An Open Letter is a regular-ish feature where we communicate directly, straight to the heart of someone/something/anything in gaming. This week? We say goodbye to an old friend – the humble game manual.
Fare Thee Well Game Manual
When I was a kid, game manuals were important me. They were my guide. They taught me things.
When I think of game manuals, I remember sitting in the back seat of my parents car on my birthday. With the money stuffed in my birthday cards I would inevitably buy a brand new video game – and trapped underneath the seatbelt that was too big for me, fighting off car sickness, manuals were there to help stave the sheer hysteric excitement of a kid with a brand new game to play. The 20 minute drive from the shops back home was always a torturous journey, but it was made bearable with a game manual clutched in my tiny paws.
And I also had a little brother. Thanks to game manuals, it was always easier to be the bigger man and let the little bastard have the first go. I’d just lie on my bunk bed, flick through it for a few more minutes until he got bored and went out in the back garden to eat dirt and stamp on ladybugs.
Game manuals were important to me.
I can even remember a few favourites. The Zelda: A Link to the Past one in particular, loaded with info on the items I hadn’t discovered yet – ‘what does the hookshot do?’ I would ask my brother, in hushed tones. ‘Maybe it’ll let us get into that dungeon?’
I don’t need game manuals now. Games have tutorials. I don’t have a sticky fingered younger brother, smearing jam on my SNES controller – he’s grown up now and lives in another continent. I don’t get car sick, and I usually drive myself home regardless.
Both Ubisoft and EA have abandoned game manuals now, and I understand the reasons. They’re redundant, they cost money, they’re not environmentally friendly – in the grand scheme of things they’re irrelevant.
I won’t miss them. Not necessarily. Not in the way you miss something that provides a function in your life.
I will, however, remember them. Fondly. I’ll remember how I felt flicking through a manual for the first time – the excitement, the feeling of having a new game, scrambling for hints on how it would play, what to expect. That’s what game manuals represent for me – the anticipation.
I expect that sometime in the future, in my old age my grandkids will catch me flicking through my old game manuals, carefully and deliberately the way my parents handle vinyl records. They’ll laugh at me, before running off to create their own obsessive memories – leaving me with mine.