of virtual pets via a well-known offshoot, Dinkie Dino, or Rakurakudinokun. That game revolved around dinosaur characters and had a few more buttons and functions than the original Tamagotchi. But the idea and the gameplay were the same.
Bandai brought only a few generations of Tamagotchi to the U.S. after that initial release. One of my personal favorite models was the Tamagotchi Connection, which debuted in 2004 and used infrared to connect to friends, swap items, and breed together. Bandai stopped selling it around 2008—the same time I also stopped playing with Tamagotchi.
Tamagotchi didn’t make their way back to the U.S. until 2019, which was when Bandai launched the Tamagotchi On. It’s typically $60 for a new unit, though now you can find it on sale since the recent announcement of the Tamagotchi Pix. It’s much bigger than the original Tamagotchi, requiring two AA batteries rather than the CR2032 coin battery the smaller units require, and that’s because there’s more hardware to power up.
The Tamagotchi On has a 1-inch color display, infrared for transferring data between friends, a Bluetooth chip for connecting to the Tamagotchi smartphone app, and the whole thing is powered by an ARM processor. The presence of that Bluetooth chip is what helps make the Tamagotchi On “hackable,” and when I realized that was the only barrier to entry for tinkering with one, I was intrigued.
It was the sixth month of shelter-in-place, and I desperately needed something to cheer me up from the doldrums of being indoors every day. I’d seen the Tamagotchi On pop up on Instagram during my nightly doom-scrolling sessions, featured in posts by enthusiastic pixel artists showing off their custom wallpapers for the virtual pets. It looked fun to tinker with, and I liked the idea of customizing a virtual pet. So I added it to my Target cart.
Six months into new parenthood is absolutely the worst time to take on a Tamagotchi. But I was breeding some cute-as-hell Tamas, and they were bringing me joyful distraction. I’d even bust out a mini-game when I tried to focus on anything other than my daughter’s colicky crying.
Then the Tamagotchi died on me. Over and over again. By the fifth time of starting over with a new egg, it became a slog figuring out how to keep the Tamagotchi happy enough to stop asking for medical care. One of the challenges baked into the Tamagotchi On is that every new character has its own set of favorite foods and items to help increase their happiness meter. A typical adult without an infant child can make time for this type of gameplay; you figure out the Tama’s favorites and then develop a cadence throughout the day feeding and interacting with it. But I had my own real-life Tamagotchi to keep alive. That’s when I started looking for a hack.
I liked the idea of having the Tamagotchi to fidget with throughout the day, but I needed a little more control over how often I needed to interact with it. Any time you start over on a Tamagotchi On, you have to feed and play with it constantly for up to three days before you can send it into the app or send it off to its parents to put it in a sort of standby mode. It’s like how babies need constant care at the start, and then as they grow into children, they gradually become more independent.
A few Instagram posts and Reddit threads later, I discovered the MyMeets app for Windows 10. The app lets you customize a partner for your Tamagotchi to marry. You can also use MyMeets to upload custom wallpapers and games, access all available items within the global lore of the game, or fill up your bank with Gotchi points. Mac users curious about the hack can try it using a virtual machine.
In the beginning, I used the MyMeets app to load up my wallet with Gotchi points and buy multiples of the food that I’d figured out my Tamagotchi likes to eat. This little trick made it easier for me to keep up with the daily necessities of the Tama. I didn’t have to grind my way by playing mini-games to afford the high-scoring food, and my happiness meter would stay plentiful enough that I could be more casual about checking in through the day.
A Tamagotchi collector who goes by the handle Bolter developed the MyMeets app with some help from a few other fans in the Tamagotchi collecting community. The app launched in early 2019, mere months after the initial release of the Tamagotchi Meets in Japan.
“I pre-ordered it and got it right away,” Bolter told Gizmodo via email. “It took about three months to develop.”
The app is available for download at the TamaTown website, which is owned and operated by another pair of Tamagotchi collectors known as Sammytchi_827 and Yeah_Right_Sure.
Bolter created the MyMeets app to gain access to a Japanese-exclusive Tamagotchi Meets character, an octopus named Takotakoyakitchi.
“It was frustrating to see that it was not possible for me to obtain this character on my device since I don’t live in Japan,” Bolter said. “However, I saw that people on the official Tamagotchi Meets app were running around as this character, and I was also able to marry their character and have certain genes (such as the body) on my device.”
