Tamagotchi effect

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The Tamagotchi effect is the development of emotional attachment with machines or robots or even software agents. It has been noticed that humans tend to attach emotionally to things which otherwise do not have any emotions. For example, there are instances when people feel emotional about using their car keys, or with virtual pets. It is more visible in fields which show parts of human behavior e.g. area of artificial intelligence and automated knowledge processing.

Tamagotchi Toy[edit]

The Japanese toy, the Tamagotchi was released in 1996. It has since been a major hit around the world. As of 2010, more than 76 million Tamagotchis have been sold worldwide.[1] This toy is an egg-shaped virtual pet. It is used by all ages. The user chooses an object, pet, or person to raise an egg to a creature. Another example of virtual pets is a virtual puppy game. In this game, the user takes the role of the mother or father to raise the puppy into an adult. The user feeds, bathes, and even plays with the virtual animal. The user gains an emotional attachment with the puppy which encourages the user to keep interacting with the pet and to be a good parent.


Researchers have tried to explain the Tamagotchi effect. Some answers for the effect are that a virtual pet offers a form of practice for a real pet. Another explanation is that people's lives are not fit for an animal, so having a virtual pet diminishes an abused animal. The virtual paradigm directs the effect towards it ability of customization and personalization that isn't offered by a real animal.[2] Another criticism when the game first came out was the life expectancy of the pet if left unattended. If left unattended, the pet was going to die within half a day. This would cause owners to take their pet with them wherever they went and cause distractions in their daily lives. This caused many schools to ban the use of Tamagotchis. Researchers came up with the term, Tamagotchi-human cyborg.[3] This refers to the feelings that if one's tamagotchi lived to be old and healthy, then it was a success. If one's Tamagotchi failed to live a successful life, then it was considered to be a failure. This would lead to individuals to be concerned with ethical lessons as they were treating their pets as the real thing.[4]

Who is affected?[edit]

The tamagotchi effect has no limitations on who or who can't encounter the effect. The effect is demonstrated by both children and elderly people. Forms of therapy have been used with virtual pets on elderly and mentally challenged children.[5]

Children's perspective[edit]

"In the 1960s through the 1980s, researchers in artificial intelligence took part in what we might call the classical "great AI debates" where the central question was whether machines could be "really" intelligent. This classical debate was essentialist; the new relational objects tend to enable researchers and their public to sidestep such arguments about what is inherent in the computer. Instead, the new objects depend on what people attribute to them; they shift the focus to what the objects evoke in us. When we are asked to care for an object (the robot Kismet, the plaything Furby), when the cared-for object thrives and offers us its attention and concern, people are moved to experience that object as intelligent. Beyond this, they feel a connection to it. So the question here is not to enter a debate about whether relational objects "really" have emotions, but to reflect on a series of issues having to do with what relational artifacts evoke in the user." [6] In preliminary research done on children and Furbies researchers found that the children classified Furbies as "kind of alive". They classified the Furby as "kind of alive" because of their emotional attachment to it; for example, when asked "Do you think the Furby is alive?," children answer not in terms of what the Furby can do, but how they feel about the Furby and how the Furby might feel about them". "...[T]he computational object functions not only as an evocative model of mind, but as a kindred other. With these new objects, children (and adults) not only reflect on how their own mental and physical processes are analogous to the machine’s, but perceive and relate to the machine as an autonomous and "almost alive" self". "By accepting a new category of relationship, with entities that they recognize as "sort-of-alive", or "alive in a different, but legitimate way," today's children will redefine the scope and shape of the playing field for social relations in the future. Because they are the first generation to grow up with this new paradigm, it is essential that we observe and document their experiences".[6]

Virtual 'Friends'[edit]

Having friends and friendships is a vital piece to human interaction and well-being in today’s society. Unfortunately, people may struggle for this basic need based on time restrictions and other commitments. Because of this, many are turning to the convenience of using technology to have a "virtual friend." [7] These virtual friends are designed to interact with people in the same fashion as a human friend would. They can range from a simple handheld pet all the way to possessing individual personalities and emotions, as real people do. Those most likely to form emotional attachments are likely anxious-ambivalent individuals, who tend to experience high levels of distress and a need for strong relationships.[8]


Virtual ‘friends’ can provide people with a sense of security and self-confidence. This can pose to be especially true in those who have difficulty communicating or interacting with others. People may look to their virtual friends for positive encouragement or just companionship.[9]


While these virtual ‘friends’ are doing a lot of good for people, there is also the need for concern on over-reliance. Depending so much on these figures could potentially lead to isolation from the real world. This may then, in turn, escalate to a difficulty of differentiating between reality and fantasy, which is especially influential in children.[10]

Marketing Strategies[edit]

The definition of The Tamagotchi Effect and the attachment to these devices makes it possible for companies to market and profit from this effect. New research has found that customers often develop strong emotional ties to products and services they use. This suggests that companies can attract lifelong customers. Companies can adjust their marketing strategies to focus on these types of individuals, who stay faithful to brands that earn their trust.[11]

Future Outlook[edit]

Based on current evidence and rapid evolution of technology, there is a strong indication that the future will hold a place for these technological, lifelike entities. What will people one day do with a robotic cat or household butler who can react with as well as have affective states of their own? How will this change how society views human qualities and development? These human to machine relationships may one day come to be methodically equivalent to relationships between living things.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brennan, K. (1998). Godzilla vs. Tamagotchi. Retrieved from http://www.moongadget.com/gvt/index.html
  2. ^ Heim, Michael. The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  3. ^ Haraway, Donna. "Cyborgs and Symbionts: Living Together in the New World Order." The Cyborg Handbook. Ed. Chris Hables Gray. New York: Routledge, 1995.
  4. ^ Johnston, David. "Adopting a Cabbage patch Kid Isn't Child's Play." Los Angeles Times 2 Dec. 1983, sec. V: 1.
  5. ^ Glantz, Kalman, et al. "Virtual Reality For Psychotherapy: From the Physical to the Social Environment." Psychotherapy Fall 1996, v.33: 464-473.
  6. ^ a b c Brockman, J. (1996). Digerati: Encounters with the cyber elite. (ch. 31). HardWired Books.
  7. ^ Turkle, S., Life on the Screen, Simon and Schuster, 1995.
  8. ^ Forbes, January 14, 1985, p.12.
  9. ^ Pogrebin, L.C., Among Friends, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1987
  10. ^ Jourard, S.M., Self-Disclosure: An Experimental Analysis of the Transparent Self, Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1971
  11. ^ Gallup, Inc. (2001). Customers' emotional attachment extends to more products and services than many marketers think. Gallup Business Journal.

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