Video game manual

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A typical NES manual.

A video game manual is a set of instructions for how to play a game. Video game manuals are usually printed in the form of a booklet and included with the purchase of the game and typically contain instructions for how to work the controls, a description the game's setting and backstory, and often include copyright and warranty information.

From the advent of video games, manuals were expected to be included with every video game and they often provided all the details about the game that couldn't fit into the severely limited cartridges or diskettes. However, during the 2000s, as the available memory in video games expanded, many video game developers began including instructions and tutorials in the games themselves, making manuals unnecessary. Many games after the 2000s only printed brief manuals with just the most basic instructions for getting the game working, and then expected the players to use the in-game instructions to learn the rest. After that, only premium video games included detailed manuals.


Having grown up in the 8-bit era, every game I bought new came with a printed a manual. I liked having manuals because they gave me something video-game-related to look at when my parents wouldn't let me play. I loved that they improved upon the lore of the games and gave character to otherwise nameless monsters in the game. I remember buying Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, but not having the system specs to actually play it, so I just read the manuals over and over again wishing my parents would upgrade our RAM. Occasionally, the manual would outweigh all of the rest of the game combined, like with SimAnt, and I could just sit and read it as a book. One thing I remember discovering was that the quality of the manual was often a good indicator for how impressive a game would be. I remember buying Gauntlet II on the NES and being very excited for the game, but, when I opened the box on the ride home and saw a poorly-illustrated monochrome manual, I knew to expect a half-hearted game.


For all video game manuals, see the category.
Game Title Released Notes
Final Fantasy VI Final Fantasy III: Instruction Booklet 1994-10-?? Very detailed instructions, lots of screenshots, and art.
The Legend of Zelda The Legend of Zelda: Instruction Booklet 1987-08-22 Many attractive paintings, a full map in clay, many detailed hints.
Secret of Mana Secret of Mana: Instruction Booklet 1993-10-?? Detailed instructions, lots of screenshots, figurines, walkthrough of the first section.
SimAnt SimAnt: The Electronic Ant Colony 1991-12-06 A full book. Not just in-depth instructions, but a miniature encyclopedia about ants.
SimCity (SNES) Dr. Wright's Urban Planning Guide 1991-04-26 Quite long, extremely detailed, and with hundreds of screenshots.
Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge Space Piston 1987-11-14 Includes a full-color comic book for the backstory.
Super Mario Bros. 3 Super Mario Bros. 3: Instruction Booklet 1990-02-12 Very detailed instructions for how to control Mario. Lots of fun cartoons.
Ultima III: Exodus The Book of Play (and others) 1983-08-23 Detailed instructions and backstory. Spell books as well.
Ultima VII: The Black Gate Fellowship 1992-04-16 An in-game book with lots of backstory, nice drawings, and detailed info.
Ultima: Quest of the Avatar (NES) Ultima: Quest of the Avatar - The Book of Lore 1990-12-?? Full backstory, lots of paintings, many screenshots, maps of all the cities, walkthrough for much of the game.
Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss Memoirs of Sir Cabirus 1992-03-21 An in-game book with a lot of backstory and great drawings.
Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant - Playmaster's Guide 1992-??-?? Very detailed, some good drawings.
Yars' Revenge The Qotile Ultimatum 1982-05-?? Includes a full-color comic book for the backstory.