Richmond's Capitol Square in three realities: real, Ingress, and Pokémon Go.
Richmond's Capitol Square in three realities: real, Ingress, and Pokémon Go.

The new Pokémon Go is the introduction to the idea of a “Mobile Augmented Reality Game” for a vast number of people, but the developer, Niantic Labs, didn’t start from scratch with it. The seemingly ubiquitous PokéStops and Gym locations are directly drawn from a vast database of places of interest submitted by players of an earlier game, introduced in late 2012 and still ongoing, called Ingress.

I started playing Ingress during its “Closed Beta” phase, in January of 2013, and kept at it well into 2015. Over my time playing the game, I walked over 3,000 kilometers, had 216 portals I submitted become part of the landscape (you’re welcome for the PokéStops, y’all!), and visited 3,602 different individual portals in the world. All my statistics and achievements together combined to put me at Level 16, the highest possible level in Ingress. That’s a lot of game time.

Through playing nearly every day for years, and leading the local effort for the Enlightened team in an anomaly in Richmond, Virginia — a grueling Ingress event that brings players from far and wide to play in one city — I like to think I, along with the worldwide Ingress community, learned a lot about this “augmented reality mobile gaming” thing that so many folks are now meeting for the first time.

Here are some starter tips directly informed by my time as a hardcore Ingress junkie for new Pokémon Go trainers:

  • Don’t get emotionally attached. Playing in the real world means there will be spots in the game that feel personally important to you because they become part of your regular daily life, and it’s very easy to get frustrated if you can’t “own” them as often as you’d like.

    In Ingress, some players were notorious for furiously defending a specific “home portal,” which they could be expected to focus vast resources and time trying to possess and hold. Those players are incredibly easy to grief, so in a self-reinforcing loop, they get griefed frequently. Don’t be that guy.

  • Get a battery pack. The nature of the game requires that every single element of your phone’s machinery that sucks juice the fastest — the screen, the cellular radios, the GPU, and the GPS — be active simultaneously to play. No matter how powerful your phone’s battery, it’s going to drain, fast.

    You’ll want at least one high-capacity portable battery pack (Anker got a great rep as a brand name among Ingressers) so you can tether yourself to it while you’re out playing, and for goodness sake, don’t catch yourself out with just one cable.

  • Check your data plan. You’re going to go through a surprising amount of your mobile data allotment playing, as the bulk of the game’s actions are processed on the server and then dispatched back to your phone. You’ll want to keep a closer eye on your usage than usual to make sure you don’t have any unpleasant surprises.

  • Play with friends. In Ingress, you needed to get at least eight of your higher-level teammates to coordinate to get the most useful game items. Pokémon Go lacks the game-driven need for mobilizing and coordinating such large numbers of people just to do basic things, but you’re guaranteed to have more fun if you choose to play when you can enjoy the company of others.

  • Be courteous. You might be tempted to play pretty much any time you’re moving or in a different place, hoping to stock up on gear and catch exotic Pokémon, even when you’re with others that either don’t play at all or aren’t playing at the time. You might think they won’t notice, or that it’s not a big deal.

    But be real with yourself: it’s pretty tacky to your company to play when they aren’t. Even though the game is taking place all around you, catching Pokémon surreptitiously under the table when out to dinner with a friend is no less rude than if you sat there banging away at Candy Crush.

  • Allow time. A common pitfall of Ingress is when a player goes out to do the simplest, most minor thing, they’ll find the whole journey takes a lot longer than it might have otherwise because there are so many things to do in the game between Point A and Point B. That’s fine! But you need to be realistic and build in the time the trip will take if you want to play en route and still get where you need to be on time.

  • Be mindful. The Ingress portal database on which Pokémon Go is built includes places of artistic, cultural, spiritual, and historical interest across your neighborhood and the world. Some of these places, naturally, are more appropriate for game play than others, and you need to be mindful of where you are and how you need to behave when you’re playing there if you choose to take a few minutes to engage with the Pokémon world.

    Obviously, you should fully respect any regulations or rules surrounding the space, and completely avoid trespassing for any reason. If you can play respectfully, you’ll be welcome in public places, but all it takes is for one group or individual to violate the norms in such a way that future players won’t be able to enjoy them. So be cool, okay?

  • Play fair. Playing on an electronic device that requires moving around in the real world leads to extra ways to behave badly on top of the usual ethical dilemmas in popular game worlds. Accusations, and even instances, of “spoofing,” or falsifying a device’s actual GPS location to try and play remotely have been rampant in the past. Ingress was unplayable in some cities for extended periods of time because of hundreds of scripted “bots” moving in gridlike patterns over them to completely control the field.

    Basically, don’t cheat, guys. You’ll know it’s wrong if you feel a little weird about doing it.

  • Be respectful of other players. You’re going to find yourself in a new world of suspicion when you’re out and around, imagining everyone around you that’s looking at your phone is a fellow Pokémon hunter, even a potential rival. You need to be very, very sensitive though about confronting human beings in public places. Everybody has vastly different comfort levels.

    If you want to chat up a fellow player, use your best judgment, but if they show you they aren’t interested in chatting, disengage right away. Don’t be creepy.

AR is a pretty cool tech, and Pokémon Go is a pretty nifty implementation for getting gaming out of the living room and into the real world. You’re going to have a blast, as long as you try and be cool about it.

Well, as cool as you can possibly be while trying to trap Pokémon outside of your local laundromat. There are limits.