Where’s my manual?

Video game manual (?vid??? ??m ?many?(w?)l): 1. An instruction booklet for electronic games. 2. An artifact lost to the lonely eons of time.

I was recently reviewing my Nintendo 64 collection, relishing in memories of DK beating Pikachu to a yellow pulp in Super Smash Brothers. It got me thinking about what retro game qualities didn’t make it to the modern scene. Now I’m mourning the passing of the fabled video game manual.

For any gamer who’s been living under a rock, last and current generation video game titles cost sixty dollars.  Other possible uses for sixty bucks include but are not limited to roughly two cases of beer, four blu-ray movies, 60 McDonald’s cheeseburgers and no less than 240 gumballs.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I can’t afford to pay the sticker price for a new game but, steady paycheck or not, I am selective about my day-one purchases because of this high entry fee. Like anyone, I want my money’s worth. Having a manual (mostly) won’t make the gameplay itself better but overall presentation should be expected at this price point. For example: A BMW dealership having a movie theater and serving free Starbucks lattes won’t make their cars more reliable, but it will make BMW’s customers feel well taken care of and lessen the burden of expensive repairs. Auxiliary elements like the game manual contribute to the overall experience for me as a consumer right from the initial unboxing.

Ah, yes. The unboxing. I remember countless trips home from Gamestop in the back of my mom’s car, too giddy with excitement to exercise even the slightest hint of patience. I would rip into the shrink wrap and dive into the instruction manual, devouring any information about my new game as I could. It was almost ritual for me. I would open the box and there it was, waiting to divulge complex combos, characters backstories or just beautiful concept art and screenshots. Now I feel bad for the kids that can’t rip into their new prize and tenderly flip through the crisp pages of a manual, committing controls to memory, acquiring familiarity with the arsenal of weapons at their fingertips and immersing themselves in rich, full-color lore. We used to get a beefy manual and sometimes a poster-sized map of the game world. Today, we get an ad and maybe a DLC code card, and the goddamn ad is always on top.

My slightly tarnished initial experience with these games sometimes extends beyond the bland unboxing experience and affects the actual gameplay experience. Without a manual, how am I to know to “press ‘X’ to reload?” By playing through a dry gameplay experience built around the lesson, of course. That’s right, I’m talking about the infamous ‘tutorial level.’ It’s an excuse to make games longer without enriching the experience. Some games like Deadpool try to justify it by having their characters act like they know they’re in a videogame, but I’m not buying it. I want my manual back.

I don’t want to be thrown into a complicated game I don’t understand, but neither do I want to be yanked out of the game world every 20 seconds to learn a new controller input. Thanks, tutorial level, for constantly reminding me I’m in the real world, not yet changed out of my work clothes instead of slinking through Mordor, quietly slitting the ugly green throats of every Uruk in sight.

If you’re reluctant to pay full price for games, enjoyed the high-quality art and lore, or are simply sick of boring tutorial levels, you’ll agree that the video game manual is a gem that never made it to modern gaming. And that’s a damn shame.

To honor good days gone by, hop over to Destructoid for seven awesome video game manuals.