The Extinction of Video Game Instruction Manuals

video gameThe extinction of video game instruction manuals has occurred during a time period when more direction is needed to play a game than ever before, but gamers today have new ways to find the information they need. As video game cases are increasingly becoming empty, the purpose of the instruction manual has changed.

In the 1980’s and the 1990’s, video games were played mainly in the arcade. While Nintendo dominated the living room, the latest and more technically advanced games were found in the arcade, where the machines were intended to give players their quarter’s worth in as little time as possible. Arcade games were designed so that players could jump in, play for a few minutes and then move on. Most arcade game cabinets would have graphics and text next to the joysticks and buttons to show what each button was designed to do. The instructions were easy and the game was fast.

When porting arcade games to home consoles, the luxury of having labeled buttons were gone. Instruction manuals were included in the console versions of video games to explain what each button did and how to use certain combinations of buttons to achieve different moves in the game.

Instruction manuals also started to include story lines as more and more video games focused more on game play than narrative. Some games did not have the graphic power to convey a narrative worth developing, and some games would just start right into game play without any sort of text screen or clip. Instruction manuals became the way that video game companies told the story of the games in a way that would excite gamers and entice them to play.

By the beginning of 2000, home consoles started to rival arcade machine technology, but the arcade industry did not want to spend additional money in an attempt to outdo the home consoles. Online gaming on home consoles also contributed to the fall of the arcade business. There was a time when multiplayer action was only achieved by gathering a group of people or heading to the local arcade to challenge people to play. With online gaming, players could stay home and play against people from around the world. The arcade industry suffered as gaming became based in the home.

Video game developers know that players who play at home will be able to do so for hours instead of playing for a few minutes and then walking away. The inclusion of walking a player through the controls in-game has become the norm. No longer do players have to guess how to perform actions within the game, and the first level of most games now include a section based solely on how to play the game. Some games, such as America’s Army,  have gotten clever with the instructional level; in this case, players are put through a boot camp to explain controls and mechanics. However, there are games that waste no frills on instructions, such as Titanfall, which puts players through a long, boring tutorial process before they are able to jump into the main game. No matter how a game developer chooses to instruct its players in the controls of the game itself, the end result is the same, and instruction manuals have become extinct.

In-game instructions have also become more advanced over the years. Some games skip the tutorial levels and introduce new controls as the game progresses. Games such as Saints Row IV display on-screen prompts when a new mechanic is introduced, breaking away from the main game to let the player practice a new power. Other games like Batman: Arkham Origins display button prompts whenever the game notices multiple failures by the player.

Aside from prompts and tutorial levels, video games have extensive practice modes. Mostly found in fighting games, practice modes offer a way for players to play aspects of a game without the fear of losing. The fighting game Dead or Alive 5 features a practice mode full of options to perfect a winning strategy. Instructions are displayed on screen for players to follow and an optional marquee at the bottom of the screen displays player input so that the player can see how and where they missed a button press.

Another fighting game, Street Fighter IV, offers a mode that allows gamers just to learn how to mix up moves. The “trial” mode offers a way for players to learn each character’s basic moves as well as some easy and advanced combos. Each successful combo results in moving on to another, more difficult combo.

It would be extremely difficult to input move sets and complicated combos into an instruction manual. As basic as Street Fighter II may have seemed, the instructional manual was 35 pages long and included everything from details about the menu options to pages dedicated to each of the eight available fighters. Street Fighter IV has 25 available characters and multiple modes and menus. If an instruction manual as thorough as the older manuals was included with Street Fighter IV, it would be the size of a Prima guide.

Online FAQs and walkthroughs have also made instruction manuals less important. Gamers have taken it upon themselves to write their own detailed lists and instructions about any game released. These user-generated guides have improved over the years. Where once FAQs and walkthroughs used to only come in simple text files, online guides now come in forms of web pages full of text, images and videos. These online options are full of information that would be impossible to put inside an instruction manual.

Nintendo and Microsoft are also doing away with instruction manuals in different ways. Nintendo is now including the manuals within the games themselves. On the Wii U, games now include the manuals inside the game menu and can be viewed on either the television or on the GamePad.

The Microsoft Xbox One Smartglass app will feature a Game Help while playing certain games. It will offer help and tips should the player become stuck in a game. These help features will all be written and created by game developers, who have also added another feature to the app which will display maps and item locations to aid players while playing.

Gamers do not always notice when a game case does not include an instruction manual because they are not missed. Game developers and console makers are finding ways to get instructions to players in formats other than a paper booklet. While some may miss video games instruction manuals, the demise of the booklets comes at a time when they are no longer useful. Games are no longer quick little escapes, but experiences that cannot be explained in a few pages.

Opinion by Raul Hernandez