US military newspaper Stars and Stripes has reflected on the ongoing withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan “through the lens of Pokémon Go”.
An article published over the weekend includes interviews with former and currently serving members of the US armed forces who played Pokémon Go while stationed on the base at Bagram Airfield, near Kabul, over the past few years.
According to the story, the base previously hosted a “thriving” Pokémon Go community made up of troops, contractors and visiting civilians “who played the game while exercising and after work”.
“We weren’t expecting Pokémon Go to be thriving in Bagram, and yet it was,” said Corey Olsen, an electrician who worked on US army attack helicopters.
“Being able to start a conversation with a complete stranger in the middle of a war zone about something like Pokémon was a great way to stay social,” a contractor named Wilbur Landaverde added.
Alaska National Guard captain John Sutter recalled specifically taking a gym with a Voltorb, an explosive electric creature which can self-destruct.
Said Sutter: “I thought… [we] can’t have no IED Pokemon on the FOB.”
Gyms on the base include one at its Warrior Chapel building, and another at a memorial to a fallen soldier.
At least 40 people have died in suicide bombings at Bagram since the US occupation of Afghanistan began. The base was also used as a detention centre, which was investigated in a 2005 New York Times report into serious prisoner abuse.
Control of Bagram base was passed back to Afghan government forces on 1st July, as part of the US withdrawal of all troops from the country, which is due to be completed by 11th September.
“I’m sure somewhere in Afghanistan, some kid is bragging about how he took control of an American Pokémon gym,” Sutter continued, mourning the creatures he left behind in gyms on the base. “Maybe in 20 years I can ride a motorcycle south and reclaim that Pokémon gym again.”
In reality, the publication of the report detailing Bagram’s gyms will likely attract the attention of Pokémon Go players who “spoof” their phone position, enabling them to take its locations from afar. Officially, Pokémon Go has strict rules against the creation of in-game locations on military sites – though the addition of these into the game is left up to the community to police.
Pokémon Go celebrates its fifth anniversary this week, ahead of its big annual Go Fest celebration later in July.