Missing: Video Game Manuals

Take a walk with me

Let me take you on a journey through time and space…

It’s Friday afternoon and school just let out. You rush over to your nearest video game retailer where you pre-ordered Ultra Space Rescuers 5 Platinum Deluxe Edition (which promised to be an experience like no other, standing head and shoulders above the previous iterations). You pick up your copy with the allowance you’ve been saving for the last couple months.

As soon as you get home, after admiring the cover art for a few brief moments, you break the vacuum seal and crack open the case. To the right, you see your prize – the holy grail, if you will – the disc held so tight in its place you begin to think the manufacturer made it this way to get kids to break the disc out of sheer anticipation and excitement.

And on the left panel of the opened case you find what?

A) Nothing
B) A single piece of paper with an ad for another game by the developer
C) A game manual / instruction booklet

Quick! What is the last game you purchased that had C??

Time’s up… can’t think of anything? Can you at least think of what system the game would have been on? What gaming generation is it?

A better question might be ‘when was the last time you actually read/used/referred to a gaming manual?’.

With that said, let’s take a moment to recognize that some of you may never have actually read one of these and, on top of that, even know what I’m talking about.

To prove that I’m not just fabricating a way things were that never actually were, here are a few sites you can visit to reference or obtain instruction manuals.

Lukie Games

Replacement Docs

Games Database

A true artifact

To level the playing field, let’s quickly explain the purpose of an instructional booklet. Beyond the obvious of including controls for how to play the game, these manuals often included a story to the game, hints, tips, maps, other reference materials and art work.

They were like a mutated lovechild of rules to the game and a comic book. They were (in many cases) well crafted. They were (often times) necessary. They were (in some cases) iconic. They were collectible.

NES and Sega Genesis presented perhaps the golden age of instructional booklets. The Legend of Zelda distributed a golden booklet to accompany its golden cartridge version of the game. Just for context, this 33-year old game goes for $25 – $50 on eBay – more than many current generation offerings. Did I say they were iconic?

A slow but needed death leads to a necessary evolution

Eventually, as games became larger and more complex, developers realized that time spent not on playing the game was time wasted.

Game controls migrated to on-screen menu options. From there, tutorial introductions or an abbreviated and simplified first level (think of Warcraft or Red Alert) and modes (think of your favorite fighting game’s training mode) became more popular.

Providing open areas as a sandbox to play around with the protagonist’s abilities also became a common tactic. Recall Super Mario 64 or the original Tomb Raider – I know you locked the butler in the freezer just like me. It wasn’t really a matter of being sinister as it was being curious if the butler could find his way out… or freeze into a horrible death.

Developers are now finding a good balance of orchestrating a story while teaching you the game without treating the player like they are a dummy. Egoraptor highlighted this quite well in his explanation on why Mega Man is such a well-crafted experience.

Mega Man taught you, in a fair way, how to play the game. It didn’t require restricted access tutorial phases, obtrusive on-screen direction or narration to hand-hold you.

As I said earlier, the game manual wasn’t simply created to present the controls on how to play. Some of the more artistic influences of the booklets have been translated into trophies, collectibles, and Easter eggs.

Many games offer cosmetic additions to enhance and vary the experience, adding several degrees of replayability.

  • Lara Croft can switch outfits in her reboot series
  • Breath of the Wild tasks you with tracking down 900 Korok seeds scattered across its vast map
  • Mario regularly has you searching for all the hidden stars
  • Donkey Kong has you locate the letters K-O-N-G on every level
  • Overwatch has dedicated an entire currency system to handing out loads of customization to it’s characters
  • Grand Theft Auto V has such an extensive amount of collectibles, people have created interactive maps to assist you in tracking down every last one of them

Memorial Service

While instruction manuals played a huge part in gaming in the 80s and 90s, they aren’t as needed nowadays. That won’t stop us from giving them their due send off.

  • Instruction manuals, gone but not forgotten!
    Erm… actually some people probably forgot about them.
  • Game manuals, gone but not missed!
    Hmm… not sure I can say they are missed either.
  • Okay last try – gaming manuals, you’ll always be valued in our hearts! And in the bank… Seriously guys, if you have old games laying around with the original box and game manual, they are worth more than you’d think.

Got any stories about instructional booklets you want to share? Go for it! Or if you have a preference in how a game teaches you the ins and outs.

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