When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

China 2.0

A Virtual Frog Video Game And China's One-Child Mindset

Stuffed Travel Frog
Stuffed Travel Frog
Chen Bai

BEIJING — An online game from Japan has become a hopping success in China. Unheard of until recently, Tabikaeru: Travel Frog — developed by the Japanese company Hit-Point — is suddenly all the rage, leapfrogging the competition to become the most popular free online game in China's Apple App Store.

Travel Frog requires little of the player — a good thing, perhaps, since it hasn't even been translated officially into Mandarin. And yet, people can't seem to get enough of it. As the name suggests, the game features a virtual frog, who either stays at home and reads the whole day, or goes off on an adventure. Players have no way of knowing when the frog will return, although if they're lucky, they'll get a postcard from some scenic site, or a souvenir when the adventurous amphibian finally comes home.

The player's job is to name the pet froggy at the start of the game, collect clover in the garden that can be used as currency, and use this currency to purchase things for the frog, like food or amulets. What the animal does, though, is his or her business. Players can't predict its moves, or interfere in any way.

Mostly, the player gets to observe the virtual pet's life and gain the experience of "raising" the creature. In that sense, the game mirrors the relationship between parents and their offspring, and that, most people agree, is its appeal. Recently, in the southeastern city of Hangzhou, one gamer even went so far as to post a message on an enormous outdoor LED advertising board that reads: "Frog Search Notice: Our frog baby didn't come home last tonight. Dad and I are waiting for you to come home."

Low desire society

Crazy, right? But maybe there's a message in the madness. For a number of reasons — astronomical housing prices, high-intensity workloads, huge medical and educational costs brought about by the upside-down pyramid family structure —, a growing number of China's young adults are choosing not to get married or have children. Should we really be surprised, then, that people are so eager to embrace an electronic substitute? Keep in mind that phonetically, the words for "frog" and "baby" sound almost exactly the same in Mandarin.

There has been much talk in recent years about a pervading sense of "detachment" among single Chinese adults, who are increasingly alienated within society and, interestingly enough, prime targets for Japanese pop culture, which has quietly spread all over China. It's not just that people are single; it's that they don't even make the effort to look for partners. In the blind-date market, it's often the anxious parents of adult children, rather than the children themselves, who are taking the initiative.

Should we really be surprised, then, that people are so eager to embrace an electronic substitute?

For those born after 1980, when China's one-child policy went into effect, raising children is no longer a mandatory option, especially for urban residents with high-pressure jobs. The family planning policy fostered a long-term cultural shift that has fundamentally destroyed the traditional procreation and aggregation system of families.

As the only children in their respective families, this self-centered generation grew up in a fast-developing economy, and their wish to pursue freedom and independence is far greater than their wish to take responsibility for another person's life. In Japan, the famous management theorist Kenichi Ohmae dubbed this kind of demographic decline a "low desire society," in which young people lack the drive to get married, have children or buy a house. Today, this situation has gradually appeared in Chinese society.

Psychological comfort

Last month, the National Bureau of Statistics published the country's 2017 fertility numbers, which were supposed to have gone up given the changes introduced two years ago to the one-child policy. Instead, the number of babies born last year fell, from 17.9 million in 2016 to 17.2 million. That's especially true in the country's megacities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Instead, people are putting their energy into work and business. But of course, they still need ways to vent. For that, like everything else, they look to the market, which offers ready made outlets such as ... Travel Frog.

Travel frog icon — Source: App Store

A virtual frog is an independent companion who won't impinge on one's private needs. One can enjoy the pleasure of raising an animated amphibian without the burden of bringing up a real, flesh-and-blood baby. Simply put, Travel Frog provides psychological comfort to its players — young single adults — and is wildly popular because of it.

That's also why other, similar games are inevitably on the way. Like Travel Frog, they too will be commercial successes, though compared to the next generation of real people — the one that will never exist — they may prove a poor substitute.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Geopolitics

Utter Pessimism, What Israelis And Palestinians Share In Common

Right now, according to a joint survey of Israelis and Palestinians, hopes for a peaceful solution of coexistence simply don't exist. The recent spate of violence is confirmation of the deepest kind of pessimism on both sides for any solution other than domination of the other.

An old Palestinian protester waves Palestinian flag while he confronts the Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan near the West Bank city of Nablus.

A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan on Jan. 6.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Just before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a survey of public opinion among the two peoples provided a key to understanding the current situation unfolding before our eyes.

It was a joint study, entitled "Palestinian-Israeli Pulse", carried out by two research centers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, which for years have been regularly asking the same questions to both sides.

The result is disastrous: not only is the support for the two-state solution — Israel and Palestine side by side — at its lowest point in two decades, but there is now a significant share of opinion on both sides that favors a "non-democratic" solution, i.e., a single state controlled by either the Israelis or Palestinians.

This captures the absolute sense of pessimism commonly felt regarding the chances of the two-state option ever being realized, which currently appears to be our grim reality today. But the results are also an expression of the growing acceptance on both sides that it is inconceivable for either state to live without dominating the other — and therefore impossible to live in peace.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest