It’s an old joke in video game culture — or perhaps culture in general — that nobody reads the instruction manuals. Realizing this, Ubisoft announced that it will stop including printed manuals with its games for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
The move is ostensibly an attempt to go green while reducing production costs. Along with scrapping the manuals, Ubisoft says it’ll start shipping games in polypropylene cases made only of recycled materials, reports CNet.
I don’t care much about any of that. To me, the move is more of an acknowledgement that the way we learn to play video games has drastically changed since the advent of home gaming consoles.
As a kid, I relished reading those little staple-bound booklets. You never knew what you’d find in there. The Super Mario Bros. manual revealed “secret tricks” — basically, chain-stomping Goombas and using Koopa shells to take out surrounding foes — and the Double Dragon manual had stylized illustrations of all the characters, which somehow made the 8-bit game seem so much cooler. And because old-school games were never very good at exposition, the manuals provided otherwise non-existent plots to Atari classics such as Berzerk.
None of that is necessary anymore. Games are considered a failure if they don’t teach you how to play within the game. If you need help, you’re more likely to consult GameFAQs than the instruction booklet. Fancy illustrations and written plot summaries aren’t necessary when the games themselves are spectacles of light and sound, with professional voice acting.
So, knowing things will never be the same as in childhood, I welcome Ubisoft’s decision. And yeah, I suppose it’s nice that the environment’s getting some love, too.
(By the way, if you’re feeling nostalgic, Vimm.net has a growing archive of old video game instruction manuals, which is where I got the above image.)