Video Game Manuals & Inserts - A Thing Of The Past?

Video-Games-Without-ManualsSomething unexpected has crept up on me, something that has made me realise that I might be getting older, and for once I am glad that I have noticed it. I was going to start this article with something like, "Back in the day..." or "When I was young..." But I thought the better of it. Age has a way of creeping up on you, and when consoles that you know to be cutting edge and a technological light year from your favourite game system are considered 'retro', you start to get the feeling that its no longer 1985 and things have moved on.

Most things pass me by, new consoles and games rarely interest me as the back catalogue of stuff I still have to plough through on the NES and SNES alone will keep me occupied way beyond death, but something struck me as I pulled the cellophane off the copy of Super Smash Bros 3DS, and slotted it in. There was no printed manual, just a sheet showing how to access the electronic version and a brief explanation of the controls. This got me thinking. Manuals are a thing of the past it seems, and no one really seems to care. The exception of course are the game publishers who seem content with selling us fresh air in the form of digital download versions of games, saving a mountain of cash in the meantime for not having to print a manual in their 'real' games.

While eco-warriors may say that it saves trees and the environment, but I don't buy that. If this was a push to save the planet there are a lot better ways to do it than deprive me of my 10 page printed manual!

The real reason for this is two fold. Firstly it's money, no one is stupid enough to think otherwise, but the second is a bit more scary. It points to the fact that most modern games are far to easy and no longer need a manual - all thanks to the hand holding gameplay pedantically congratulating you with trophies and achievements as you take baby steps in. Worse than that the game assumes the player is so unskilled that the publisher feels the need to provide in game lessons in the shape of 'tutorials' that lay the game bare, showing all you need to learn to master and beat it, again holding your hand all the way through, delivering a synthetic sense of achievement when in truth you have accomplished nothing.

Mega Man is a great example of the exact opposite. You are plopped right in and have freedom to choose what you want to do, who you want to fight first and nothing but consequences to deal with. The manual gives you information on your weapons, gives you some back story and even some illustrations of the enemies you are likely to meet on the way. It offers a few hints but that's it. The game expects you to make mistakes and find your way through improving your skill and learning the game through doing. Having a paper manual to hand forces you to find the answers in its pages rather than a bout of arrow pointing and spoon feeding.


The fact is that most games are designed to be 'pick up and play.' The industry is so tight that if you don't grab the attention of the player in the first thirty seconds, the game will be seen as 'bad' or worse 'boring'. I cannot tell you how many times I have died in Super Mario Bros trying to find the secrets, warps and other cool tricks put there by Nintendo for me to find. I have seen talk on the internet of some modern players not being able to make it past level one and giving up... The original Wipeout on the PlayStation is a great modern example of this (modern in my time scale). At first, the game is teeth grindingly frustrating, you bang off of every wall, every turn is a jarring, jagged grind forcing you to use the tight turn brakes and always coming in last. The manual gives subtle hints but no more, leaving you to discover the technique needed to ignore the brakes and slowly learn how it feels to be Fiesar's number one pilot. The point is that YOU did it, using your skill and your skill alone. Achievement Unlocked.

Boxed games are incomplete without a printed manual. I wonder these days how many gamer's actually look at the contents of their purchase, preferring to pull out the cartridge or disc and get on with the business of playing the game. Back in the day (there! I said it!) The whole package was part of the experience. The box art was marveled at (dribbled over sometimes, check out Maria Whittaker on the front of Barbarian... Lots of shock and giggles in the playground) and when the box was opened, the game was last on the list as you poured over the map, read the manual, looked at the stat sheet or in the case of some Infocom games, blew up the odd balloon. You felt that you owned something, that you were stepping into another world. I think it's time we looked a little more at a very cool company called 'Infocom'.


Infocom created text adventures, games where players read and reacted to text on the screen, instructing the game to 'go east', 'get lantern', 'fill bucket' and 'kill troll'. These were well written, sometimes very funny and always sparked the imagination. To help, Infocom would include props and items relevant to the story, along with a manual, called 'feelies'. They were tangible things that you could connect with, something real that joined you the story you were about to participate in. Of course this could not happen now, most accountants would pass out at the mere thought of 250,000 plus coins being minted for a standard game sold at a normal price rather than an inflated special collectors edition (now with a scarf!).

I think the removal of the printed manual is a bit much, apart from saving a few pounds it removes the hands on a player should experience as the game presents an obstacle that can be overcome by reading the bottom of page six.

Books, music and now games have joined the ranks of throwaway items, items that don't even exist in the real world and can no longer be thought as a tangible thing of beauty, and that's a great shame. After all, what's left to read on a bathroom break now?

Last Updated ( 23 October 2014 )  


I am the original first generation. I wandered in to an arcade in the late 70’s and never really got over it. I don’t have a favourite system but I do have a lot of favourite games and spend most of my spare time playing and writing about them. On sunny days you could find me outside, but only if my longboard is with me.

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(Link to this comment) fierybirdything 2014-10-24 15:08
I, too, miss the gorgeous manuals that used to come with games (the SNES era in particular was one of my favourites for manuals), and lament the fact that the most we get now is a little slip of paper. No winding backstory, no character profiles (I used to love looking at the artwork in these things), nothing to really pump you up for playing.

