Reading manuals after buying new games was a rite of passage for me through the 1990s and into the next decade. My game-buying ritual was always the same: I’d hit the game store inside of the local mall, pick up my game(s), head down to the Food Court to get something to eat, and then… I’d crack open the game/games and start reading. It often boosted my excitement level and, when I arrived back at home, I would be ready to play. I’d know about the controls, the characters, the story, and more.
I also appreciated manuals because they were easy to refer to while in the midst of a play session, if you got stuck or confused. It was as easy as hitting the Pause/Start button, grabbing the manual, brushing up quickly on what you needed to know, and then resuming play. Manuals were instant references, too; you didn’t need a device or internet access to read them at will, nor did you need to back out of what you were doing to access the manual from within the game (as players do today).
I read a lot of anti-manual arguments. They’re apparently wasteful, or they kill the environment, or they’re unnecessary because modern game design requires lengthy tutorial levels to guide players through games. I don’t subscribe to any of these arguments, personally. Eliminating manuals is primarily a cost-cutting measure, which consumers don’t benefit from at all. In addition, games that have fairly complex play controls– a fighting game, for example, becomes more difficult when move lists aren’t immediately accessible. In-game move lists require players to pause the game, navigate to the move list, scan the list for the proper input, then resume. Manuals, on the other hand, could stay open next to the player for reference.
At the very least, older games will still have their manuals… if you can find them. I still take time to leaf through my collection of manuals and I marvel at what once was. Sure, some were funny, others might have had weak artwork, and still others may have been bare-bones… but they served a purpose and were, at the very least, fuel to get people pumped up and ready to play.