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SYFY WIRE coronavirus

WIRE Buzz: WHO wants you to stay home and game; Pokémon Go does social distancing; more

By Benjamin Bullard & Adam Pockross
Pokémon Go

As if we needed more incentive to sit at home and play video games amid all the pandemic precaution, the World Health Organization (WHO) and a ton of heavy hitters in the gaming industry are banding together to make sure we know it’s totally a smart move to do exactly that.

As a way to drive home key WHO safety takeaways, Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, Zynga, Twitch, and 14 other gaming industry leaders are teaming up to get the message across loud and clear: It’s safer (and more fun) to shelter in place and game away than to mix and mingle out in the streets at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 18 companies involved in the campaign introduced the movement this week with the #PlayApartTogether tag, a unified push to emphasize WHO guidelines “including physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and other powerful preventive actions people can take to fight COVID-19,” according to the Associated Press. It's a nice olive branch from WHO, which last year officially created a new space for "Gaming Disorder" among its global diagnostic advisory guidelines.

Following the hashtag across social media channels could net stay-at-home gamers a long list of planned goodies, including “special events, exclusives, activities, rewards” and more, according to the report. Aside from catching up on the ever-mounting pile of games that we’ve all been eyeing before the next consoles from Sony and Microsoft arrive, the idea of course is to slow the spread of COVID-19 by adopting WHO-approved best practices for limiting person-to-person contact.

Ray Chambers, WHO’s U.S. Ambassador for Global Strategy, gave the campaign the organization’s seal of approval, saying in a statement (via VentureBeat) that staying focused on the final boss from the comfort of home could even be a lifesaver. “I thank the games industry for stepping up to help bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chambers. “We hope this campaign to #PlayApartTogether encourages even more people to stay safe and healthy while they help flatten the curve and save lives.”

Stopping the coronavirus without ever getting up off the couch? You don’t have to tell us twice — we’re definitely all in on this one.

As if on cue to assist the whole stay-at-home gaming concept, Pokémon Go developer Niantic is giving longtime fans a way to keep catching ‘em all while never having to leave the house.

That may sound like a tall order for a game based on getting out and exploring, but in keeping with its long-running support for the game, Niantic is making some tweaks to the Go formula that factor in the current need for social distancing, debuting “a new form of gameplay in Pokémon GO called GO Battle League that you can play from anywhere in the world, including at home,” the developer explained.

That includes eliminating the walking requirements for Go Battle League players, as well as introducing “deeply discounted Incense and Poké Balls so people can catch Pokémon without traveling far.”

To cover the game’s exercise component, Go will now let players track their steps indoors with Adventure Sync, so “activities like cleaning your house and running on a treadmill count toward game achievements.” On the social front, look for “in-game virtual social features to enable players to stay in touch when they can’t meet in real life,” including an upcoming update that’ll let Pokémon Go players team up remotely for Raid Battles — while never even hopping out of their PJs.

This story presents some humorous responses to coronavirus, but COVID-19 is very real! Please exercise caution out there: wash those hands, stay at home, and practice social distancing. For extensive information on how to keep you and your loved ones safe, check out the CDC’s coronavirus website.

Finally, we’ve got some fishy news that you’re definitely going to want to chomp into. Proving yet again that anything can be made into a musical, the duo behind Broadway’s 2017 Bandstand, Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, are teaming up yet again to bring the world premiere of Bruce to New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse for its 2020-2021 theater season.

So how does that news pertain to us genre fans? Well, for those of you who need a bigger boat, Bruce was the nickname given to the never-working mechanical shark that caused Steven Spielberg so much grief during the filming of his 1975 horror classic, Jaws. Because the shark never worked, the wunderkind director had to come up with creative ways to tell the story that didn’t include shots of the shark, which only added to the film’s frightening effectiveness.  

According to the Playhouse (via Deadline), Bruce chronicles the making of Jaws, and “tells the story of then unknown director Steven Spielberg’s beleaguered film set and the challenges that thwarted his team at every turn, including the film’s star: an uncooperative mechanical shark named Bruce. At its heart, the show proves that when we are faced with hardship and work together as a team, great things can happen.”

The musical will be based on Jaws screenwriter Carl Gottleib’s 1975 memoir, with a book and lyrics from Oberacker, and music by Taylor. A co-production with Seattle Rep, Bruce, directed and choreographed by Donna Feore, is set for its world debut June 9 - July 4, 2021 at the Paper Mill Playhouse.