The Phenomena of the Game Manual

Created: 2021-11-29 Updated: 2021-11-29
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Back when dinosaurs walked the Earth and software came on floppy discs or CDs in big boxes that sat on store shelves, games also came with printed manuals!

I wanted to enjoy these manuals right away. (There were all sorts of reasons I couldn’t play the game, but a manual fits in a backpack or can be read in bed when the computer is off limits.)

But as much as I wanted to enjoy them, the stuff in those manuals wasn’t really all that interesting on their own.

So the manual went back in the box.

And I would play and love (or hate) the game.

And at some point, I would open the box back up and get out the manual (because we did not have the World Wide Web back then, so we read the backs of cereal boxes, the terrible comics in the newspaper, you name it.)

And you know what? Now it was interesting. Better than interesting. Now the manual was full of pure gold!

  • Keyboard shortcuts that would save me so much time

  • How to defeat common enemies

  • Maps!

  • Neat features buried in menus

And this phenomena has played out again and again long after games stopped shipping with manuals. Even the best info is like pearls before swine if I don’t have the context or experience to appreciate it.

This also applies to games or other entertainment with huge backstories or infodumps before the gameplay begins. I really, really don’t care about the history of the kingdom before I’ve had a chance to spend a single moment walking its streets and talking to its people (or stabbing its monsters). But after I’ve been fully immersed for a while, I really, really do care!

My wife and I use this comparison so much that one of us will often just say "game manual" as shorthand to mean, "this information is probably great, but I’m not able to appreciate it yet."