Marwan Imam drove two hours on a coastal highway chasing Pokémon in Alexandria.
“I drove all the way from the North Coast to get some action,” he says, “mostly to get to a populated area [where there’s] more Pokémon, gyms and interaction.”
Pokémon GO, the new augmented-reality game developed by Niantic and Nintendo, sends players to find and catch more than 100 species of Pokémon in the real world.
The game uses the player’s surrounding area as a backdrop to collect the different species. Smartphones alert players to the presence of a Pokémon as they move through the streets. Once they’ve encountered a Pokémon, they take aim on their touch screen and throw a virtual Poké Ball to catch it.
For nostalgic fans, this is the realization of their childhood Pokémon dreams.
Pokémon was created in 1995 as a universe of fictional creatures that humans catch and train for battle. It started as a Nintendo Game Boy video game and then branched out to trading card games, animated TV shows and movies, comic books and toys.
“I’ve been obsessed with Pokémon since it came out. I’ve had the cards from the very start,” 28-year-old Imam says, adding that he also owned the games and watched the films. “So when I discovered an augmented-reality game that lets you catch Pokémon in the real world, I was like, ‘Say no more, I’m in.’”
The game is only available in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and has not yet officially been released in Egypt. However, fans found a way to circumvent geographic restrictions by changing the language and region option in the App Store to the US, for iPhone users, or by downloading from the APK site on Android.
Pokémon was also a crucial part of Kareem Gamroor’s childhood.
“From my first Gameboy, which the Pokémon cartridge never left, to the cards I’d collect …” he recalls. “I cannot tell you how happy I am to see it back.”
Players wander around the streets of Cairo and other major Egyptian cities looking for exotic Pokémon species and training essentials, including so-called gyms and PokéStops. When users reaches a certain level in the game, they can go to a real-world place to open or join a gym where they can fight their Pokémon against other players. At designated PokéStops, players can collect more Poké Balls and other items.
This blending between the virtual and the real can lead to some awkward encounters.
“I had to walk into the lobby of a random building to get a new Charmander,” Gamroor says, referring to a specific species of Pokémon, “and you really have to make it seem like it’s causal so people don’t notice that your camera is on.”
“It’s been awkward going through the gates [of a gated compound] several times to check up on my gym,” Imam adds.
Twenty-four-year-old Haidy Zakariya says she and her friends plan outings just to hunt down the virtual creatures.
“We found places that have a lot of PokéStops, like City Stars Mall, and we go and walk around together to catch them and maybe win a gym or two,” she explains.
Zakariya says she has also asked her mother to walk away from the stove “because I found a Geodude on the frying pan.”
However, safety risks can arise during the game, as the search can lead players to uninviting or risky places.
Australian police recently issued a warning against approaching a PokéStop located at a police station. “Please be advised that you don’t actually have to step inside in order to gain the Poké Balls,” the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services wrote on Facebook.
Players realize wandering around with their cameras on may not always be safe. However, they can opt to turn their cameras off and rely on the GPS, they said. Zakariya adds that people try to travel in groups when they’re out hunting Pokémon to minimize any danger.
Despite these precautions, Gamroor expects the augmented-reality game to cause security issues for Egyptian players, but he remains undeterred. “Downtown [Cairo] seems to have the heaviest concentrations of cool Pokémon,” he says, but “I’ll probably go ahead and act oblivious.”
“A friend of mine found a PokéStop in front of the Ministry of Interior,” Zakariya notes. She’s “probably going to stay away from that one.”