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Pokémon Go: A beginner’s guide for getting started

Get the most out of Pokémon Go on day one.


Colette Bennett


Dennis Scimeca

Internet Culture

Posted on Jul 7, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 11:57 am CDT

You’ve heard about Pokémon Go, seen dozens of people on the street playing Pokémon Go, and now want to learn how to become Pokémon trainer, yourself. Congrats! You’re about to have a ton of fun.

Pokémon Go has become an international obsession. It crushed records for app downloads, sent Nintendo’s stock price into the stratosphere (and back down again when investors realized Nintendo didn’t actually make the game), and snared tens of millions of players.

That’s because Pokémon Go is the game that Pokémon fans have been waiting for since 1996, when the series premiered on the original Game Boy. Pokémon was a game about “trainers” who ventured into the wilderness to hunt and trap a menagerie of strange creatures called Pokémon, train those creatures, and then set them in battle against other trainers’ Pokémon.

More than a dozen core games in the Pokémon series followed over the next 21 years, and now Pokémon Go has made hunting and trapping Pokémon part of the real world. Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game, meaning you have to get up off the couch and walk around in the real world to find, capture, and battle with your Pokémon.

Pokémon veterans have only a slight advantage over players who are fresh to the franchise when it comes to Pokémon Go. Vets will understand key concepts and recognize elements borrowed from the larger Pokémon universe, but Pokémon Go doesn’t do a very good job of teaching people how to play the game, no matter how well they know the series.

That’s where we come in. Our Pokémon Go guide has been rigorously updated since it was originally published, to reflect the tremendous amount of information we’ve learned about Pokémon Go since the game’s release. It should help you find your way into the still-growing ranks of Pokémon Go players and the wonderful community they’re building both online and in the real world. 


Pokémon Go

Once you’ve downloaded the app you’ll have to register with your birth date. There are then two different ways to log into the game: through Google or through the Pokémon Trainer Club. The Club is a portal for avowed Pokémon fans to track their Pokémon game activity across multiple titles.

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Be aware that you will have to give Pokémon Go permission to access your location when you load the game up for the first time. It’s not an option: It’s a prerequisite, because Pokémon Go will need your GPS data.

Customize your character

Pokémon Go

Character customization is limited to gender and eight other options: skin, hair, and eye color, and five pieces of clothing. The choices within categories are also very limited, but there are enough to make your Pokémon trainer your own.

After a brief introduction to the Pokémon researcher Professor Willow, you’ll get your starting Poké Balls and walk you through your first Pokémon capture.

Finding Pokémon 

Pokémon Go

Once you’re loaded into the game you’ll cut to a map that should instantly make clear why you were asked to give Pokémon Go access to your location. The Pokémon Go map isn’t Google Maps accurate, but you should recognize your neighborhood instantly. It certainly ought to be more than enough to let you navigate around and find your way to some Pokémon to capture.

You can tell where Pokémon may be hiding by watching the map for little tufts of green leaves swirling, as if the Pokémon are rustling around in the grass. These are only the roughest indication of where you might find Pokémon to trap, but it gives you a direction to walk.

The pulsing circle around your character represents the area in which you could discover a Pokémon, so the more rustling grass you see within that circle, the more likely you are to discover a Pokémon.

Pokémon Go

If you click on the white bar in the lower-right corner of the screen, you can see what kinds of Pokémon are in your area. This is a very rough guide. Someone could be standing literally next to you and see a different selection of Pokémon in that screen.

The number of footprints under each Pokémon represents how far away they are. This is also a very rough measurement. No one is yet sure how much distance each footprint represents, but we’re confident that the distance represents a search radius—meaning the Pokémon could be around you in any direction.

You can also select one Pokémon off the list and focus your search on that Pokémon specifically.  If the number of footprints underneath a Pokémon decreases while you’re walking, it’s a good bet that you’re walking toward the Pokémon you’re looking for.

It’s a good idea to refresh that list of nearby Pokémon every so often, as the information will change as you move around.

Attracting Pokémon

Walking around to find Pokémon is an inevitable part of catching them all, but there are also steps you can take to bring Pokémon to you.

