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Six Pokémon Go tips for the ultimate beginner

If you're not quite sure what a Pokémon is, this one's for you

If you’re here, it’s because everyone you know is talking about one thing: Pokémon Go, the new iOS and Android game that’s sending people outside in droves. But maybe you’re not yet one of them, because, well, you’re not really sure what Pokémon Go even is.

To those who grew up dreaming of becoming a Pokémon master, that seems unfathomable. Yet the simplicity and viral popularity of Pokémon Go is catching the eyes of complete newcomers too. That’s how it raced to the top of the iTunes charts, after all; Pokémon Go appears to be gaming’s latest crossover hit.

For the parents, grandparents, non-fans and others who don’t quite get what all the fuss is about, here are six tips to clue you in.

Where to download Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go is now available for free in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. It will roll out to more regions in the coming weeks, but for natives of any of the above countries, it can be found on iTunes and the Google Play store.

Again, Pokémon Go is free to play (although there are opportunities to spend actual cash within the game itself), so all you have to do is press "download" to begin installing the game onto your iPhone or Android device.

How to start up the game

Once it’s ready to go, you can start playing by selecting a Google account to connect the game to. Have a Gmail address? You should be good to go. If you don’t, you can create one for free online before logging into Pokémon Go.

The other option is to create a Pokémon Trainer Club account, but that’s more for dedicated fans of the series, so don’t worry about doing that.

The game requires you to always be connected to the internet in order to play, so if you’re not on Wi-Fi or data, you won’t be able to log in. The servers are currently finicky, so you may experience other issues trying to get your Pokémon Go game started.

How to play the game

The biggest selling point of Pokémon Go is that it requires you to actually get up off the couch and head outside in order to play it. The game will walk you through this and make it abundantly clear, but for those who miss the directions: It relies on your phone’s GPS signal in order to determine where you are and where the Pokémon closest to you are.

That being said, to get to those Pokémon, you’ll have to move your real, physical, human body. The avatar on screen will move in accordance with your position within the world itself. To walk in Pokémon Go, you have to walk in real life.

Once you figure that part out, you’ll start moving around the map on the screen. Niantic Labs, a former subsidiary of Google and developer of the game, created the image below to help you understand what all those little markers on the map mean:

Niantic Labs

Here’s what the numbers are referring to, in order:

1. The compass: Toggles the viewing direction in Map View. You can switch between a north-viewing direction and auto-rotation, which follows your viewing direction. You can also rotate using touch gestures.

2. Gyms: Locations where teams train and battle Pokémon.

3. PokéStops: Locations where Trainers can acquire items such as Poké Balls, Potions, and/or Eggs.

4. Trainer: Your avatar.

5. Profile Icon: Shows your progress and achievements.

6. Main Menu: Accesses settings, items, your Pokédex, the shop, and Pokémon menu options.

7. Nearby Pokémon: Displays wild Pokémon located nearby.

We recommend that you check out our how-to guide for more information on what much of this means. If you’re a total Pokémon newbie, you’ll just want to concern yourself with the Pokémon themselves.

Pokémon: The world’s shortest explainer

In case your kids, friends or relatives haven’t debriefed you yet, what you need to know about Pokémon is that they’re creatures inspired by plants, animals and various other things. Each one has different attributes, skills and quirks; they also can evolve into newer, stronger Pokémon with some training. In a Pokémon game, like Pokémon Go, the ultimate goal is to capture them — all 151 of them — to add to your personal collection. Doing so makes you a Pokémon master. That's really just a vanity title, and it doesn't mean much in Pokémon Go. Still, that collecting aspect is what keeps people coming back to these games, time and again.

Pokémon Go requires you to actually get up off the couch

How to find a Pokémon

Keep walking around outside in order to find a Pokémon. The little pocket monsters will appear on the map once you’ve stumbled upon one. That meter in the lower right-hand corner alerts you to which ones are close by; if they’re in silhouette, that means they’re new ones for you to capture.

Finding them can be tough, especially in more isolated areas. They tend to appear in grass, making Pokémon Go a good choice for a camping trip. Once you see one on the map, tap on it. That will take you to a new screen, where you'll see the Pokémon in your actual surroundings.

You can then take pictures of the monster for fun, or you can swipe the red-and-white ball at the bottom of the screen to try to add it to your collection. This gets a little bit tricky, but try your best to aim your throw for the center of the Pokémon. Eventually, it will be caught.

Essentially, you can just keep doing this until you’re tired of walking.

How to keep playing

The game must always be open for you to play it. It doesn’t play in the background without you. That means you’ll have to open it up and log back into your account (if you signed out or the servers kicked out out, that is) in order to get back into the game.

You’ll also have to have your phone’s screen on the entire time that you’re playing the game. This means it’s time to get comfortable walking around the block with your phone out and your eyes glued to it. (We have a feeling that that will be the least of your troubles in learning to play the game, however.)

The next steps

For many, installing Pokémon Go will just be something they do at the behest of their friends or family who won’t stop talking about how much fun they’re having. Maybe you’ll find yourself loving the game just as much as they do, despite not having the same game-playing or Pokémon-catching background.

If that’s the case, Polygon has several other guides on what you need to know about playing the game. Read our FAQ for even more information on the basics, as well as how to find special locations, how to make new, real life friends while playing, and where you shouldn’t stop while playing Pokémon Go. If you get really into the collection aspect, we also have a tip on how to get one of the series’ most beloved characters: Pikachu.

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