British Columbia·FROM THE ARCHIVES

'Every kid and their dog' had to have one: The Tamagotchi craze of the '90s

"If kids didn't have it in their pockets, parents were basically babysitting them."

Virtual reality pets 'all the rage' in 1997, schools considered bans

Tamagotchis hit North American shelves in 1996. (CBC Archives)

In 1997, Geoffrey Luk and his big brother had "shared custody" of a pet Tamagotchi.

Luk, 11 years old at the time, could be with the virtual pet until his brother finished his homework. Then they'd have to swap, as per mom and dad's rules.

Tamagotchi players were responsible for nurturing the virtual creature — feeding it, playing with it, cleaning up its poop and caring for it when it got sick.

If the toy was neglected, it would beep for attention. If none came, the pet died a virtual death.

"It had a certain urgency to it," Luk said. "If kids didn't have it in their pockets, parents were basically babysitting them."

Luk was a student at R.E. McKechnie Elementary in Vancouver back then. Tamagotchis had been available in North America for a few months and the craze was at its peak.

In this July 13, 1997 file photo, a nine-year-old girl tries out a Tamagotchi electronic pet. (AP Photo/Greg Baker via CP)

"Every kid and their dog absolutely had to have one," Luk said. 

"They were sold out pretty much everywhere. I can't speak to how my parents found them, but everyone was clamouring after their parents."

Luk bartered with his mom and dad for permission to bring it to school — to keep the pet alive, of course.

"Tried many times," he said. "Successfully? Never."

At the time, Tamagotchis presented what was then a novel issue for teachers: distracting, digital toys gobbling up students' attention.

"I'm pretty sure that teachers had meetings about the idea of banning them," Luk said. 

He was right.

Educators across Metro Vancouver considered forbidding the toys.

In the spring of 1997, the then-principal of Defienbaker Elementary in Richmond told CBC News that her staff were "just hoping to make it through the end of the year."

From the Archives: Cyberpets of the '90s

6 years ago
Duration 1:15
It was the craze that swept across Canada: a little digital pet called a "Tamagotchi." It needed food, drinks and even petting, or it could die.

Nowadays, gadgets like fidget spinners are part of a debate about distractions in the classroom — they've been billed as a helpful tool for children with attention disorders, but critics argue that idea is counterintuitive.

One Vancouver-based developmental psychologist said parents can rest assured that, no matter the fad, it will die down.

"At that age, kids really want to feel like they're a part of the group. Once one picks up on something and it becomes 'the big thing,' everyone wants one," Dr. Susan Thompson said. 

"I think kids will get tired of them, individually and as a group, especially when something new comes out.

"Parents can ride it out."

Bandai, the company behind Tamagotchi, has released revamped versions of game over the past 20 years. In April, they released a version of the original — but only in Japan.

Luk still lives in Vancouver and now works at the University of British Columbia. On Friday, he visited his parents and dug up the old Tamagotchi.

"Unbelieveably," he said, it still works.

Luk said he popped some fresh batteries in, and voila: it works. (Geoffrey Luk)


Rhianna Schmunk

Senior Writer

Rhianna Schmunk is a senior writer for CBC News based in Vancouver. Over nearly a decade, she has reported on subjects including criminal justice, civil litigation, natural disasters and climate change. You can send story tips to