Here's a TL;DR of your article: "Sandbox games rock, themepark games suck."
Here's a TL;DR of my response: "We know it's a themepark, that's not a bad thing, stop treating that label like a curse word."
Both game types have their audiences, it just so happens that the potential audience for a themepark game is, according to every scrap of data we currently have, far higher than that for a sandbox game. People are not "fooled" into thinking that the games they currently play are true sandboxes; they know that they don't have full control over their world. Guess what, that's not what they're looking for! They're looking for a well-paced adventure, for definite challenges that they can overcome, for defined goals, a sense of progression, and an environment that is only as stressful as you want it to be. In short, they want well-crafted single-player RPG experiences that are delivered over hundreds or thousands of hours, in the presence of millions of other players. This quote here:
What complaints such as these fail to account for is that much of the fun in gaming comes from the conflict and risk that naturally grows from perilous game worlds. What are you truly achieving if you're kept perpetually safe, slowly gaining material items while playing through what can only be honestly defined as a consequence-free environment? At that point, you may as well be playing FarmVille.
shows an absolutely stunning blindness to where "fun in gaming" comes from, at least for other people. Fun, for YOU, comes from organically grown conflict and risk. I, on the other hand, am not building a sandcastle on the beach because I want someone to come and kick it down, I'm building a sandcastle because I want to build a bloody sandcastle. The risk of someone kicking it down is not only nonessential to my fun, it's actually detrimental to it.
You say that the player may as well be playing FarmVille. There's a kernel of truth there, surrounded by a thick shell of stupidity. Let's tackle the shell before we get to the kernel. Obviously, playing an MMO is different from playing FarmVille, even if you are (mostly) guaranteed to win at some point (and there are plenty of MMOs where you are not guaranteed to succeed at all challenges, no matter how much time you spend grinding away at it, because the challenges do take a modicum of skill to beat). Your statement is equivalent to "The single-player campaigns of MW3 and SC2 are essentially the same, since you're just playing through levels against AI until you beat the game." In short: gameplay matters far more than game structure, this is why we have categories called "genres" that we divide games into, and why people say that they like to play FPS games, not "games where I beat up AI for a while and then win." You can't say, "You might as well be playing Farmville," because Farmville does not provide the type of gameplay that I'm interested in.
Now for the kernel of truth in your statement: yes, many games (Farmville, basically all single-player games of every genre, modern themepark MMOs) are primarily designed so that the player will, eventually, beat them. In fact, I'd say the vast majority of games are designed like this. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, there's a reason for that? Maybe there's a reason that people gravitate towards themepark MMOs, with goal and reward structures that are set up similarly to popular games in every genre? It's quite simple: life itself holds enough risk and stress for most people, and this only gets more true as the average age of a gamer gets older. Games are escapism (cue dinging noise as the title of this website lights up) for many people, a way to unwind, socialize, explore, and in general do things without regard for risk or consequences.
I know sandbox games have their place, I know they have their audience, and I know that that audience has been tragically ignored for the past, oh, six years or so (barring the obvious exception of EVE, which isn't for everyone either). But for the love of all things, STOP writing this tripe about how no one understands that their worlds aren't truly alive, how developers are manufacturing conflicts for us, and how there's no real risk in MMOs or gaming anymore. Yes, we know. We want it that way, that's why we buy these games. You're not superior for preferring sandbox games, you just have different tastes, and different reasons for gaming in the first place.
So stop acting like it.