Incense and Lure Modules are two items you can purchase in the Shop using PokéCoins. But you can also get these items when you level up by earning experience points for capturing Pokémon and fighting battles.

Pokémon Go

When you use incense, the chance of finding Pokémon will be increased for 30 minutes. This effect will follow you as you move. Incense comes in handy when you want to play Pokémon Go, but can’t get outside to walk around. Why go look for Pokémon when you can just make them come to you?

Pokémon Go

Lure Modules must be “plugged in” to PokéStops (more on those later). When you tap on a PokéStop, you’ll see a little white oval just above the picture of the monument or landmark. That oval is a module slot.

Tap the module slot. If you have a Pokéstop Module in your possession it will show up in the middle of the screen. Just tap the Pokéstop Module to install it. When you back out to the main game screen, you’ll see pink hearts raining down from the PokéStop. That means a Module is active.

Pokémon Go

Incense increases only your chances of finding Pokémon. A Module benefits everyone nearby. Places where two or more PokéStops overlap one another become very popular hunting locations because players can activate Modules on all those PokéStops.

Capturing Pokémon

Pokémon Go

When a Pokémon appears on your map, you have to tap on the Pokémon to try capturing it. The map will then switch to an augmented-reality view of the real world that shows the Pokémon in the middle of the screen, and a Pokéball at the bottom.

You can also turn the AR camera off, via the slider in the upper-right corner. If you turn off the AR you’ll see a pretty forest background instead of a real world image. This can save you battery power.

Pokémon Go

You can find Pokémon anywhere out in the world. In the garage, on the beach, on the sidewalk, park benches, in the woods—anywhere you can think of.

Pokémon Go

We’ve found them in the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room, and even in a neighborhood coffee house. You’re more likely to find them outside than inside, but even on a rainy day you might be able to capture some new Pokémon.

Niantic Blog

When you put your finger on the Poké Ball at the bottom of the screen, you’ll see two circles appear on the Pokémon you are trying to capture. The larger circle will be grey. If you throw your Poké Ball anywhere inside that circle, you will trap the Pokémon.

There is also a pulsing, bright-colored circle inside the grey circle. If you throw your Poké Ball inside that colored circle you get bonus experience points (the smaller the circle is, the more bonus points you get). 

The color of the circle tells you how difficult the Pokémon will be to trap. Green means an easy Pokémon to capture, while yellow, orange, and red are progressively more difficult to trap. Pokémon will jump into the air after you throw a Poké Ball, and some Pokémon can even swat a Poké Ballaway!

Pokémon Go

Just because you trap a Pokémon doesn’t mean it’s going to stay inside the Poké Ball. Pokémon will sometimes break out after a capture. The higher level you are and the better Pokémon, the more likely Pokémon are to break out.

One way to deal with a troublesome Pokémon is to feed it a Razz Berry. You can collect Razz Berries from PokéStops, so you’ll probably amass a collection of raspberries and can use them liberally.

As you level up, you will also start to receive Great Balls from PokéStops. Great Balls are a more effective form of Poké Ball, to help make tougher captures.

If you need some extra help during a capture, click on the item bag icon in the lower-right-hand corner. That’s where you’ll find the Razz Berries and Great Balls. The Razz Berry will be floating on the screen when you return to the capture attempt, and you’ll have to tap the Razz Berry to feed it to the Pokémon. The Great Ball will just automatically swap in for the regular Poké Ball.

Visit Poké Stops To Get Supplies

Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go creates locations called PokéStops at local points of interest like monuments and notable landmarks. PokéStops will generate supplies for you like Poké Ball, healing items, Razz Berries, and eggs you can incubate and hatch (more on eggs later).

PokéStops appear as blue squares on the map, with a blue circle over them. When you get close enough to a PokéStop to be able to interact with it, the circle above the blue square will change shape into a representation of a Poké Ball. Tap on that shape to access the PokéStop. 

Pokémon Go

The screen will then cut to a picture of the monument or landmark to which the PokéStop is anchored. Just flick your finger across the picture. The picture will spin as if it were a coin and then spit out some items for you to collect. You can tap on the items to collect them, or if you close that window you’ll collect the items automatically.

