Seventies kids had Pet Rocks. Nineties kids had Tamagotchis. And those of us who grew up in the early 2000s had chaos. Not Chaos, like the opposite of order (though that is the name of a villainous chao in the Sonic games). Chao, which is pronounced the same as the Italian word for "goodbye," are cute little creatures introduced in Sonic Adventure. They're sort of like teddy bears, but with tear drop-shaped heads that look like they're made out of gelatin.
In Sonic Adventure 2: Battle (the expanded GameCube version of Sonic Adventure 2), Sonic and the rest of the heroes and rogues can collect chaos and send them to a chao garden, where they can live peacefully in an idyllic little park with bright green grass and a crystal blue pool (eventually, you can unlock Hero and Dark gardens, too). I had played around with this kind of thing before as a kid, and I’d happily do it again. I remember carrying a Digivice (basically a Digimon-themed Tamagotchi) around my church parking lot as I played with my friends, trying to get in the steps to make something happen. And I got very deep into Nintendogs: Dachshund and Friends a few years later. But chaos were the first digital pet to really obsess me.
In Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, you collect chaos from crates you find in levels. But, just as importantly, you collect tiny animals. Through some genetic quirk that I can't pretend to understand, when you present one of these animals to your chao, the chao will hug it and part of their body will take on that animal's characteristics — a tiger tail might sprout from their bum, or their limbs might be replaced with bear paws.
There were also cylindrical containers, which looked kind of like Blopens, which you could collect and give to your chaos to raise their stats. These stats came into play in different competitions you could enroll your chaos in. They could compete in a footrace against other chaos or face off in a martial arts match. Sega had hidden a little creature-raising RPG inside its 3D platformer, and it's a little harder to imagine that kind of thing happening now.
I was captivated by raising my chaos to the extent that I kept a journal of their progress. My family took a vacation to Mexico when I was in elementary school and I bought a thick, hardback journal with pulpy pages that were designed to look rough and weatherbeaten. I used that journal to track their growth and their stats. (I also used it, later, as a Rosetta stone for the dinosaur language in Star Fox Adventures).
When the MEAP — Michigan Educational Assessment Program, my home state's standardized test — came around that year, I made sure that the data I had been keeping in my journal didn't go to waste. For the essay portion of the test, I wrote about my chao garden, explaining the mechanics of raising a chao. I don't remember what the prompt was. All I know is that, however tangentially related it seemed, I took it as an invitation to write about my interests. To be honest, it’s not too different from what I do at TheGamer now.
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