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Pokemon Go: Gyms, candy, pokeballs and everything else you need to know

The complete beginner's guide to Nintendo's wildly popular new game.

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The phenomenon known as Pokemon has made its way onto iOS and Android, but this time, it's different.

What is Pokemon Go?

Pokemon Go is nothing like the Game Boy game you remember -- it's a free mobile game that lets you see tiny creatures called Pokemon through the window of your phone, as if they existed in the real world. Then, you can catch them. (One player says they've already caught 'em all.)

It's also wildly popular: Pokemon Go was released in the US on July 6th and it only took four days to become the No. 1 free app in the US iTunes App Store.

If you're an absolute Pokemon beginner, here's everything you need to know.

(And if you're not a beginner, check out our new advanced player guide.)

Why do people care so much?

Remember the '90s? Kids growing up back then played Pokemon video games on their Game Boy handhelds, watched Pokemon cartoons as well as movies and battled it out with Pokemon cards during their lunch breaks at school. And...new generations of kids never quite stopped doing that. (The last two Nintendo 3DS video games sold 25 million copies, combined.)

Pokemon has been around for over 20 years now. The first games were even played in black and white.

Dave Cheng/CNET

BTW, Pokemon is short for "pocket monster." They're tiny monsters. Since it comes from Japan, the word "Pokemon" is pronounced "po-kay-moan" and is both singular and plural. ("Fish" not "fishes".)

Originally, the Pokemon Go servers took quite a beating.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

Is Pokemon Go available in (insert country name here)?

Yes, almost certainly. It took a while to roll out globally, but coverage is pretty broad. Here's the full list of countries where Pokemon Go is available so far.

I downloaded the app. Why doesn't it work?

Originally, the internet servers hosting the game were having a LOT of trouble. It seems like the game's developer, Niantic, didn't anticipate this much demand. The company actually postponed the game's launch in certain countries until it could iron out the kinks.

But as of late July, the servers seem to be stabilizing. We're not having too much trouble logging in anymore. If you see issues in your country, though, it's probably because nobody really quite anticipated just how many people love Pokemon.

Why don't they just call it Pokemon Go Away We're Busy?

You think you're clever, don't you?

OK, I'm trying to create a new player. Why doesn't Nintendo like my name?

That field is for your username, not your actual name. A lot of other people around the world share your actual name, and one of them already claimed it. Sorry.

Where are all the Pokemon hiding?

So, the premise of Pokemon Go is that these pocket monsters are hidden around our real world -- literally. You need to go look for them. When they get close enough, they'll appear on your in-game radar and then you can try to catch them.

How do I move?

You walk. Like, with your body. (It's good for your health.) You walk around town, the park, the mall (if you can get a GPS signal), your workplace, until you find a Pokemon. Then, you try to catch it.

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Why do I have these red and white balls? (Should I see a doctor?)

Ahem. The balls are for catching the Pokemon. It's a time-honored tradition that, to catch a Pokemon, you throw a ball at it. The ball slurps it up like a vacuum cleaner, or something. And then, according to the rules of Pokemon, it belongs to you.

How to catch an Eevee.

GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

How do I throw the balls and actually catch the Pokemon?

When you tap and hold your Pokeball, a white circle appears around your target. Inside that white circle is a green circle that expands and contracts. Apparently, when the green circle is at its smallest, that's the best time to flick your Pokeball at your quarry (though we've heard conflicting theories). Failing that, you could just do what I do and flick at random.

Oh, oh, oh: Watch our new video on throwing balls right here!

Why am I enslaving a race of tiny animals?

To get them to fight for you, of course! (No, that doesn't make it better.) You're catching and raising animals to fight for your amusement, and perhaps getting them to evolve into more powerful ones. Here's a paper that argues that Pokemon aren't exactly slaves, though.

How do they fit in tiny little balls?

Nobody knows. Except maybe this guy. It sure does look cramped in there.

Is this animal cruelty?

Maybe.

Do they have a catch-and-release program?

No. Unlike previous Pokemon video games, you can't actually release Pokemon back into the wild. You can only transfer them to the Professor, who turns them into gives you candy in exchange.

