The images capture in stark relief the concurrent realities of 2016: As Pokémon Go sweeps the globe, war rages on in Syria, where more than 3.7 million children were born into the crosshairs of violence.
Missives from the conflict have been familiar enough. In September, a widely circulated photograph of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi's lifeless body provoked horror and outrage. He drowned during a treacherous boat ride from Turkey to Greece, where his family hoped to escape the devastation in Syria. At the sight of the boy washed up on the sand, politicians promised to tackle the crisis with newfound urgency.
Months later, however, Alan's own family members despaired that his plight — and that of millions others displaced in Syria — had already been forgotten.
Now, Syrian activists are capitalizing on the popularity of Pokémon Go to draw attention to the children caught in the conflict.
The Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office (RFS) has been tweeting photographs of children holding up printouts of Pokémon, alongside captions describing their locations within Syria and imploring people to "save me" — a nod to how Pokémon Go players must physically arrive at a Pokémon's destination in order to catch it.
RFS is an agency of activist-journalists and a "platform for the revolutionary forces operating on the ground" against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Other digitally altered images show out-sized Pokémon against a backdrop of ruin. One captures a Syrian boy walking over rubble in the direction of a Psyduck, a Pokémon resembling a platypus. Beside them, bold letters in the same color as the Psyduck read: "I am in Syria. Save me." Another depicts a boy sitting on the steps of a destroyed building with a crying Pikachu by his side.
Saif Aldeen Tahhan, a Denmark-based graphic designer and activist, had a similar idea. Last week, he posted on Facebook mockups of a game called "Syria Go," a Syrian version of Pokémon Go in which the sought-after items are not imaginary creatures but rather essentials such as medical supplies, a flotation device and a home.
A Syrian refugee who traveled by boat to Europe, Tahhan told CNN that he was mimicking the feature in the game that allows players to see Pokémon in the real world, in their kitchens, restaurants and libraries. For Syrians, Tahhan explained, these settings are quite different.
"People on social media talk about Pokémon all the time so I created these images to draw attention to suffering during the war and what Syrians are really searching for," he said. "I can tell you, the Syrian people are not looking for Pokémon."
Can video games and cartoon characters really help bridge the gap between refugees and those safe from conflict? Shortly after Alan Kurdi's photo was shared in the fall, Samir al-Mutfi, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, created a parody video of Super Mario Bros. depicting the eponymous Italian plumber as a Syrian on a dangerous journey to escape his country.
At least one person is fighting terrorism and playing Pokémon Go at the same time. Louis Park, a 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran volunteering with a local group fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq, told Buzzfeed News that he's a big fan of the franchise.
"Just caught my first Pokémon on the Mosul front line by Teleskuf," Park wrote in a Facebook post showing a game screenshot with his gun visible. "Daesh, come challenge me to a Pokémon battle."