Gaming literature is, sadly, a failing art form. Magazines, strategy guides, game manuals — it doesn’t seem to matter now, since everything is digital and online. This is unfortunate for many more people than you would think. I’ve talked to numerous people and have read comments online that boast about the love of game manuals and the sort. More and more companies, unfortunately, are no longer paying attention to it these days. The Internet and mobile devices are slowly killing physical literature.
To most, this probably doesn’t matter, but to someone like me, one that is passionate about games and other game-related merchandise in general, it is very disappointing. Reading a physical form of literature gives a different feeling than sitting in front of a computer screen. Sure, you may get crisp, HD pictures, but from actually holding the paper in your hand, it’s fascinating. Looking at the pictures and the artwork, reading the character bios, the news articles, the interviews and the instructions of how to play the game — all these experiences are interesting and rewarding.
With the advancements of technology, namely the Internet, physical literature is becoming less relevant. We have websites that can update immediately as news is announced, we have phones and e-mails that can instantly send us notifications of updates. We no longer have to sit at a computer, connect to the internet, and visit a website. We have mobile devices that we can use at anytime, anyplace at all. Instant is the keyword. No longer do we have to wait for a new magazine to come out to find out the latest news, and this is why interest in magazines is starting to decline.
Many wonder why magazines are still in circulation, and I can understand their stance to a point, but as explained above, it’s the different feeling you get while reading one. Though it doesn’t occur as often as it used to, sometimes magazines do have breaking, exclusive news. Of course, this is quickly leaked online, but it is a triumphant accomplishment and feeling for the magazine editors. Instead of the whole world, they are the ones that find out first. Think of it like a band you really love: they’re not that popular, but you get your friends into them, and then they slowly start to gain more of a following. With the ignorant “I don’t like them now because they’re popular” viewpoint aside, it makes you feel good that you knew about something great before anyone else. I don’t enjoy magazines just to read the news or previews — of course, I can do that online at anytime — it’s also because of the screenshots and the exclusive articles, and not to mention the free posters and comics!
Without getting into a huge debate over this subject, I think strategy guidebooks are a great way to enhance your game. It’s not cheating, though it does tell you exactly what to do, but in this day and age, that’s okay. Most games now have tons of secrets and extras and there is no way you will be able to find everything on your own. Even if you do, there are still probably a hundred things you could do and never know about. You can go online and quickly search for what you need, but what if your Internet is down? What if your computer is broken or you have no other way of getting online? It’s great to have a backup, and as a bonus, most guides come with exclusive screenshots and artwork; some even have posters and special items to help you track your progress. I have a walkthrough book of a game I don’t even own. One reason is because it was 49 cents, but mainly, it’s for the act of owning it.
The most important thing to me, however, are game manuals. I have a stack of forty manuals in my room from games that I don’t even own. Reading through them, they usually feature short biographies of the characters, and most of the time, it explains a little bit more about them that is featured in the actual game, usually their age or their hometown. It also gives you a refresher of how to play the game. Sometimes you may forget how to do or use something, and the manuals give you a short yet in-depth tutorial on how things are done. It also provides the credits of the game, which is interesting to go through. As online media grows, so does literature decline. To my knowledge, every game is still shipped with a game manual, but there are many problems that plague a manual from greatness.
- Flimsy paper
Though it may help with the environment, one issue is that some manuals have thin pages. A good manual has a thicker cover and back, with the pages inside thinner. Compared to some manuals, however, the inside pages are still thicker than one with thin pages throughout. Instead of the thicker cover, all pages are just as thin and feel cheap in your hand. A prime example of this is the PS2 manual for the game Black.
- Too short/not in-depth enough
One of the main problems I have is that most manuals aren’t long enough. Take the Call of Duty games for example, or even the Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Wii manual I have. I understand that most things are already explained in the game, but it’s nice to have the manuals to read more in-depth tutorials or even things about the characters or levels. Another example is the Black manual, as it literally only has seven pages of instructions.
- Black and white
Remember when television was a new thing and everything was in black and white? Haven’t we moved on from this? For some manuals, apparently no, we have not. I can enjoy black and white video, but a book without color? Think of a children’s book, such as a Dr. Seuss story. Imagine if there were no color, but the whole book was in black and white instead. Would it be enjoyable to read through? The answer is no. Would it be enjoyable to read through a black and white game manual? The answer is still no. Another example is the Black manual. Though some are in black and white in content, most of their covers are actually in color, namely the Call of Duty manuals.
- Too plain in design
Some game manuals are in-depth enough, with good information, color and screenshots, but sometimes there’s not a lot of creativity. Usually, the same background is used for each page that isn’t extravagant itself, but also doesn’t have artwork, and only features a few screenshots. Borderlands is a good example of an otherwise good manual, but too plain in design. Another prime example would be the Black manual.
- Too short in black and white with flimsy paper that is too plain
Have I mentioned the Black manual is terrible? It is guilty of every offense. It’s too short; there’s no color to it at all (not even the cover); it has flimsy paper without a thick cover; and it’s too plain — the background is composed of random bullet holes, and there’s only one picture in the entire seven pages! I have over 140 games with a manual to almost every single one, plus the forty I have collected, and it is by far one of the worst manuals that I have in my whole collection. This only rivals the manual for Gears of War Triple Pack. It’s just a piece of paper that gives you links of to the manuals online. This is somewhat understandable, as it is a collection of games in one case, but they still could have provided a thick manual featuring both games. I personally and literally went through my entire game library and looked at every single manual, but never found one worse than these two. They are both the plainest, shortest and worst manuals in the near 170 that I have.
One “excuse” of poor manuals is because of a reprint. I have the original black-label manual for Final Fantasy VIII and the green-label Greatest Hits version as well. The original is a fantastic manual, and the re-release is still a good one, but it is now in black and white. I understand using thin paper and not using color ink in order to save money, but it takes away from the experience. Usually when a game is re-released, it is cheaper than its initial price, so reprinting the manual in a condensed manner helps save the company a little money per game.
Disadvantage: Higher cost per game for publisher
Common with any form of publishing, of course, it also increases the cost of producing and releasing a game. As if developing the actual game isn’t costly enough, the publisher must also pay for the complete packaging (the disc, case, manual and plastic wrapping). Most companies cut corners, such as the issues listed above, to reduce their costs.
Advantage: Exclusive extras and design
One advantage to manuals is that, though rarely, they can include exclusive content. The Family Guy Video Game manual I have is a great example of a well-done manual (although it’s in black and white). If that wasn’t enough, it also includes a sneak peak at a Family Guy comic. It isn’t anything amazing, but it is an extra incentive to own the manual, and I occasionally go back to look over it, especially for the comic at the end. The Sly Cooper 3: Honor Among Thieves manual even includes a free pair of 3D glasses!
Some manuals are also made with special designs. The original Ratchet & Clank manual is an actual poster, and the Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario World manual includes a small poster as well. Some even include passwords to access a demo on the game disc. For example, the Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal manual includes a code to access the Sly 2: Band of Thieves demo and the manuals from the Spyro PS1 series include codes for games in the Crash series.
The best manuals
From my experience and by looking through my collection, I have come to conclude that the best manuals are usually from the Ratchet & Clank, Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy series and other RPGs in general. Other good examples are the manuals from Wii games. Not all, but most of the ones I have are colored, in-depth and creative.
Video killed the radio star, iPods killed CD’s and Internet killed physical literature. It’s a vicious cycle, but as usual, once technology advances, it leaves behind other forms of media. While these items (such as VHS or cassette tapes) may be fun to collect for nostalgia, these things are no longer popular or used. Collect what interests you now for it may become obsolete in a few years.