Marwan Imam, 28, recently drove two hours on a coastal highway chasing Pokémon in the Egyptian city of 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.”
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 different types of Pokémon. Smartphones alert players to the presence of one as they move through the streets. Once they've encountered a Pokémon, they take aim on their touch screen and throw a virtual Pokéball to catch it.
Pokémon Go screenshot — Photo: K. Thor Jensen
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, movies, comic books and toys.
"I've been obsessed with Pokémon since it came out. I've had the cards from the very start," 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, â€˜Say no more, I'm in.'"
Pokémon was an important part of Kareem Gamroor's childhood. "I cannot tell you how happy I am to see it back,” he says.
So far, the game is only available in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. But fans in Egypt found a way to circumvent geographic restrictions by changing the language and region option to the US in the App Store for iPhone users or by downloading the game on their Android phones.
Players wander around the streets of Cairo and other major Egyptian cities looking for exotic Pokémon specimens and PokéStops, where players can collect Poké Balls and training tools. When users reach a certain level in the game, they can go to a real world place where they can make their Pokémon fight against other players'.
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 kind of Pokémon, "and you really have to make it seem like it's casual so people don't notice that your camera is on."
Haidy Zakariya, 24, says she and her friends plan outings just to hunt down the virtual creatures.
A Sandshrew Pokémon on Cairo's Qasr al-Ayni Street — Photo: Mada Masr
"We found places that have a lot of PokéStops like City Stars Mall and we go and walk around together to catch them," she explains.
Zakariya says she asked her mother to walk away from the kitchen stove one day, "because I found a Geodude on the frying pan."
However, safety risks can arise during the video game as the hunt 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 department wrote on Facebook.
Players say they realize wandering around with their cameras switched on may not always be safe. They sometimes turn them off and rely on the GPS instead.
Zakariya says 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 that's not going to stop him from playing Pokémon Go. "Downtown seems to have the heaviest concentrations of cool Pokémon," he says. "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."