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Why the Best White Elephant Gift Is a Tamagotchi

This nostalgic $15 gizmo checks all the gift-exchange boxes.

Karisa Langlo Senior Editor
Karisa Langlo has been writing and editing professionally for over 12 years, joining CNET with two writing degrees and bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, Louisville Magazine and The Masters Review. She started on CNET's mobile team before expanding to all tech and now works across categories to optimize the performance of all CNET advice and storytelling, from Wellness to Money, News and Culture. Karisa also manages strategy for CNET's Tips franchise.
Expertise Culture, How-To, Tech, Home, Wellness, Money, News Credentials
  • Over a decade of writing and editing experience
Karisa Langlo
3 min read
three Tamagotchis on a festive background

Love it or hate it, the white elephant gift exchange is now a big part of the holiday party circuit. So while you're making a list and checking it twice, don't forget about the white elephant in the room.

Personally, I love a good white elephant. The sanctioned thievery and the air of mystery recalls the Christmas spirit of my credulous youth. And I also just really love buying the kinds of things that, for whatever reason, no one on my list actually asked for

If you hate white elephant exchanges, chances are it's because you hate having to come up with a gift. It's just one more thing to buy, you say. I hear you, but I also offer a rebuttal. Introducing… the Tamagotchi.

You may have heard of these little egg-shaped digital pets. First hitting US shelves in 1997, the humble keychain game is now 25 years old, which is about 9,000 years in Tamagotchi-time. The Tamagotchi is a standalone handheld game featuring a pet that hatches from an egg and grows up as you, the player and caregiver, attend to its every need. That includes feeding, providing enrichment, disciplining and, of course, cleaning up its fly-orbited poop. It was basically the Animal Crossing of its day.

Procuring a Tamagotchi in 1997 was, for me, a classic Jingle All the Way-style exercise in capitalist desperation, which made the toy all the more enjoyable when I was finally able to play with one. Given it's the toy's 25th anniversary, there's never been a better time to recapture the thrill of that particular chase.

tamagotchi white elephant gift

The humble Tamagotchi is my new go-to for white elephant gifts.

Karisa Langlo/CNET

The art and science of what makes a good white elephant gift

The perfect white elephant gift meets four criteria: price point, wide appeal, stealability and balance between humor and utility. In this essay I will argue that the Tamagotchi, which is now readily available on Amazon and at other chain stores like Target, Walmart and, weirdly, Barnes & Noble, is the rare quadra-fecta of gifts that meets all four.

Let's talk about price point first. The white elephant exchanges I've participated in range from $50 to "wrap up a half-melted pillar candle and call it a day." At a reasonable $15, the original Gen 1 or Gen 2 Tamagotchi hits right in the middle, making it perfect for the midrange budget and the cheap-to-free alike. 

And like a stocking stuffer or a sharp cheddar, the original Tamagotchi pairs well with other things, if your price point's a little higher. For instance, wrap up a Tamagotchi with a Light Up Pop It Pro for a "viral toys: then and now"-themed gift Or pair it with a Pets Alive Poppy the Booty Shakin' Pug and give the whole spectrum of fake pets.

Read more: Hottest Holiday Toys of 2022


The next criterion: You want wide appeal because you don't know who's going to end up with your gift. The Tamagotchi transcends most demographic borders, namely age, because it's got the nostalgia factor that we olds enjoy, while being a genuinely enjoyable game for the kids. And the Tamagotchi has always tried to bust the gender construct by being a video game (masculine!) about caregiving (feminine!).

Now let's talk stealability and balance. Half the fun of a white elephant exchange is the stealing. But at those unfortunate parties wherein most-to-all gifts are undesirable even in an ironic way, stealing just doesn't tend to happen. An unopened package, after all, holds much more hope for the future. Unlike, say, a set of dish towels or hand cream, the Tamagotchi is highly stealable. I think this is because it's fun and cute and a little goofy, and it doesn't take up too much space. Plus, it's ironically hip to revel in '90s nostalgia, and it's perhaps earnestly hip to embrace kid stuff when the world's a dumpster fire

Tamagotchi just has that je ne sais quoi, situated at the very narrow overlap between funny and useful in the Venn diagram of mass production. This is important because some white elephant exchanges mandate "good" gifts while others exist solely for the laughs. Tamagotchi is good: Check. But a Tamagotchi is also kind of funny, though more whimsical than hilarious: Check. Watch a fellow party guest unwrap a Tamagotchi and their face will light up in recognition and delight. They may even exclaim giddily that they didn't know they still made these things

"Oh, they definitely do," you'll say. "And I've bought one for every holiday gift exchange."