Mobile Game Travel Frog
The Meaning of Travel Frog—To Like Yourself Better
Harvest its lawn. Fill its backpack. Watch it take off for a journey and bring you souvenirs back. You might not be unfamiliar with the little frog, but you might have never thought about how come it could become such a surprise hit.
The Meaning of Travel Frog—To Like Yourself BetterBy Kocheng Fang
Travel Frog (旅かえる)—a cute Japanese game that has been sweeping smartphones lately—seems to have its own way of giving its players their needed comfort. Why? Specialists have been trying to find the answer from a psychological standpoint, yet in my opinion, none of their analysis could have better explained this frenzy than one first-hand testimony from an involved. This player came to consult me about his depression issues. In the end of our appointment, he shared with me his experience in playing this game, and selflessly consented to let me share his story with my readers:
“I named my frog ‘Gloomie,’ perhaps to mirror my gloomy life. I harvest its lawn, fill its backpack, like I’m finally starting to take care of my own life without even knowing. The best part is that when it suddenly goes out for a trip, I would feel happy and relieved. Gloomie always seems to know what it wants to do—go traveling, writing, or just sitting there sharpening a piece of wood. I like it the way it is, unrestrained and independent.”
The Healing Power of Travel Frog
To better understand this Travel-Frog experience he shared to me, let me briefly introduce a concept proposed by British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. She termed two psychological mechanisms as “Projection” and “Introjection” to explain the complex relationship between an infant and the mother. I’m not going to cover too much on the details (in fact I can’t say I completely get the theory), but it’s nice to have a simple understanding on the two psychological mechanisms.
‘Projection’ occurs when one projects a part of himself onto another subject (person). On the contrary, ‘Introjection’ occurs when one ‘consumes,’ or internalizes, a part of another subject.
Sounds complicated? It’s actually a fairly simple concept. Think about a couple madly in love. One tends to ‘project’ everything wonderful onto his lover, making the other such a perfect and unique individual, while at the same time feeling happy and satisfied for having such a wonderfully perfect person willing to keep company (Introjection).
In the game, naming the frog is the first trigger of 'Projection.' This explains why many players give their frogs names that somehow echo a part of themselves (well, perhaps not all players. At least mine is named ‘Cheng’.) My consulting client has been projecting the gloomy part of him, the part that he disliked, onto this cute little character, of which taking care resembles reconciling himself with his hated self. When ‘Gloomie’ takes off for a journey, it is as though his depression has left him, reminding him that he is not his depression—a thought that relieves him greatly.
Yet the ace in the hole of this game, in my opinion, lies in the independence of the frog. Coming-of-age is the process of transforming from a dependant to an independent individual, and at last living a life of one’s own choice. As a psychotherapist, I know this is no easy process. Many reasons hinder us from becoming the mature self we desire, and perhaps we hate ourselves for not being able to.
But our little frogs made it! See how they are enjoying their life, never relying on their parents (the players) to live a life full of adventures. My client has ‘projected’ a part of himself onto ‘Glommie,’ and then ‘introjected’ the admirable character of this little frog into his own self-impression. Little by little, without even knowing, he stops hating himself, and finally gets to reconcile himself with himself.
We Are All Trying to Reconcile Ourselves with Ourselves through a Relationship
Of course, the involvement of Projection and Introjection not only exists in the game, but gets even intensified in intimate/parent-child relationships. Sometimes it can be problem-causing.
Suppose we’ve all heard of stories of such: A father regrets not being able to become a doctor, and therefore imposes this unfulfilled mission to his son, regardless of his son’s unwillingness, or the fact that his academic performance just can’t bring him there. The father keeps spurring his son, urging him to retake exams, while their relationship sours.
Perhaps the father would say he wanted to bring out ‘the dragon’ in his son for his son’s good. Yet a psychotherapist might say it was for the good of his own self, the self that failed to become ‘the dragon.’ He has projected himself onto his son, in hopes of introjecting his son’s future success to become more satisfied with himself.
We’ve also heard of stories of family violence being passed down from generation to generation. Why would some adults yell at their children to stop them from crying, or even try to make them stop by means of violence? It is perhaps because when the adults themselves were children, they have learned to stop themselves from crying once they realized their parents get unhappy when seeing them weak and sniveling. So when they see their children (their projected self) crying, they get anxious for they see themselves weak and sniveling again. They feel an urge to control their children, to stop them from crying, so that they don’t see themselves weak, irritating, and unloved.
These are just some of the many examples in life, which all share one similarity: The more we get too hard on ourselves, the more we hate ourselves, the more likely we would project ourselves on our intimate other, in hopes of controlling the other (our projected self) to introject the good side of them to ourselves. To be honest, we are all trying to reconcile ourselves with ourselves through relationships we have, even when our mind is not conscious about what we are doing.
Mature Love—Allowing Each Other to Be Themselves
Why has loving one become so difficult? Perhaps it’s because we as humans often have unresolved conflicts that make us unsatisfied with ourselves, and we tend to fix this through projecting and introjecting ourselves on others in a relationship. We are not looking to loving another, but to being reconciled with ourselves.
It might be a way of taking care of the self, but it often comes with a heartbreaking price. We forget that the others are also independent individuals who have their own needs, preference, weakness and inability, which we might fail to see when we project too much of ourselves on them. Once we can no longer give the understanding, the loving and care the others are looking to, as long as they are mentally-healthy (they do care about themselves), they would sooner or later choose to leave.
When both can still find from each other the happiness of being loved, their relationship might last longer, but without fundamentally accepting the self, both can never really reach true happiness. If both are not genuinely happy, what they share is nothing but loneliness for two.
Perhaps the goal of coming-of-age, and of consulting psychology, is to find a way to reconcile one with oneself. The more we are satisfied with ourselves, the more we are able to clearly see the other, to appreciate, and to be attentive to the one-and-only him or her (or it).
Translated by Sharon Tseng.
About the author
Kocheng Fang 方格正
A psychotherapist with a lifetime goal of helping others. With a PhD in consulting psychology, Dr. Fang used to work in a hospital. Currently, he does individual consulting at campus and communities, while sharing his view as a psychologist on late trends and movies. Visit his Facebook fanpage 心理師的心裡話──方格正的工作隨筆.
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