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Pamphlet Shelf

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"...why the hell do video game books only have one page in them? Even Chick Tracts have like 24 pages."

Going on an adventure doesn't always mean you have to hack your way through hundreds of monsters to save the world. Sometimes, you'll want to take a break from all of the killing and relax with a good book. Luckily, whenever The Hero visits his local library, there'll always be tons of books on the shelves, but he'll always find the one book on the shelf with information that's somehow relevant to the quest at hand. Of course, some ordinary people like to keep books in their homes, too. They're not always relevant to the quest, but like the stuff in the library, it's still good enough for a quick read. And we mean quick. Snap-your-fingers-and-you're-done quick.

Usually, books within a video game hardly contain enough text to fit on a full real-world page. This can easily be written off (no pun intended) as an Acceptable Break From Reality. Sure, it may sound kinda silly, but when there's a world to be saved, you wouldn't want to spend hours skimming through a book to find the information you need.

A common variation on this is to imply that the tiny portion that the player gets to read is merely an excerpt, or a summary of everything relevant you managed to glean from it. Curiously, it also seems that not only does every book contain only one page of interest, every bookshelf contains only one book of interest.

In extremely rare cases, the in-game information is in fact as realistically long as you'd expect it to be. In those cases, it's known as the In-Game Novel; even an in-game novel, however, can overlap with this trope, since they're often unrealistically short two-or-three page affairs. A Pamphlet Shelf might be Flavor Text, when the information isn't necessary to understand the plot.


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     Action Adventure  

  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, the starting town has a library where eight books are laid out for reading. One is them is a world map, but all the others barely contain a paragraph of text each. In particular, when you combine the fact that the "secrets" book only contains two lines of text with the fact that you need a magnifying glass to read it, it might as well have fit inside a fortune cookie.
    • Taken to its irrational conclusion in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. The grandmother in the inn offers to read you one of two bedtime stories. The longer tale of the two could easily fit on one or two pages of a real book. The process of listening to the story takes twelve ingame hours and requires you to equip a magical mask if you don't want to fall asleep in the process.
    • Of all the various in-game books in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the most notable example of this is King Rhoam's diary. He wrote in it from the day his daughter Zelda was born up to the day she turned 17, yet it only contains fairly brief accounts of a handful of notable events. Zelda herself has a set of research notes and a diary that are similarly sparse, but it's a bit more justifiable in her case, as she spent much of her time out in the field and thus would have been away from her desk more often.
  • The royal library in Shining Wisdom contains around 10 bookshelves, each one contains about one sentence and most of that is the plot for the previous games in the series.

     Adventure Game  

  • Averted in Myst and its sequels. Although most of the books in the original game were burned and could not be read (the library being burned is core to the plot), it was a shock to be treated to several journals over 20 pages in length. There isn't nearly that volume of reading in the sequels, but Mysts 2-5 each have at least one diary to read, and most have several that can be found. Indeed, finding and reading the diaries is critical to understanding the plot in a game with maybe fifty lines of dialog.
  • Quest for Glory IV has the shelf in the run-down Adventurers' Guild, which actually does contain some pamphlets. Rather than making the player hunt for each book, however, interacting with the bookshelf simply brings up a list of the readable books.
  • Averted in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, where the library mostly contained irrelevant books, and finding the useful ones was part of the puzzle. On the other hand, the book of quotations did contain remarkably few quotes.

     First Person Shooter  
  • In Deus Ex, ellipses help indicate that you didn't just read everything in the book. Sometimes it's even a real book, like The Man Who Was Thursday, and you get to see only a few paragraphs from the middle.
  • In Marathon, you get to kick back at computer terminals dotted around the eponymous colony ship and read all sorts of snippets from Martian history to philosophical articles to classified ads to chunks of hexadecimal garbage. The compactness and relevance of most terminal texts is implied to be from malignant cyborgs and sentient (not to mention completely bonkers) computers battling each other.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Downplayed with the documents you sometimes are assigned to find or steal and bring back to the interested party. You can read them from the PDA, and while they're not fully self-contained, they provide multiple pamphlets' worth of e-mail messages and/or reports both military and scientific.
  • Unreal: You can read logs found on screens, books and a few corpses with the help of the Universal Translator. In all cases the contents are rarely longer than six lines and two paragraphs.

