064 The Reduction Of Affordances

Affordances are things that the player is able to do, within the interactive environment of gaming. In many games, affordances typically start out limited (for example, I can run and jump at level one) and slowly grow (by level six I can swim), and eventually plateau at a certain functionality (at level ten I’m flying).

I’m interested in the idea of creating a game that reduces these affordances rather than adding to them, as is traditional. This is something that is commonly seen in certain genres of games: the game starts with a protagonist that has near superhuman abilities and can do everything and more that they need to in order to complete their goals. Suddenly, and soon after the game starts, the character loses all of these abilities and must spend much of the game search/gaining these abilities back. This is partially a storytelling mechanism, and partially a way to get players excited about “what will eventually be,” while still creating a game with substantial length and goal achievement.

What if, instead, the game gives you all of these affordances from the start, and the player slowly begins to lose them, as the game progresses. Like reverse progression, or a “level down.” It makes much more sense, actually. In life, it’s much more noticeable when we lose an affordance (for example, I’ve suddenly lost my ability to run quickly because I broke my ankle), than it is when we gain an affordance (I’m now able to bench press 250 pounds; but only after I was first able to bench press 240, and 230, and 220, etc…). And, typically after a certain age, we are exclusively losing affordances on a yearly basis, other than our own knowledge.

It’s like a reverse skill tree; instead of excitedly picking what new ability you’ll gain next, you’re carefully deciding which aspects you’re willing to give up.

March 5, 2015