If the last time you encountered a Pokémon in real life was on a set of trading cards now gathering dust in your gaming closet, you might be suffering from a rare condition licensed Pokémon professors call "being out of the loop." Symptoms include scratching your head, wondering what's all the fuss about this new Pokémon Go all the kids are talking about these days, and not having already played Pokémon Go. Don't worry: we'll get you up to speed!
What is Pokémon Go?
Launched in July 2016 from developer Niantic, Pokémon Go is a free downloadable game for Android and iOS devices. Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game (more on that later): you play the game by looking at the world through your phone's display.
Depending on your location, the game will place special gameplay elements within your phone's viewfinder. Most often these gameplay elements are the iconic Pokémon, or "pocket monsters," that fans of the series will instantly recognize. Different Pokémon appear in different geographical areas; for instance, water-type Pokémon such as Squirtles will often appear near seas and rivers, whereas insect- and plant-based Pokémon might be found near flowers and gardens.
Your goal in the game, as an up-and-coming Pokémon trainer, is to travel the world and capture as many Pokémon as you can!
What is Augmented Reality?
"Augmented Reality" (AR) games rely on tracking the viewfinder feed from the camera on your mobile device. The game engine analyzes the objects and geographical features it recognizes, and then adds 3D objects drawn on top of your real-world feed. In this way, the game augments the reality displayed in your camera's video feed.
These 3D objects are most often things and elements that are vital to progressing gameplay; in the case of Pokémon Go, what you'll see layered on top of your video feed are the adorable Pokémon you're meant to capture.
How do I play Pokémon Go?
Upon starting up Pokémon Go, the first thing you're tasked with doing is customizing your avatar, an up-and-coming Pokémon trainer. You choose your avatar's gender, hair, skin tone, and eye color, and outfit them from a limited number of clothing and accessory options. After you've put the finishing touches on your avatar and picked a team color, you are transported to the game map, which is actually your current real-life location based on what the game is able to read from the GPS on your phone. You might recognize real-life places that are nearby, such as convenience stores, parks, museums, or churches. What you might not realize is that the game will most likely have rendered these places as PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms.
PokéStops provide players with items, such as eggs that hatch into Pokémon; Pokéballs, used to catch any Pokémon you might encounter in the wild; and potions, which can be combined with items called lures, which attract wild Pokémon to a particular location.
Pokémon Gyms serve as battle arenas for team-based 'king of the hill matches,' typically at places of interest. Upon reaching a Gym, players may do battle with the Gym Leader in order to level up their Pokémon, level up their team rating and improve the Gym's defenses, or wrest control of a Gym from another team.
I’m signed up. Now what?
As you travel the real world, your avatar moves with you along the game's map. Different Pokémon species appear depending on your location and nearness to real-life geographical features, such as rivers and lakes, or places of interests like shopping centers and parks.
Now, while you could do like many budding Pokémon Trainers and travel the world with your eyes plastered to your phone, that doesn't mean you should. By default game settings, your phone will vibrate with a notification every time there's a Pokémon near you, so you shouldn't miss it. You could also buy an optional Pokémon Go Plus wrist device, which connects to your mobile device via Bluetooth, and makes interacting with Pokémon a lot easier.
When you encounter a wild Pokémon in your phone's viewfinder, you will need to flick the game's signature red-and-white Pokéball at the bottom of your screen. If you manage to flick the Pokéball accurately in the direction of the creature, you'll have a chance of capturing it. Some Pokémon are harder to catch than others; the difficulty of capturing the Pokémon in your sights is denoted by a colored circle around the creature, from green (easy) to red (difficult).
Note that the difficulty of capturing a wild Pokémon depends on several factors: your Trainer's level, which is increased through time and encounters with Pokémon; and certain in-game items, such as better-quality Pokéballs or berries you can feed to Pokémon in order to lower (or in some cases, toughen up) their defenses.
Are you a Pokémon Go trainer? What are some of the best tips and tricks you'd give to a brand new trainer? What would you consider Pokémon Go essentials? Leave your valuable advice in the comments below!