     Interactive Fiction  

  • Justified in Zork Nemesis; with most of the many books lying around, you can only read a few pages, but often the last page will end mid-paragraph, implying that there's a full-length book the player character is too lazy to read all of.


  • During the Inventing tutorial in City of Heroes, one task you are given is to read a specific book. The entire contents of said book are sufficient to fill one dialog window, and no more.
  • In World of Warcraft, information comes in two forms, items in your inventory and books lying out on tables. Items are often letters or notes specifically given to you and written in full (sometimes brief, sometimes verbose) details. Books (both in inventory and more often out) are not quite as full as a book should be, although they contain numerous pages worth of lore. Few if any books have the equivalent of one paperback novel's page of text.
  • Played with in Mabinogi. Books are only available for purchase from NPCs, or awarded from quests. The only library doesn't have any readable books. Reading the books gets a visual book with pages that must be turned manually. Length ranges from a single (short) page, to well over a dozen or more. Some of them are guides to various in-game functions, which are useful to read; some are skill-granting artifacts or quest items, which don't need to be read, but which can contain useful info on how to use the skill, or on the quest storyline; and some are completely extraneous, containing nothing but backstory or flavour text. Most of the longest books are the extraneous ones, and the newbie guides.
  • Books in EverQuest II are usually extremely detailed. If the book is written by any race who values record keeping, scientific study, or has lofty imaginations for story telling, then you can expect a book to be many paragraphs long. If the race is more primitive, like orcs, then you can expect the contents to be brief.

     Platform Game  

  • Super Mario Galaxy has Rosalina's book, which is slowly unlocked over the course of the game. It contains Rosalina's biography.
  • In Spyro: Shadow Legacy, various books have the plots of previous games, or other in-game information, boiled down to about three sentences.
  • In Pitfall Planet, the characters will occasionally come across books containing diary entries by an earlier explorer — which is to say that each book contains exactly one diary entry. Lampshaded in one entry:
    ...Oh, and also I found a huge stack of notebooks to use as a back-up in case I lose my diary. I have a bad habit of writing one entry and then losing the diary.

     Puzzle Game 
  • The Story Chalet in Carto is full of books that write themselves, but none of which seems to have more than half a dozen lines of text.

