There is a recurring sentiment in gaming culture I find fascinating, since it seems an utter paradox. Here’s a recent and clear assertion of it:
Railroading is forcing players down a narrative route . If the players think it’s their decision, they’re not being forced. Agency is in the mind of the player; they can feel they have it when they don’t and they’ll be happy. But if they don’t feel they have any, even when they do, they’ll become disenfranchised.
A DM’s job is to make it so the players always feel like they have agency, to make them feel their characters are in danger. D&D is a game of illusions, and the DM is the man behind the curtain.
It is so odd. For example, how could players ever get disenfranchised? Consider the chronology of disenfranchisement
- The DM makes the players follow his decision
- The players feel it is their decision
- The players somehow begin to realise it is not their decision
- The players are disenfranchised
Okay, so if it is not railroading when the players feel it is their decision, how could players ever get to step 3 when by the logic of the quote in step 3 there is no railroading to detect?? Like Schrodinger’s cat being both alive and dead, somehow it is both railroading and not railroading at the same time?
Ultimately it’s probably pretty simple – the whole notion likely comes from the idea that the agency described is the best agency you can get. The idea being the best agency you can get is one where the GM is making the decisions – the only thing to consider is if the players have their nose rubbed in it that the GM makes the decisions or they are relatively witless that he makes the decisions.
The idea of an agency where the players actually make the decisions – it’d probably sound ludicrous to anyone who has advocated the quote for a long time.