The slow death of videogame manuals

At the end of April 2010, Ubisoft announced it was no longer printing videogame manuals as part of a green initiative to save paper and reduce the publisher’s carbon footprint. Good for them! Boo for us that actually like manuals (in other words, me) and not just for nostalgia’s sake. This is a first for the industry, with no other publisher following suit just yet, but while I can see the pros and cons in this action, I also know that, ultimately, videogame manuals are going the way of the dinosaur.

Thankfully, there’s a site called Replacement Docs, which allows you to download manuals of many, many games, some bereft and others not. The archive is well worth scouring. Do check it out.

Right. So I like videogame manuals. I like them a lot. Some nostalgia points slip into this factoring in that, during both the middle school and high school days, I used to get dropped off at the mall, buy an SNES or PS1 game with allowance money/job money, and then sit in a predetermined meeting area until my mother came to pick me up. I’d use this time wisely by devouring the game’s manual page by page, word by word, image by image. Some times I even read the manual more than once. Trap Gunner comes to mind instantly, and after reading about the game for 20 minutes, I just couldn’t wait to get home and play. At that point, I felt like, thanks to the manual, I was more than prepared for whatever the game was going to throw at me.

And even though nowadays we have extensive previews and reviews online, on-screen button prompts, and in-game opening tutorials, the straightforwardness of “training” yourself page after page feels much more natural. You usually see a picture of the control scheme, some plot background details, learning the menus, maybe some pages devoted to key characters, and so on. Also, some tips and tricks are only mentioned in the manual, like how to crouch in Maximo, a game I bought used and without a manual, leading me down a dark and destined-for-failure path until the Internet told me what I was doing wrong. Thanks, Internet, you big manual yourself.

Also, brand new manuals smell, and you know it. Sure, it’s an acquired taste much like a new car or a really old bookstore, but I tell you this, and I tell you this in all seriousness…it’s a smell I’m going to miss. Ripping off the plastic sealing and stickers to crack open the case and give the game manual its first breath into this world is truly a great feeling. So is taking it out and fanning yourself with it during the summer months. I kid on that front, but I love videogame manuals so much that when I bought Fallout 3: Game of the Year edition back in November 2009, I still read the manual front to end before popping the game disc into my Xbox 360 despite waiting over 12 months to get the game. I think that says something.

Will have to look through my collection later for some examples of great and not-so-great videogame manuals. Cause some are truly a waste of paper, but others…well, they’ve got personality. And do more than just tell us how to play the game; they show us what it’s all about.

One response to “The slow death of videogame manuals

  1. I have a lot of great memories of reading the manual. Back when I was young and I’d rent SNES or N64 games, I always read the manual in the car as my mom drove us home. When I first got Mario Kart 64 I read the manual first even though I was an experienced Mario Karter.

    Nowadays, I never read the manual first, as I think the game should explain how to do everything (in its first hour ;), but I’ll read the manual during loading screens or whatever.

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