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.
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.
Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.
• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.
• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.
• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.
• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.
• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction
Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.
🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.
😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.
🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.
— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.
🇮🇷🎓 IN OTHER NEWS
Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement
Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.
Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.
The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.
Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.
Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."
Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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