Frogger’s Existential Crisis

Adrienne Dodt, Series Contributor

Adrienne’s series “Digital Landscapes” is about navigating hypertext.

Basho’s Frogger by Neil Hennessy is a mash-up of a famous haiku by Basho and the arcade game Frogger. The Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) has preserved Basho’s Frogger, originally hosted on the now-defunct Prize Budget For Boys website.

Here is one translation of Basho’s poem by Robert Hass¹:

The old pond–
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

Here is a more direct, experiential version by Dom Sylvester Houédard²:


Basho’s Frogger is set up like the original game with one exception: there is nothing in the first lane of the river. No turtles, no logs, only water. Therefore, the frog will always jump in the river and die. This, like Basho’s poem, is about impermanence– wabi sabi. Basho wrote about the impermanence of silence. Movement is an inevitability of life. Hennessy’s version makes the inverse point: movement (life) is impermanent because it is interrupted by the stillness of death.

And the world is indifferent to death. The river keeps flowing. The grass is still green. Some mysterious person keeps putting logs in the river. Neither Nature nor Progress is affected by the three frogs who jump. This is a metaphor for our insignificance in both the natural world and in society. One person makes little difference on the scale of the universe and of history.

There are three frogs, and they will all die. This is a metaphor for life. No matter how many chances you get, no matter how you are positioned, no matter how clever or lucky you are, you will die. Even the second and third frogs, seeing the fate of their predecessor, have no recourse but to make the same decision. The frog can move up or down the bank, but the result is the same. Whether from an inherent desire to jump (perhaps the vertiginous urge to peer closer into the abyss) or from folly, or from the fact that its life and world are mere simulations in a video game, the frog is destined to die tragically. We are similarly doomed. The condition of humanity is mortality. All of us must jump into the river.



¹Hass, Robert. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa.

²Houédard, Dom Sylvester. The Basho Variations. ed. Steve McCaffery.

Adrienne Dodt's PicAdrienne Dodt is a poet and essayist. Adrienne’s work can be found in The Body Electric anthology and Fact-Simile, Apothecary, Con/Crescent, and Monkey Puzzle magazines. Ze is a member of The Next Objectivists poetry collective in Chicago. Ze was the Poetry Editor for Bombay Gin magazine in 2008-2009, and ze edited the Next Objectivists’ chapbook Collective Unconsciousnesses in 2011. Adrienne currently teaches English at City Colleges of Chicago.

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