CARACAS (Reuters) - A Pokemon Go player hides his cellphone in the carved out pages of a 19th-century French novel, hoping to avoid criminals on Venezuela's notoriously dangerous streets.
"I'm afraid of insecurity, but I want to be a Pokemon trainer!" said Carlos Reina, a 22-year-old gamer wandering around a Caracas plaza with a copy of Honore de Balzac's "Eugenie Grandet."
Pokemon Go, based on the popular game and TV series, uses augmented reality to send players to city streets, offices, parks and restaurants to search for colorful, animated characters.
In Venezuela, a country that is awash with illegal weapons and has one of the world's highest homicide rates, smart phones have become attractive to thieves as triple-digit inflation has rendered cash useless.
Luis Vargas, a 30-year-old entrepreneur who runs a Pokemon Go fan club in the central city of Valencia, said, "Your cellphone and your life are worth more than a Pokemon."
"The real world still exists and we have to be careful, even more in our country," he said.
A popular Twitter meme shows a cellphone with a picture of a man pointing a pistol and a caption that reads: "This will be the first Pokemon you find in Venezuela. You won't have to walk far."
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro mentioned the game as part of a broad criticism of consumer society that blasted everything from breakfast cereals to virtual reality.
"There's a new game going round, Pokemon Go, do you know it? Thousands of young people living virtual reality, when it's about killing and killing," said Maduro on state television.
"What can a human being aspire to when he is wrapped up with the culture of death created by capitalism?"
Opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara posted a photo of himself playing the game while awaiting a congress session. He later apologized.
"Insecurity is a major problem. As well as that, people's salaries aren't sufficient. Inflation is worse every day. Pokemon Go is a good escape valve right now," Guevara told Reuters.
Editing by Girish Gupta and Steve Orlofsky