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Humans of Oxford: The power of Pokémon

Walking class to class, you see all different walks of life.

Students walking around with empty briefcases?

Common.

Students zooming past on Lime scooters?

Too common.

A tattoo-covered, gauge-wearing 47-year old man with a ZZ-Top-level beard carrying a tablet playing Pokémon Go?

Pretty uncommon.

Larry Combs, a retired tattoo artist from Hamilton, Ohio, devotes his time to aiding the Oxford Pokémon Go community in its quest to "catch 'em all." The "full-time grandpa" comes to work with his wife who is a food production leader in the Armstrong Student Center.

During her nine hour shift, he gets busy trekking across campus. He averages about 10 to 15 miles a day and 90 hours a week on the app. He also plays on two accounts, one for himself and one for his granddaughter.

Initially, his kids got him hooked on Pokémon.

"They were into the show when they were younger, and I've always been into video games," Combs said. "We started playing one day one, it was a bonding thing we did. However, eventually they got bored and I didn't."

With over 2,000 Pokémon under his belt, he has more than proved himself to be a Pokémon master, but it's the sense of community that keeps bringing him back.

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"This community is beautiful," Combs said. "I have friends who are college kids, I have friends who are older than me that play. The worst part is when they leave."

He keeps in touch with them through the Discord chat created for the Oxford Pokémon Go community. Discord is an app that allows gamers to create their own video-game specific group chats.

The Oxford group has over 600 members.

And the community is just as appreciative of Combs as he is of them.

"He's just a wholesome guy," sophomore Simon Foster said. "He is always eager to organize raids and help out when he can - he is the core of this community."

Students are constantly messaging Combs to see if he is going to be at the next raid. A raid is an event where a Pokémon that would not be able to be caught in the wild is hatching, and other people are needed to help capture it.

"I have no reason to go [to the raids]," Combs said. "I'm as high as you can get in the game, but I've been requested to help because I'm good at organizing things for people, and I enjoy it."

Combs particularly enjoys the connections he makes with Miami students. He takes on a fatherly role with them.

"I've always enjoyed being a father figure. I love kids," Combs said. "Sometimes I catch myself scolding them for playing the game when I know they probably have a class. I remind them that it's fun to play, but you're here for an education."

The students, in turn, have shown their appreciation for Combs by giving him his own nickname: Lucky Larry, which he's named after for his unbelievable luck in catching shiny Pokémon (a shiny is a special-edition Pokémon that people have a very small chance of catching).

"One time, Larry complained to me about not catching a shiny in three days," Foster said. "I had not caught one in three months."

Combs is quick not call himself a mentor, though.

"I don't like to put labels on myself," he said. "People like me and I don't understand it. If I saw me, I would tell my kid to get away from that man."

Despite his rugged exterior, Combs greets anyone with a smile and a hello.

"I've been so used to people all of my life judging me for my appearance, but it's not like that here," he said.

He has a saying that he personally chooses to live by: "If you look me in the eye, I'm gonna say hi."

Pokémon Go is not merely a game for Combs: it is also his medicine.

Combs was forced to retire from tattoo artistry after being diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in both of his hands. It has since spread to his spine and his hips, and his doctor recommends exercise that makes him move as much as possible.

Pokémon Go is his best-case scenario. It is his own brand of physical therapy, while simultaneously giving him a place in a community that loves and cherishes him. His arthritis will progress no matter how much exercise he gets, but he does not let it get the best of him.

"Eventually, I will be wheelchair bound," Combs said. "But I don't think it's going to affect my playing. I'll get one of those little scooters if I have to."

His favorite Pokémon, Eevee, is a perfect example of his own sense of perseverance.

"Eevee is one of the only Pokémon that can transform into 8 different forms of itself. It amazes me that one little thing can do so many different things," Combs said. "We, as humans, do the same thing. We do so many different things without getting stuck in a mindset of what we can and can't do."

Combs is in the process of organizing a group of Oxford players to go to next year's Go Fest - the annual Pokémon Go convention. It will be his first time leaving the Oxford area to play Pokémon Go.

When it comes to finding unexpected treasures on the streets of Oxford, Combs knows his stuff. Life lessons? Pokémon? He's caught them all.

kwiatkdm@miamioh.edu

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