Affordance (Also: Usability, Discoverability, Intuitiveness)
The quality of an object or environment that allows a Player to intuitively discern and perform the gameplay action associated with that object or environment.
In his most profound philosophical work Being and Time, Martin Heidegger makes a distinction between two types of attitudes that we can have toward an object. First, an object can be “present-to-hand”, which means that it exists and we can observe it and theorize about it. Heidegger claims that this is an uncomfortable mode for us, that it is inferior to the more natural second attitude where an object has an immediate purpose, which he calls being “ready-to-hand”.
Imagine you are walking through a Home Depot and see a collection of hammers hanging from pegboard in the tool section. Let’s say you are an English major and you have never seen a hammer before. You might assume that you had stumbled into an unusual art gallery and start admiring the variety of colors and shapes the artist had created. Clearly they are a phallic representation of our patriarchal history…
In this example, you would be treating the hammers as if they were “present-at-hand”. In a game, every time the player is forced to stop and think about the possible actions an object affords they are forced out of their flow state. If this happens too often they will never be able to relax and enjoy the game.
Now imagine you are in a burning building and the only exit is blocked by a flimsy plywood door. This time when you see the hammer on the wall you do not perceive it as an object, but as a tool with a clear purpose. There is no hesitation because there is no analysis. The hammer is “ready-at-hand” and that door is “ready-to-smash”. There is no break in flow because both the hammer and the exit door have clearly perceived affordances.
This is especially important in games, because the player cannot even begin to play until they understand what actions they can take. The faster they can understand what is possible, the earlier they can get past the theorizing state and into the flow state of proper play.