Pokemon Go Fever Sweeps Israel, With IDF And President Hooked

By Yonatan Sredni, NoCamels July 18, 2016 Comments

From the hills of Haifa to central Tel Aviv, from the streets of the Jerusalem to the beaches of Eilat, young Israelis are roaming around with their mobile phones looking for virtual creatures to catch in a highly addictive augmented reality game.

Pokemon Go, the newest mobile gaming obsession sweeping the world, has also caught fire in Israel. The app challenges users to catch the creatures from Nintendo’s Pokemon franchise when they appear on their smartphone screens as if they were actually surrounding the player.

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85 million players, 5 million new users a day

The free app, based on a Nintendo title that debuted 20 years ago, has been adapted to the mobile internet age to overlay play on the real world. The game uses GPS and mapping capabilities in mobile phones to let players roam the real world to hunt cartoon monsters. Over 85 million players worldwide have already downloaded the game since it launched in the US, Canada, and Europe just two weeks ago, making it the #1 app on both the App Store and Google Play. According to the company, five million new users download Pokemon Go each day.

Game finds shelters too

Pokemon Go has not only captured the attention of the Israeli public, it has even ‘joined’ the military. While Israeli soldiers from all battalions enjoy playing the game, the Home Front Command, responsible for preparing and protecting Israeli civilians in case of attacks, decided to harness the power of the Pokemon Go craze to assist in defense preparedness. The unit turned to Facebook and Twitter to ask Israelis to send in photos of Pokemon creatures located in home bomb shelters in order to raise civil defense awareness and ensure citizens know where the closest protected space is.

“Have you found Pokemon in your shelter?” the post asks. “If you are playing Go, send us a screenshot of the creature in your protected space.”

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Pokemon monsters in bomb shelters

Pokemon a ‘no go’ on army bases

But not everyone in the military sees playing Pokemon Go as a harmless way to pass the time. The growing popularity of the game among Israeli soldiers prompted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to issue a message that Pokemon Go not be used on military bases because the game requires access to the players’ location and camera in order for them them to play. The fear is that by downloading and playing the game soldiers might unwittingly reveal sensitive information about military bases and army operations.

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“The game is a source for gathering information!” reads the warning, issued by the IDF’s Information Security Department, against the background of one of the Pokemon characters. “The game cannot be used on an army base!”

‘Startup nation’ goes Pokeman crazy

It comes as no surprise that Israelis have widely embraced Pokemon Go. Israel has one of the highest percentages of smartphone ownership in the world. Although the game has only been released in North America, parts of Europe and Australia, and is not available on the Israeli app stores, changing one’s phone region to download the game onto a smartphone makes it fully operational in Israel. Pokemon Go’s Hebrew-language  Facebook page already has over 3,500 members.

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Pokemon perched atop a major Israeli army base

But Pokemon Go is not only for young people. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin joined in on the fun by posting a photo of a Pokemon cat creature in his residence and suggesting that someone should probably alert his security detail.

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Pokemon monster hovering in Jerusalem

Asia and more European countries are expected to receive the game soon, but it is not clear when it will be released in Israel. To download Pokemon Go on the Android Play store, click here. For the iOS Apple store, click here.

Pictures and videos: Courtesy

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