Lost Art – Game Manuals

Back in my day, we had to walk uphill (both ways) in the snow, while wolves hunted us, to pick up a new game. When we made it back, not all of us did, we then had to read. You see, games came with a book (it’s like a website that is on paper) that explained the controls, mechanics and history of the game. We loved it.

Zelda Game Manual

Manuals were part of the video game experience. I remember purchasing a game (well…my parents did the purchasing), tearing into the packing in the car and studying my future adventure. This portion of the trip home was the prologue to playing the game. If the game was truly atrocious, this was actually the best part of the entire experience.

The miniature booklet would include a brief history of the characters, lore of the land and details into the current plight. These story elements were often times not told within the game’s narrative. The game itself was a streamlined adventure where the first thing you did was venture into a cave and pick up a sword. If you wanted to know why the Triforce was hidden, who Zelda was or what Gannon was up to…you needed to read the manual.

SMB3 Manual

While the gameplay characters were 8-bit chibi-heroes, their true forms were depicted within the manual’s artwork. Fans would see that Mega Man was in fact a man capable of unleashing deadly energy blasts instead of a boy who shoots out food for Pac-Man. Graphics were unable to capture the full range of character emotions, abilities and movements. The artwork displayed within the manual was a representation of the developer’s imagination as the entire world unfurling before players.

The manual could become part of the gameplay itself. In the Dagger of Amon Ra, players control a spunky news reporter who is uncovering an Egyptian mystery. The game would question players on Egyptian hieroglyphs in order to continue the adventure. The answers were within the instruction manual. Players role play as Laura Bow searching through her journal as they look for clues. In Metal Gear Solid, to contact Meryl, players needed to review the back of the packaging (or Google it…or try each frequency one at a time…which could happen if you rented the game).

Pokemon Game Manual

In the digital age, with fancy wiki’s, screenshots and concept art available at all times the manual is no longer required. I stopped reading manuals long before they were removed from the final package. They served no purpose. Storytelling progressed to where gameplay reveals the narrative, tutorial missions illustrate what players can do and graphics paint the full picture.

It’s understandable why manuals no longer exist, but they were appreciated and will be missed. Kids nowadays don’t know how good they have it…or are they missing out on a worthwhile experience?

Level Up, Friends!