     Role Playing Game  

  • Aidyn Chronicles does this with any books you find. There are a few libraries in the game, all of which only have a few books you can read, and almost all the books contain only the briefest of snippets that don't even fill the page.
  • Subverted by Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura; while there are quite a few short books in the game used to move the story along or used in a sidequest, there are also entire libraries of books that have no connection to the plot and merely exist to create a feeling of depth. Some of them are quite long, at least by in-game RPG standards.
  • Dragon Quest has obeyed this trope from time immemorial; Dragon Quest VIII may count as Lampshade Hanging, as the hero opens every book to the middle (after flipping two pages) and never turns the page, so he's clearly only reading the page he needs to read out of the book.
  • One sidequest early in Fable asks you to collect books for an elementary school teacher for him to read to the youngsters. You don't get to read the entire books yourself, but when you hand each one over to the teacher, he reads them aloud to the children, and all of them actually are that short.
    • Fable II has some actual pamphlet, but all the descriptions of the books simply tell you what they're about in a quick synopsis.
  • Wild ARMs: Averted in Wild ARMs 3 with the Adventure Book quest: you have to find eleven books detailing a children's story and then read the assembled story to a certain little girl. The entire story is told with text and still frame pictures, and while not long enough to be a proper book- let alone span eleven books- it's still quite a substantial text compared to the RPG standard.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Averted throughout the series in which every book shown can be read, though they do cheat a bit by making the actual content of the book being in the density of a pamphlet (as a single in-game book never reach 50 pages in content) and padding the shelves with multiple copies of the same book. These documents range from full blown In-Game Novels like the 2920: The Last Year of the First Era series, The Real Barenziah, King Edward, A Dance in the Fire, and The Wolf Queen to religious texts such as For My Gods and Emperor and 36 Lessons of Vivec, to numerous historical works which help fill in the thousands of years of backstory, to simple notes handwritten by the world's inhabitants to make the world feel more alive (you can literally find the grocery lists of NPCs). Many of the histories presented within the game are contradictory and at odds with each other, leaving it up to the reader to piece together the history of Tamriel for him/herself. For tropes relating to these works, see The Elder Scrolls In-Universe Books page.
    • The series' Skill Books, which instantly raise one of your skills by one when read, also contain short stories related to the skill. For example, The Armorer's Challenge is about a competition between two armorers and, naturally, it raises your Armorer/Smithing skill. The Marksmanship Lesson is about an unconventional archery instructor and, naturally, raises your Marksman/Archery skill.
    • Some books are also simply there for fun:
      • One notable example is The Lusty Argonian Maid, written by the Camp Gay (though technically bisexual) Crassius Curio. It centers around a character named Crantus Colto and his, well, Argonian maid. A quest in Morrowind has you attempting to find actors willing to be in it. (Skyrim adds a sequel, as well as a Gender Flipped version for the ladies, The Sultry Argonian Bard.)
      • Another is Boethiah's Pillow Book, which is entirely represented by:
      "No words can describe what you see. Or what you think you see."
    • In Daggerfall, various books throughout the game hinted what days to summon Daedric Princes and what to expect from it. Later games drop the requirement of specific days and circumstances to summon the Daedric Princes, though mentions of them exist as Artifacts in certain in-game books (such as the Invocation of Azura).
  • Followed in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door; most of the time, if Professor Frankly has to read a book, he opens it right to the relevant page.
    • In addition, a player with coins to burn may purchase, one at a time, the Super Luigi series of books. Like in the Pamphlet trope, these books are rather short; however, they are completely irrelevant to the quest at hand.
  • When larger books are read in the Fallout series, an appropriate amount of time passes while the Player Character peruses them.
  • Entries in the Codex in Mass Effect appear when something relevant occurs in-game; you don't have to read the Codex, but it provides interesting information anyway.
  • Played fairly straight in Knights of the Old Republic. There aren't any shelves or books, but there are datapads, usually containing only a single paragraph or two.
  • Baldur's Gate has completely optional books that are longer than typical examples of this trope, but still vastly shorter than any self-respecting real-world book. They provide a wealth of flavor text, and a few actually are tangibly relevant to the plot (The Dead Three and Time of Troubles)
  • Neverwinter Nights also has the brief, but setting-enriching flavor text books as well.
  • The Pokémon series is guilty of this. Normally, the text is purely for fun, or the character will say something like "A bunch of hard-to-read books are on this shelf," but in Diamond and Pearl a library is a major plot point, and yet it still does this.
    • Played with in Lenora's Gym in Pokémon Black and White, as you only read a few lines from each of her books, but she's hidden vital clues to solving the Gym's puzzles inside some of them.
  • Final Fantasy
  • EarthBound (1994) plays with this when you find a magazine containing a funny short story in a bonus area.
  • Geneforge has a lot of books that are so heavily damaged only a small section of them remains legible. Later games in the series offer other explanations for the speed of reading (Shaper training allows one to learn new things very quickly) and the brevity of the books (most books are composed largely of things over your character's head).
  • Similar to Mass Effect, Dragon Age had numerous notes, letters, books, and interesting bits of masonry that would dump anywhere from a single paragraph to three pages of text into your journal.
    • The sequel has the Player Character perusing his/her own books at home, with comments regarding those which are gifts or recommendations from friends ("101 Uses for a Phallic Tuber? Thanks, Isabela, that's one hundred too many.")
  • The SNES game Robotrek has plenty of this, since beyond plot-related reading the main character learns to produce new items from the Invention Machine by finding "Inventor's Friend" volumes. Then again, the machine just spits items out on demand, so maybe he just copies the CD in the back of the book and leaves the written info to the more hands-on inventors. There's also a hidden library that contains one of each volume in the game (a few of which are exclusive to that area), but it's still one whole tile of bookshelf for each book.
  • Betrayal at Krondor has you come across a library, and it deals with the issue in its trademark manner - you get a long, wordy narration describing your characters trudging through shelves and shelves of dusty ledgers, obsolete textbooks and illegible scribblings to find a little tidbit of information in the margins of a half-hidden combat manual, for example.
  • In Dubloon, you can find a short piece of info about a mysterious captain who searched for the Golden Chest many years ago. This short piece of info can be found in 3 tomes, each lying next to each other.
  • In Dungeon Siege and especially the expansion, there are numerous books lying around to read. However, there's always only a single page that remains legible for various reasons.
  • In Fortune Summoners each shelf in the game contains only one readable book (although, interestingly, the main character is Book Dumb and can't read most of the books, so you have to switch to another character to read them) although some of them are of a fair length.
  • Fantasy Life has a couple of libraries that are like this. The in-game dialogue however, more than makes up for this (it tends to be long enough to annoy the Play the Game, Skip the Story crowd).
  • In OFF, each shelf of real library books has only two pages of text (sometimes barely legible), unless one of them has been torn off and misplaced. Many shelves are fake and have nothing to read. Going by one of the local Elsens' comments, there are more pages but the other Elsens would freak out at the noise and the Batter would rather avoid the hassle.
  • In addition to the miscellaneous books and bookshelves in the rest of the series, there is an entire library of books in Ultima VI. A couple of the books can be traded away, but most are filler. The entire library would make an eight-page chapbook at most.
  • Lampshaded several times in Undertale. One of the books in the library ends with the author's remark about only needing to write a minimum number of pages. Another character's house contains a diary which talks about buying a new book to record each entry.
  • In Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ Omen, the Books of Ys are MacGuffins with not much actual text in them.

