Manual Transmission

For me, it’s always been a tradition of pulling out the manual as soon as I get a game, and giving it a read. Whether I have to sit through an install, or just can’t play right away, I find manuals an enjoyable way to hype myself up for the game while preparing myself for its controls a little as well. This habit, obviously, shows my age somewhat- it’s a habit I picked up during the PlayStation 1 era, when manuals were rather more beefy than they are today.

That is, when there are any manuals at all. Today, I opened up God of War: Ascension, and there was no manual. At all. There was an online pass code, a flyer for The Last of Us, and health warnings. This day has been a long time coming, and it’s finally arrived. They’ve killed the manual. It leaves me wondering just how much this is worth mourning, however.

Back in the days of the Super Nintendo, games would often drop you into a game with no explanation whatsoever- simply throwing you into an experience. The better designed games did this beautifully- games like Mega Man X, which seamlessly taught you everything you needed to know about the game without a single tutorial message. But of course, it’s not like every game, either now or then, was well designed. Plenty of games dumped you with clunky controls, strange setups, and no real time or planning to teach them to you. If you hadn’t given the manual a good once-over beforehand, you had no chance.

These days, there’s no way that would fly. Every game has to explain itself, and teach you how to play. Tutorials are no longer a luxury. And that begs the question if manuals are even really necessary anymore. People who need to be told how to put a disc into their PS3 have bigger problems than a manual can solve, and most of the other information on how to play is covered interactively in the game- a far more effective manner of teaching.

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But it’s not just about teaching, and this is the real shame of the matter, to me. In games like Metal Gear Solid, there would be pieces of backstory and information that simply weren’t in the game- they weren’t necessary to the game in any way, and thus they were a little bonus for anyone who decided to check out the manual. Another example is classic LucasArts adventure games, which would sometimes include a clue to solving a game’s puzzle in the manual- a great way to give a little nudge to those in need without outright telling them the solution.

What’s more, manuals can be a place to display the beautiful art and brilliant writing that your team can produce, and really just give the package a more professional, comprehensive feel. I don’t think they’re essential anymore, and I suppose their fading was somewhat inevitable as companies like EA try to milk every penny of profit out of hapless consumers, but personally, I’m a little sad to see them go.

What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.