If you're very lucky, the publisher might make a downloadable version of the game's manual available online, so you can print off and make your own (this is what I ended up doing with Skylanders Giants on the 3DS), but it doesn't excuse the fact that the manual wasn't included to start with.
(Link to this comment) Sisee 2014-10-24 16:55
I remember games having manuals, or 'instructions' as they were called.
When I got a second hand game [a term now lost in sales speak] I was disappointed if I didn't get a book.
That little paperback tome held the wisdom to make, or break the experience.
Manuals contained a majority of the plot, story and history, making sense of things.
Now games emulate cinema, over explaining every tiny plot point in cutscenes. Why have this info in a separate book?
And over saturation of media means any would-be fan already knows the entire script of a game from all the releases, tweets and blogs of a title, before release.
And publishers commission Piggyback or Prima to write a 'guidebook' with the stuff that would be in a manual. Then charge you £12 for it. Why give you something free, when you're willing to pay for it?
I miss opening games and looking through the manuals.
But, games no longer need any aspect of that book.
(Link to this comment) PageVGP 2014-10-25 11:03
Actually you make a VERY good point. Super Smash Bros was ruined a little for me with the announcements over twitter and facebook again and again of the 'hidden' characters, people constantly drop spoilers and of course if you are really stuck you stroll off to gamefaqs or youtube for the solution, all nicely handed on a silver plate.

I cant tell you the delight I felt when 'Pepsi Man' appeared in Fighting Vipers. I had NO idea there were any more characters to unlock, no hints were given anywhere. Sometimes too much information can be a bad thing
(Link to this comment) ewjim 2014-10-24 18:59
I always loved reading an instruction booklet - what else are you to do sat on the loo in mad anticipation to play your newly purchased game!

The only thing that got me with them was the sections for 'notes.' - Games with passwords I can understand, a handy place to keep them stored (though how many of us pop a vein when they see a manual defaced with such defacery?!) but the sheer amount of games I remember having these sections in the booklets, but there wasn't any passwords or codes or anything jot-worthy!

I am not 100% but I am sure it was one of the EA games that made this mainstream. So not only content with depriving us collectors of instruction books, but also content on killing the Dreamcast and now trying it on with the Wii U. EA conspiracy ahoy!
(Link to this comment) Darkstalker90 2014-10-24 20:41
It's a double-edged sword isn't it though? With modern games, I do also lament the loss of manuals but on the other hand, the opening tutorial levels are usually so well done that you never need to reference a manual anyway.

But in any case, I do prefer having a paper reference to flick to rather than accessing an unwieldy on-screen thing as I've often looked at a manual to find an answer only to stumble on other useful information so yeah...good times! I remember moaning about more and more manuals having no colour in them and now here we are with most games coming without one altogether.

I will never buy a pre-owned game if it is incomplete so the manual is a really important part to me.
(Link to this comment) Marsmite 2014-10-25 00:10
This was a great read. Lots of truths, well written and just the right length. Good going.
(Link to this comment) DemonicNinja 2014-10-25 06:42
The manual for me is all part of the experience of a new game..I loved the manuals for no more heros on the wii
(Link to this comment) PageVGP 2014-10-25 10:48
I have started collecting Famicom games, and the tiny manuals squeezed in the boxes are just superb. The illustrations look almost hand drawn and have such charm! Having the manual in one hand while holding the controller in the other really is something I miss.

Thank you for all the kind words :)

(Link to this comment) mynameisrod 2014-10-25 19:57
Just look MD and NEC JAP manuals, and you understand in one page the importance of manuals. Which were very often masterpieces (with incredible drawings, colors, artwork ...)
(Link to this comment) Gamerschoice 2014-10-28 05:32
I went into a Best Buy in 2013 because they had a used game that I wanted (Dementium II for Nintendo DS). I found the game and it was re-sealed in a bag. I asked the clerk if I could open the game and check to see if it had a manual, and he said two things that bothered me. The first was that if would be "illegal" for him to sell me the game after it had been opened (which isn't true). The second is that he said that games don't come with manuals anymore. I told him that I had just bought two brand new games and they both came with manuals. He countered that the last five games he bought didn't come with manuals.
Granted, he was a jerk of a store clerk, but the idea that games wouldn't come with manuals in the future disturbed me as a long-time gamer.
(Link to this comment) redd88 2014-11-11 03:26
Manuals always functioned as an extension of the virtual world the player resides in. It made the entire experience feel more genuine, more "real", than simply a piece of paper and plastic, you sunk 60.00 dollars on.

(Link to this comment) GuyFawkesRetro 2015-06-01 11:48
Amiga big boxes - Disks, Manual(s), Stickers, Code Wheel, Competition Pamphlet, Poster(s), Free Lolly Pop.

Now days - DLC advertising if you are lucky.
(Link to this comment) pixel king 2015-07-27 17:48
It's a pain that manuals are disappearing because sometimes it's great to see how much effort has Been put in to just explaining how to play the game
(Link to this comment) StarlightLotice 2016-09-11 23:14
Games are no longer seen as creative stories Directors want to envision but to make money.

Manuals to them don't really matter...just as long as ymthey make money.

Sad times we live in but that is the way the industry is going.

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