     Simulation Game  

  • Harvest Moon:
    • Tutorials sometimes take the form of in-game books found in the Player Character's home. While some get relatively long, they never get anything near the contents of an actual book.
    • The Thriving Ghost Town in which the Player Character lives will sometimes have a library that will either replace or complement any books they have in their home. When such libraries exist, the "only one interesting book per shelf" variation tends to be in effect.
  • Littlewood: One of the objectives is to return all twenty-four of the books that the Grand Library left in the care of various travelers. Getting a book back allows the Hero to read it upon visiting the Grand Library. The contents of the full book collection could easily fit in a small actual book.

     Stealth Based Game  

  • Averted in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, where the extras section has a book, mentioned in the game as being an account of the events of the first game. It is an actual book at 300-some pages.

     Survival Horror  

  • Averted in DayZ, which has about a hundred and fifty real books (public domain, naturally) that can be found in-game and read in their entirety. Some sort of sponsorship deal with a literary association was involved, apparently, but it's certainly a novel way to pass the time while you wait for your buddies to log in for a raid.

     Turn Based Strategy  

  • Final Fantasy Tactics averts the trope with the Germonik Scriptures; choosing to read them leads to Ramza summarizing the contents, after noting that it took him quite some time to get through it.
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the monstery's library contains books the player can open up to read a paragraph or two each giving some exposition about the world's history and most prominent houses.

     Visual Novel  

     Wide Open Sandbox  

  • Body Harvest
  • After the 1.3 update, Minecraft players can write their own books by combining a blank book with a feather and a squid's ink sac. The space per page is 14 lines and 798 characters, the usual size of a typical pamphlet, though nothing stops a determined player from writing a whole In-Game Novel, as each book can be up to 100 pages long.

Non-video game examples:

     Fan Works  

  • Parodied in Turnabout Storm, when Twilight Sparkle gives Phoenix Wright a "'detailed' encyclopedia" on the different species of ponies. It's literally three bullet points long, and Nick finishes reading it in "ten seconds flat". Justified in that the book is meant for very young readers. This gets brought up again a little later, when Nick mistakenly calls Rainbow Dash an earth pony.
    "It's kinda sad I couldn't get down a book with twelve words."

     Web Comics  

     Real Life  

  • Queen Mary's Dolls' House, constructed in the 1920s, was designed as an authentic miniature version of the stately homes of the period, with everything being as real as possible for the size, including working plumbing and light fittings. The library of the Dolls' House contains books that can be opened and read, each containing a single poem or short story.