And that’s when it started to click. With help from friends, Bolter reverse-engineered how the Tamagotchi On smartphone app and the Tamagotchi itself synced through Bluetooth so that the Windows app could spoof the connection. For instance, rather than marrying a Tamagotchi cared for by a live person accessing the smartphone app, you can breed your Tamagotchi from the physical device with the Tamagotchi combination input into the MyMeets Windows app.
This way of connecting to the Tamagotchi is tricky, but it works. I’ve been using the MyMeets app for nearly 10 months to transfer items and breed my Tamagotchi with no issues. There have been complaints of corrupt data, however, as well as unsuccessful transactions, so it’s something to keep in mind if you’re planning to tinker.
If you do seek out the MyMeets app, note that Bandai doesn’t entirely endorse this sort of thing. I reached out to the company to ask how it approaches fans who hack the Tamagotchi On and Meets. A Bandai spokesperson said:
We hope that fans will actively enjoy healthy exchanges with each other in our Tamagotchi games and respect the intellectual property of rights holders. However, if violations of our rights occur or if external resources are used to bypass the permitted level of fan activities in the game, individual measures will be considered to protect users and our intellectual property rights. The use of fan created Tamagotchi programs does not guarantee any advantage to any user. It is strongly recommended not to use them as there may be security risks for your devices.
The Tamagotchi hacking community continues to grow, however. Perhaps because it doesn’t quite feel like hacking—more like unlocking a secret level of the game that only the real fans know.
“MyMeets was never designed to try to harm Bandai in any way,” Bolter said. “It’s more of an extension to the Tamagotchi [On]. [It’s] also the main goal of mine, to extend the gameplay of the Tamagotchi [On] because it has so much potential.”
Bolter said they take extra care before pushing out a release for the MyMeets app.
“I get plenty of positive feedback about MyMeets, where people are telling me that they only play with the device because of the software,” Bolter said. “I think this is the best feedback I can get as a developer.”
Bolter and a few other dedicated Tamagotchi fans continue to collaborate through Discord and other online spaces to ensure that MyMeets remains up to date. Months into the stay-at-home order, Bolter released a destination for the Tamagotchi On/Meets, purchasable through Etsy. It’s transferrable through the MyMeets app, and it’s called “Magic Hut.” Once you travel to the magical locale, you can give your Tamagotchi different potions to unlock various hacks. For instance, a time potion helps speed up the internal clock, so the Tamagotchi grows faster. There’s also a happiness potion to keep the Tamagotchi’s happiness meter up. I bought the hack, and now I use it to help me keep my Tamagotchi running despite my hectic adult life.
The Magic Hut hack encouraged me too much, however. I became greedy and hastily added more Tamagotchi to my collection. In addition to whatever I could find on sale at different retailers, I bought a used Japanese Tamagotchi ID L, because that version lets you dress up Tama with hats and shirts. I imported a Japan-only Sony Android phone with infrared capabilities to dress my Tama up as Sailor Moon and different Pokémon. I realize this sounds like overkill, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about setting up the transaction between devices and then experiencing the result. I eventually found a groove where I periodically swap the outfits on the Tamagotchi ID L so that the character matches the game I’m playing on my Switch. Also, the Tama is an adorable thing to check in with throughout the day.
Tamagotchi hacking isn’t new. There are different ways to hack different versions of the Tamagotchi, all the way back to the original. The actual “hacks” weren’t always so involved, either. Sometimes, it would involve taking out the battery to stop time, which I still do with the Tamagotchi versions I’m not currently running.
There’s a new Tamagotchi on the horizon, the $60 Tamagotchi Pix, which debuts later this year. But rather than connect via Bluetooth or infrared, the Tamagotchi Pix will use QR codes.
From what I can tell, the community is excited to get their hands on a new Tamagotchi. There’s new gameplay, too, which means there will have to be another “hack” to accommodate the Tamagotchi Pix sometime down the line. Until then, I’ll continue to run through my vast collection of Tamagotchi—I’m up to eight working units right now, of varying generations—and match them to my life as if they’re accessories to adorn my outfit. The whole point of the Tamagotchi is to keep them alive and kicking. And they’re so much easier to take care of than my real-life kid, where it will take years to reap the rewards (if ever!). Consider this my nerdy way of cheating death.