This is the actual manual that came with a copy of one of my all-time favorite video games, Earthbound. Coming in at approximately 100 pages, the book itself was bigger than the cartridge and the box that it came in, which was a rarity at the time. But as I was reminiscing with friends this past weekend, I started thinking about those manuals that came with video games and computer games in the late 80s and all the way through the 90s. They were treasures, almost as fun to read and pore through as the games themselves. I remember fondly sitting in the car on the way back from Blockbuster (an example of a company that floundered when they started looking for an instruction manual... but we'll get to that in a minute!), flipping through those booklets to figure out how I was going to spend the next few days enjoying the game I was bringing home.
And then, for a variety of reasons, those manuals started shrinking. It wasn't that video games became less complex - a casual gamer in the 90s might argue that a manual the size of the one that came with Earthbound is necessary for most of the video games they see "hardcore" gamers playing nowadays - but the information contained within them became integrated into the games themselves. When processing power was limited and you could only pack so many hours of gameplay into a cartridge, publishers didn't want to spend the first half hour of a video game explaining the premise and the controls. You were usually thrown headfirst into the game.
In fact, players of the original Super Mario Bros. game are usually shocked to find out, years later, the true backstory of the game.
DISCLAIMER: Since the Mario franchise has so many pieces and parts, the true backstory is disputed. My version is based on the (hilarious) Super Mario Bros. television show theme song, as well as an instruction booklet or two. I'm sure there are countless interpretations.
While I thought that I was being a good citizen of the Mushroom Kingdom and fighting valiantly to rescue the princess, I was actually playing a castaway. Mario and Luigi weren't actual denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom, they were brought there in a plumbing accident(!) in what was probably our own reality. Everyone knows that Toads (and the occasional humanoid female, for some reason) are the majority "race" in that world, but did you know that their tiny little bodies were turned into the very same blocks that Mario mindlessly smashes into in pursuit of gold coins? Yeah, that one blew my mind also.
I digress. As the technology improved, video games began a marked transition into training the player as part of the game. You could usually count on the first level or two being an obvious tutorial, teaching you the commands and controls necessary to function in the game. The most innovative games made you feel as if you weren't participating in a tutorial... which is the real point of this post.
I know plenty of people who want a 100-page instruction manual for everything that they do in life. We all know these people! But unfortunately, there are few things simple enough to condense into a set of instructions. And as your work includes more and more people in it, you start to understand that the instruction manual isn't given to you on Day One of the job. Instead, you spend your first few days awkwardly stumbling along until you get a feel for how to function, and then you're given more and more scaffolding to help you solve the larger problems. But sometimes, you're faced with a trial that there is just not a clear solution for.
This has two implications for readers of this blog: one, this is how every classroom and school in America should be set up. Two, this is how every person who works with infants, toddlers, young children, teenagers, young adults, adults, and the elderly - namely, every single person on the planet - should be prepared to work. There is no instruction manual anymore, and there probably won't be a time when we return to printing one up for every situation. If we succeed at number one, training our children to think this way, it won't be difficult to make the transition.