A sad-eyed Pikachu Pokemon Go character sits amidst the rubble on a Syrian street, while a Charizard dragon from the smash hit game is perched alongside gun-toting militants.
The striking montages are the work of Syrian Khaled Akil, who is one of several activists and artists using the international frenzy over Pokemon Go to draw new attention to the plight of their battle-scarred country.
In the images posted on Akil’s website, characters from the wildly popular smartphone app are placed into news photographs of scenes from the conflict in Syria, which is now in its sixth year and has killed more than 280,000 people.
One image appears to show the aftermath of bombardment, with the facades sheared from buildings and smoke rising from the blackened carcass of a car.
A child walks across the rubble strewn throughout the street, atop which sits the yellow Pikachu character, his tall ears flopping down.
— Alex Tauziac (@AlexTauziac) July 22, 2016
In another image, a boy wheels his bicycle down a devastated street, with the turquoise-green Vaporeon character by his side.
Since its global launch, Pokemon Go has sparked a worldwide frenzy among users who have taken to the streets with their smartphones.
The free app uses satellite locations, graphics and camera capabilities to overlay cartoon monsters on real-world settings, challenging players to capture and train the creatures for battles.
But some Syrians see it as a chance to redirect attention to the conflict that began in March 2011, which has often fallen out of the headlines despite a spiralling death toll and the displacement of more than half the Syrian population.
— Salim Salamah (@Salim_SYR) July 22, 2016
‘Come and save me’
Syrian graphic designer Saif Aldeen Tahhan posted images on his Facebook page showing users holding smartphones and seeking not Pokemons but medical care, school books or undamaged homes.
One image depicts a smartphone in front of a rubber dinghy of refugees at sea, with the user trying to capture a life ring.
“I hope that the message behind these images reaches the whole world and that Syrians will be safe everywhere and always,” Tahhan wrote on his Facebook page.
Syrian opposition activists have also sought to harness the frenzy over the game, posting a series of images online this week showing children holding posters of individual characters.
“I am in Kafranbal in Idlib province, come and save me,” reads the text underneath a Pikachu on a poster held by a young boy.
“I’m from Kafranbel … come and save me” pic.twitter.com/2Q9sSbQXIi
— Leila Al-Shami (@LeilaShami) July 22, 2016
Kafranbel is a rebel-held town in northwestern Idlib province, which is mostly held by an opposition alliance that includes al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front.
Towns across the province are regularly bombarded by the Syrian government and its Russian ally, with more than 20 civilians reported dead in raids in Idlib on Thursday alone.