In response to "Out of the D&D Closet" from The Escapist Forums: Give me a break. You sat in on one session and just watched another, and suddenly you've got the whole thing and all of its infinite possibilities figured?
Look, I love video games as much as anybody, but I don't think you could ever rightly call any of them true RPGs. Tabletop games offer a level of real free will that video games likely will never be able to replicate until real AI is invented in a form that can duplicate the imagination of a human DM.
As to the matter of coercing players into doing the "right" thing or the party having to fulfill a specific quest being a necessary evil in tabletop world, actually, it is not, and thus the game is not limited as the author has put forth. As a DM/GM of going on thirty years' experience, I can't tell you how many times I have allowed the party to split, and either took turns gaming both groups, cutting back-and-forth as in a movie, or simply scheduled two individual sessions until they got back together again.
The limitation here comes from various sources: the rigidity of what is essentially tournament play (which really is a much rarer form of gaming and should not be used to represent the whole); or the limitations of the GM's imagination, which I submit may actually come from that GM's overexposure to the way video games work. In other words, while it's possible the GM was simply a stubborn guy or not good at thinking on his feet, it's much more likely that his determination to coerse the difficult player into playing along had more to do with his using video games as a model for adventure planning.
Nearly every group I've ever been involved with (and certainly the ones I GM) value free will and will either prepare for a rogue character wandering off, or will improvise something to accomodate her.
As for those of you who say that they've had DMs created totally open and free worlds, I'd have to see this to agree with you. I really don't understand how that could be played as a game with rules.
As a GM I try to create an open world for my players.
In reality, I'm well aware that I don't - not fully. Your instinctive thoughts that it's damn near impossible to create a totally open world for people to play in is pretty accurate.
And to a degree, you normally don't want to give your players complete freedom, because it makes it difficult for the game to progress (complete freedom being "Here's the world, there's your character. What do you do?") - your players need at least a bit of direction from you as GM.
I just try to create a world where I know roughly what's going on away from and around the players, I have some detailed NPCs for them to meet (so that when they interact with them, it doesn't matter how they interact, I can work with it) and basic outline for a plot (some of it built on the backstory of the PCs).
I can usually prepare a fair bit of detailed stuff in advance by guessing what they're going to. And in every single session, they do something I haven't prepared for, and I have to wing it (sometimes with more success than others). Most of the roleplaying is therefore the players interacting with things and dealing with the consequences.
I think the real goal with roleplaying is to give your players as much freedom of choice as they (and you) can manage.
In response to "On the Origin of Games" from The Escapist Forums: I have to say, as a biologist myself, I absolutely loved the analogy to evolution. Though if we're going to go the biology route, should we consider video games and tabletop games as separate species? After all, they were able to produce viable offspring (Baldur's Gate) which could produce their own offspring (Baldur's Gate II). In the classic species concept, this makes both the same species. Or am I overthinking this?
Great use of the tools developed for thinking about evolution to think about gaming! I think this analogy might also be powerful for talking about how games change over time in a way that acknowledges that change happens in an adaptive fashion without falling into the "newer = reflects more progress = better" fallacy.
Since we're all academics here, allow me to quibble about 1988 as the date for the first passable D&D videogame. Over at the OD&D boards I was surprised to see how far back the replies to "what are the most old school D&D rules you know of in a Roguelike or other computer game?" go; TUTOR programming on the dnd game seems to have begun the same year D&D was first published! I haven't played dnd, but I know that back in the early '80s the original Wizardry struck me as a more than passable representation of the part of D&D I cared about most at the time, as did Moria when I discovered it in '88.