Which Pokemon do I start with?

You can get Squirtle (a cute squirting turtle), Bulbasaur (a cute carnivorous plant) or Charizard (a cute mini fire-breathing dragon) to start. Or you can go for the electric rat that's been the face of Pokemon for 20 years -- Pikachu -- by following these instructions.

What are the little blue floating cubes on my map for?

Those are PokeStops. Approach one, and when you get close the cube should morph into a spinning disc. Tap on it, then flick your finger across the disc in the center of the screen that pops up to send that disc spinning. Usually, you'll get items that can help you catch more Pokemon.

Augmented reality at work.

Screenshots by Rebecca Fleenor/CNET

What is an AR and why is it on?

AR stands for "augmented reality," which is a fancy way of describing how Pokemon Go lets you see the tiny animals as if they're in the real world. Basically, it uses your phone's camera to show you what's behind the phone, then digitally places the Pokemon on top. Virtual reality is a slightly different idea.

Why does the game keep freezing right after I find / catch a Pokemon?

This probably doesn't happen anymore, but just in case: If you see a spinning loading symbol in the upper left corner of the screen that doesn't go away within 30 seconds, you should probably force-close the entire app and launch it again. If you caught a Pokemon, you'll still have it afterwards. If not...too bad!

(On iPhone, double-tap the home button, then swipe up on Pokemon Go. On Android, you'll generally find your Recents button, then swipe Pokemon Go to the left or right.)

Zubat. Why did it have to be Zubat?

The Pokemon you see in the game differ based on your location and geography. For example, in San Francisco we've found a lot of Zubats. Travel 45 minutes south to Mountain View and you'll find a lot of Pidgey, Paras and Rattata. You can expect to find different Pokemon near a body of water, for instance, than in a small midwest town.

What's a Buddy Pokemon?

You know how in the Pokemon TV series, Pikachu didn't actually live inside a ball, and his owner wasn't trying to harvest all the other Pokemon in the world? The Buddy system is a nod to that. You get candy for your favorite Pokemon just by walking. A lot. Like, miles and miles for a single candy. Being a pacifist is tough.

How do I join a team?

You can join a team after hitting level 5, a milestone you'll hit by catching Pokemon. You just need to find a gym and it'll prompt you to join a team. The gyms are those tall gold and silver towers you can see on your map.

Does it matter which team I choose?

No, not really. You'll probably want to join the same team as your friends who are playing the game. The three teams are Valor (red), Mystic (blue), and Instinct (yellow). The team leaders were revealed at San Diego Comic Con.

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Why do I want to go to a gym? I thought this was a video game.

No exercise required -- except walking there. Gyms are where you can battle your Pokemon against other teams' Pokemon.

If you go to a gym that is a different color than your team (blue, yellow or red), you can battle the Pokemon there and cause the other team to lose their stronghold. At that point, you can drop a Pokemon on the gym and claim it for your own team.

If your team already holds the gym, you can battle its Pokemon to raise the "prestige" of the gym. Once prestige is high enough, you can add a Pokemon to make it harder for the other team to capture.

You can see how many gyms you control in the "Shop" section of the game. (Look for a shield icon.) You can press the shield icon once every 24 hours to claim coins that allow you to purchase in-game items. Be sure to press this button after you've claimed a bunch of gyms to maximize your cashflow.

Update, June 2017: Gyms have radically changed! Read more here.

So many Zubats in SF. This Eevee owner got lucky.

Screenshots by CNET

Why did they strategically place gyms at my local bars?

The developer of Pokemon Go -- Niantic -- made a previous game called Ingress that was also about finding cool stuff hiding in the real world. Ingress players submitted all sorts of real-world locations to be landmarks in the game, and Pokemon Go uses some of those same landmarks.

Your local Ingress players were probably epic trolls.

But also: Pokemon pub crawls.

How dangerous is this to play when I'm drunk?

