Video Script – The Death of Video Game Instruction Manuals

From killing trees to killing… the thing the trees made, or something, I don’t know this sounded better in my head

Note: the writing with a strikethrough is cut content.

The year is 2005. Eight year old me has just purchased this year’s hottest new video game, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, and is getting in the car for the long ride home. That’s when he has a harrowing revelation. He’s about to have a long ride home. How the hell is his eight year old brain going to survive a ten minute drive with nothing to hold his attention? He can’t look out the window, he’s in the UK so the only thing he’ll see is grass and depression. He can’t play his Nintendo DS, he’s broke as fuck so can’t afford one. Out of options, he resorts to… reading the instruction manual.

The first few pages were as horrid as expected. Boring blocks of disclaimers. Logos accompanied by words he didn’t understand [show the drugs one]. A third example that I can’t think of because, seriously, there’s no material to work with here these first few pages suck. But then, everything changed.

On the next page, he sees a conversation. A conversation between the two main characters. Discussing the story of the game. Joking with one another. Shocked, eight year old me turns the page, denouncing this fun page as a fluke. On that page, he sees a puzzle. On the next, another. Just like that, without going through the ritual of putting the disc in and fearing the sight of this [PS2 hell screen], he had been warped into the game’s world. He had become familiar with the characters. He had coloured outside of the lines, for fuck’s sake

When he got home, he checked out his other instruction manuals and was equally blown away. He loved how he could look at the art assets up close. Even though HIS drawings looked like they were drawn by an amputee – that’s dead – being able to look at the beautiful work was enchanting. At a moment’s notice, he could stare at Rayman’s butthole. At a moment’s notice, he could see an up close version of Hunter’s character model from Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly. (Chuckles) Maybe that’s not a good idea

I also love them because, thanks to the advertising on the back, they act as time capsules of the era. I love DVDs because they open with the goofy trailers of that era – YOU WOULDN’T DOWNLOAD A CAR YOU PIECE OF SHIT LOSER WITH A SMALL PENIS – and instruction manuals have that same effect. Nothing beats looking through the Activision catalogue, or flipping over my copy of Spyro: A Hero’s Tail to read about the game of the year contender, The Energy… Thieves. My personal favourite is the back of The Simpsons: Hit & Run. Bart Simpson stares into your soul like he masturbates to you while you sleep and, for some reason, it features this “buy seasons one and two” tag that looks like you’re supposed to cut it out but, it’s not a sticker so, what am I supposed to do with this? [putting it on fridge]

Of course, Rockstar were always the best at this. Their instruction manuals were in-game tourist guides, packed with information about the open world, pieces of satire and even some easter eggs, like Vice City Stories referring to someone as “The Son of God” or San Andreas’ credits HOLY SHIT [Bigfoot]. These enriched the already stellar worlds for me and, even better, gave me a poster that made sure I’d never lose my virginity [Rockstar poster on wall as I give it a thumbs up]

I realised instruction manuals died when GTA V’s wasn’t like these. I actually recorded the very moment I opened its instruction manual and 16 year old me sums up my thoughts pretty well. [“It’s shit” clip from GTA V Midnight Launch] This era did have SOME nice manuals, for example the Batman games had a comic book in the manual, but they were far and few between and by the time the 3DS and Sony’s least favourite child [PS Vita] came out, manuals had shifted to a digital medium.

Nintendo had some cool digital manuals but, a big part of the novelty was having Rayman’s butthole in the palm of your hands. Looking at it on the screen felt no different than looking at it in-game, which defeated the point of it for me.

So if they’re so great, why did they die out? Many theorise it’s because it cuts down costs but, I actually think it’s the opposite – I think it’s because they don’t MAKE money. I’ve never once looked at a game, thought “ehh it doesn’t look that- HOLY FUCK” [before “holy fuck”, show looking at game, then opening case and seeing manual. After, slam money on table]. And honestly, prior to doing this video, I hadn’t actually looked at an instruction manual in years. As such, I can completely understand why developers stopped making them. 

Instruction manuals are things I don’t necessarily miss, but am glad existed. They were the original collectibles and I’m glad that, from time to time, I can open a PS2 case and appreciate the artists’ hard work in a new way. Or experience new tidbits of information about a game I love. Or be traumatised for life. [Hunter’s Enter the Dragonfly face] I can’t think of a good way to end this so I guess I’ll cut myself off just as I think of a great final OH MY GOD THAT’S IT! Instruction manuals are-

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