Pokémon Go

You can check your item inventory by tapping the Poké Ball on the bottom of the game screen and selecting “items.” You can hold a only a limited number of items. Your total inventory space and the number of items you are carrying will be at the top of the items screen.

If you’re running out of room for items, you can tap the trash can icon to the right of any item type and decide how many of that type of item you want to throw away. You can also purchase a Bag Upgrade in the shop to increase the total number of items you can carry, but this costs PokéCoins (which can cost real money to purchase).

Hatching Pokémon Eggs 

Pokémon Go

The Pokémon eggs you gather from PokéStops can be incubated to hatch new Pokémon, but you’ll need an incubator. And this is where spending some real-world money may come into play.

To see how many eggs you have, tap “Pokémon” on the game menu, and on the screen that shows all your Pokémon, swipe to the left.

Pokémon Go

If you want to begin incubating a Pokémon egg, first tap the egg, and then tap the incubator you want to use. All your available incubators will appear at the bottom of that screen. You will always have at least one incubator to use that can be used an infinite number of times. You can also earn incubators when you level up that are limited to three uses before they break.

Once a Pokémon egg is in an incubator you have to walk to hatch the egg. Eggs come in 2, 5, and 10 kilometer varieties. The longer the distance you need to walk in order to hatch the egg, the rarer a type of Pokémon it will likely hatch.

Pokémon Go

This is why you may want to purchase some incubators. If you’re loaded down with 2 kilometer eggs, you may wind up missing out on some 10 kilometer eggs at the next PokéStop. If you have 8 limited-use incubators in your inventory at all times, you can always be incubating nine eggs simultaneously.

Hatching eggs is worth your time because not only do you get the Pokémon, you also get a healthy amount of that Pokémon’s candy, which you need to power up or evolve the Pokémon. If the Pokémon you hatch is rare, earning that large potion of candy can be hugely advantageous. 

Next Steps

Pokémon Go

Once you’ve amassed a healthy number of Pokémon you can begin evolving and powering them up. Evolving Pokémon creates a new type of Pokémon to add to your collection. Powering up Pokémon makes them stronger. Evolving and powering up Pokémon is something you’ll need to do if you want to win Gym battles. 

Once you hit Level 5 by capturing enough Pokemon, you can join a gym and start battling. See our gym battles guide for info on how to take your next steps!

Be Patient

Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go developer Niantic was clearly unprepared for the game’s massive success. Estimates of how many people are playing the game daily range from 9 to 21 million, depending on who you ask. Server issues have been rampant since the game was launched.

One common server error happens just after you catch a Pokémon. The Poké Ball falls to the ground and the game freezes up. If that happens, shut the game down and reload. You may still wind up getting credit for the capture. In our experience, more often than not, we still get the Pokémon even if the game froze. 

Another common error is that if you are in your item bag trying to grab a Razz Berry or a Great Ball during a trap attempt and the Pokémon runs away, the game will freeze. Again, shut the game down and reload. As long as the servers are in good shape, it won’t take long to load back in. 

Colette Bennett/Dennis Scimeca

As we said at the beginning of this guide, Pokémon Go isn’t much for tutorials—hence why it’s up to players to make these sorts of help guides, or to create maps to show players where to find specific Pokémon, or to scrub the game code for data about how combat works—but it is a game that promotes community. 

Try asking other players where they’ve found a Pikachu or other valuable Pokémon. You might learn something about how players in your area are playing the game and where people are catching the best Pokémon. If you meet people who are on your team, maybe you’ll decide to take over a gym together. 

What makes Pokémon Go special among games is that you have to leave the house to get the most out of the game—and the same goes for everyone else.

Get to know people. Then you can commiserate when the Pokémon Go servers go down and celebrate together when the servers are back up.

Update 12:23pm CT, July 25: This guide has been updated to reflect the best information for new Pokémon Go players are they get started. New tips and information will be added as needed.

WATCH MORE: Our beginner’s guide to Pokémon GO:

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*First Published: Jul 7, 2016, 6:38 pm CDT