Funny thing about looking at a phone while you're walking across the street: You can die. So maybe lay off the booze. Here's what the Pokemon Go website says:

"For safety's sake, never play Pokémon GO when you're on your bike, driving a car, riding a hoverboard, or anything else where you should be paying attention, and of course never wander away from your parents or your group to catch a Pokémon."

Australian police have issued a Pokemon Go warning of their own.

I hate walking. Can I play Pokemon Go while driving a car?

You can! If you have a death wish. It's a really bad idea -- to the point where we're surprised Niantic and Nintendo haven't implemented some better features to keep people from doing it. Some people have even died.

Here's an idea, Niantic!

It's 2 p.m., why is my phone out of battery?

Pokemon Go uses your phone's GPS, camera and graphics processor all at the same time. It's one of the most draining things you can do with a phone -- we tested. There's a battery saver mode in the settings, though. Hard-core players carry an external battery pack wherever they go.

What's that I hear about Pokemon Go stealing my Google data?

Stealing is a strong word. More like accidentally having access it probably shouldn't have -- and only if you're using a Google account on an iPhone, and only if you have a time machine. The company fixed it in a update.

When do I get to own people's faces with my Pokemon?

Once you get to level 5, you can head over to a gym and battle its Pokemon to claim it for your team. You can't own other players' faces -- at least not yet.

Do I get anything else for leveling up?

Yes.

Why are people walking around with a light-up Pokemon button / bracelet?

That's the Pokemon Go Plus. It costs $35, and it lets you catch Pokemon without pulling out your phone. I was going to say "catch Pokemon without really trying," but you'll be trying to re-pair the Bluetooth fairly often.

Isn't that cheating?

No. This is cheating.

Can I trade Pokemon with friends?

Not yet -- but the developer says that feature is coming.

Beware.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

How long can I play Pokemon Go before it drains my wallet?

As long as you can stay the hell away from the in-game purchase screen.

Coins can buy you items that power up your Pokemon, but you could just walk past a lot of PokeStops to get items, and maybe you'll be able to get some coins by battling at gyms.

Why do some Pokemon have gender symbols next to their names? Are they Spice Girls?

In the original Pokemon games, gender was rare and mostly irrelevant: It just meant a Pokemon named Nidoran could transform into two different versions. (The female could become Nidorina, the male Nidorino.) It appears to be the same here.

What do I get if I catch them all?

Pride.

What do you do with all the duplicate Pokemon?

You can trade them to Professor Willow in exchange for candy. Tap the Pokeball button at the bottom of the screen, then select a duplicate Pokemon and hit Transfer.

The candy will be of the same type as the Pokemon you trade in. (And if Soylent Green is made of people, does that mean...)

Why is this old man giving me candy and should I take it because my mommy told me never to take candy from strangers?

Candy is delicious.

And, separately, in Pokemon Go, it'll help you upgrade your Pokemon.

How do I upgrade Pokemon?

You need Stardust and Candy. Which you'll get naturally by playing the game and trading in Pokemon. Tap the Pokeball button at the bottom of the screen, then select Pokemon, then the specific Pokemon you want to enhance. You can evolve them with Candy alone. Here's way more info on how to upgrade and evolve.

Bonus fun: There's an Easter egg for evolving Eevees!

What are the eggs for?

Put them in an incubator (you already have one to start), then walk the specified distance in the real world. The egg will hatch and out will pop a Pokemon. Here are the best hatching tips.

Do the badges do anything?

Now that you mention it...no seriously, they didn't do anything until recently. (October 2016)

Is that really all there is to it?

As far as we know -- though there are some advanced strategies that we're learning as we go. For instance, it's a great idea to catch lots of weak Pokemon and evolve them, because you level up quicker that way.

Update: we've now learned an awful lot about how to become a Pokemon Master. Click here for that info.

Where can I find way, way too much additional Pokemon Go coverage?

I thought you'd never ask! Click right here.

I'm really tired of reading Pokemon Go news. How long will this fad last?

We did some reader polls -- check them out and add your perspective right here. Or you can just block Pokemon coverage with this Chrome extension.

Am I the first one to say they should call it Pokemon STOP?

No. Away with you.