“Has your frog returned home yet?” – it is a somewhat odd question that has become normal since the ‘Traveling Frog’ (旅行青蛙／旅かえる) mobile game has become all the rage in China.
In the Traveling Frog game, that is now dominating China’s online mobile gaming charts, players have to help a little frog prepare for his travels across Japan.
The app is characterized by its unique design and revolves around a frog who lives in a stone cave and goes on frequent trips. Once he goes traveling, the frog comes back with local delicacies and snapshots of his adventures – but players are never sure how long their virtual friend stays away from home.
With its cute design and stress-free strategy, the hype surrounding Traveling Frog is somewhat comparable to that of the Tamagotchi in the 1990s and early 2000s. The frog, which players can give its own name, is like a mobile cyber pet that players have to keep an eye on and take care of.
Although the game was initially meant for young girls, it is now a hit amongst young working adults, mainly women.
A Virtual Baby
Over the past week, various Chinese media outlets have connected the success of the game to China’s low birth rates. Caijing.com writes: “Facing higher house prices, intensive jobs, the collapse of the [hierarchical] pyramid family structure, and huge medical and educational costs, we can no longer deny the reality that more and more young people are choosing not to get married and not to have children. And ‘nursing a frog’ is one kind of psychological substitute for ‘nursing a baby.’”
The news site reports that the obsession of some people over their frog is comparable to a parent’s worries over a child; players are so upset when their frog does not return home during the night, that they cannot sleep.
Despite the shift from China’s One Child Policy to the Two Child Policy, China’s birth rates have been declining year-on-year; 17.23 million newborns were added to China’s population last year – 630,000 less than the year before.
China News also reports about the deep attachment some players show for their virtual pet, and suggest that the Traveling Frog is a “low-cost way” in which people can “fill an emotional gap” in their lives.
Baby or Husband?
The suggestion that the virtual frog is like a baby has stirred discussions on Weibo about the matter, with some wondering if the frog really is like a baby, or if he is more like a friend, partner, or husband; the matter in itself has become an online squabble between netizens and media.
According to gamer’s platform 17173 (@17173游戏网), the designer of the game, Mayuko Mura (村真裕子), recently refuted the idea that the traveling frog is like a child. In an interview, she said: “For Japanese players, the frog is actually more like their husband, who goes on business trips and then comes home with some local specialties and photos.”
Many Chinese netizens were not too happy with the explanation. “If my husband would stay away a night and a day, I’d be infuriated!”, some said. “So now you’re telling me I’m raising a guy?!”, others commented.
The interview even led some people to wonder about the butterfly that is often depicted on the snapshots the frog sends players from his travels, suspecting she represents his mistress.
But according to news outlet Pear Video, Mura’s words have been misinterpreted. In a recorded phone conversation, she does say that for many Japanese players, the frog is more like a ‘husband,’ but that the original intention of the game was never to turn the frog into anything but itself.
“We just want players to freely enjoy the game and turn the frog’s role into whatever they want,” one of the game’s developers told Pear Video.
One author on Weibo (@魔力的真髓) reflects on the idea that the Traveling Frog apparently plays a different role in Japan than in China, and writes: “How comfortable it must be to be a husband in Japan, where you don’t have to do anything around the house, your wife serves you, and then you just take off with the things your wife prepared for you, and go out and seek an extramarital affair.”
“Whatever, the island nation turns it into a husband, we turn it into a child,” one pragmatic netizen concludes. Another Weibo user adds: “What’s the difference – husbands nowadays are like babies anyway.”
Others commenting on the issue, however, are too occupied with the real important matters: “It’s been three days, and he still isn’t back,” one unhappy commenter writes. Another one has the same worries: “All I want to know is why my baby has gone traveling for a week, and still hasn’t come home..”