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Pokemon Go pursuit reaches US military bases overseas

By LEON COOK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 11, 2016

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The global pursuit for Pikachu has extended to American military facilities overseas.

Pokemon Go, a new augmented-reality smartphone game layered over the physical world, sends players to real-life locations to capture virtual pocket monsters, or Pokemon. The app — based on a successful media franchise that spans video and trading card games, animated television shows and movies, comic books and toys — is a smash hit, shooting to the top of download charts since launching last week in a handful of countries, including the United States.

Pokemon Go seemingly went live in Japan Monday. It turned out to be a server test and new Pokemon trainers only had about an hour to play. During that time, cute characters were spotted in western Tokyo on Yokota Air Base, headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force.

An orange Pokemon called a Charmander, which resembles a salamander with a burning tail, was apprehended in the lobby of the 374th Medical Group hospital, and a Squirtle — a blue, turtlelike Pokemon that can hide its shell and spray enemies with water — was spotted in Stars and Stripes’ Yokota office.

Airman 1st Class Joshua Butler, who works for Yokota’s 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, found a Charmander in his living room while home on leave in Nebraska but said, “I haven’t found any Pokemon in Japan yet.”

Nor will he, at least for awhile. The official Japanese Pokemon Go website has changed the release date from "July 2016" to simply "2016."

Though Pokemon Go is not yet available in Germany, residents with an American iTunes account can still download and play the game. Pokemon are already populating the area.

Wannabe Pokemasters living there on military bases, such as the U.S. Army garrison in Grafenwoehr, can find the digital monsters lounging about military monuments, office buildings and other base facilities. Destinations popular with children, such as the base library and the local Boy Scouts of America headquarters, are designated within the game as “Gyms,” where players can battle to win rarer specimens and — in theory — socialize with one another.

Spc. Alex Slusher, a human resources specialist with U.S. Army Europe in Wiesbaden, Germany, said he appreciates how the game “gets everyone in the community off their feet and ready to move.”

Slusher and his wife, Brandi, have both been playing Pokemon Go since it was released, and started an online group to allow others in the area to share their experiences with the game. In only a couple of days, its membership has already reached triple digits.

“We started the group as a simple way to connect with a few of the other servicemembers who we knew were also playing,” Slusher said. “We never expected it to blow up like it did.”

The couple have already found Pokemon in some surprising locations around Wiesbaden. A 15th-century watchtower, Bierstadter Warte, and its surrounding park near a U.S. housing area is prime hunting ground, Slusher said.

“That tower is also a gym in the game for trainers to battle and compete for their team,” he said.

However, the game has not been without its problems and controversy.

On Friday, a Wyoming teenager’s Pokemon pursuit led her to a dead body in a river, and Missouri police on Sunday said four teenagers used the game’s geolocation feature to lure robbery victims, according to The Associated Press.

Players have also reported injuring themselves as they search for Pokemon while wandering about with their eyes fixated on their smartphones.

Mark Schultz, a 21-year-old communications graduate from Long Island, N.Y, fell off his skateboard and cut his hand on a sidewalk while playing the game.

“I just wanted to be able to stop quickly if there were any Pokemons nearby to catch,” he told the AP. “I don’t think the company is really at fault.”

Stars and Stripes staffers Dan Stoutamire and Michael Darnell contributed to this report.

cook.leon@stripes.com

As seen in a screenshot from the game, Pokemon Go, a new augmented-reality smartphone game layered over the physical world, sends players to real-life locations to capture virtual pocket monsters, or Pokemon.
SETH ROBSON/STARS AND STRIPES

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