I thought the article was quite good, and in some ways, I certainly agree. On my recent (and first) attempt at Deus Ex, thanks to the defunct Video Game Circle, I decided early on that I didn't feel like killing anyone. Two or three levels in, and I found myself decidedly short on taser charges and tranq darts, with enemies that would rather shoot me to death after a single hit with my solid steel stick, than fall over nicely. Rather than admit defeat, I found the console commands for spawning tranq cartridges, and happily went on my way.
On the other hand, certain games without sufficient structure leave me with nothing to do but invent my own goals. Like life, these bore me terribly, because if someone else isn't giving me some sort of direction, I lack any creativity. Unlimited freedom can be absolutely paralyzing for some, myself included. As some engineers I know would say, thinking outside the box is not the solution, we just need a bigger box.
As a side note, I was entertained to see that, aside from Simon, you pointed the accusatory finger at no other game, thus providing an article with very little onto which the fanbois can latch.
Well then, allow me to improvise:
I both agree and dissagre. Oblivion provided me one of my greatest gaming experience since the game is a empty shell, you have to fill in the framework yourself, letting me enjoy my own generic fantasy adventure. I really took part in the game, it really was interactive.
Then again Grim Fandango or Psychonauts present you with little choice for anything (Fandango especially) but both are incredibly enjoyable experiences anyway. I guess it all depends on how good the designers are at creating good "art" and how good they are at creating game worlds where the players can express themselfs.
Nice article, though I'm not as irked by more constricting game experiences.
Like Geoffrey42 mentioned, there can be cases when a game is just "too open". While it's great to be able to do anything you want, without any structure the whole thing gets boring after a while, no matter how enjoyable individual game mechanics may be.
I can definitely enjoy games like Call of Duty 4, which pretty much gave you 1 path, 1 direction, and no questions. It was pretty much the "anti-Oblivion", a game that was limiting almost to a fault; and yet, it was one of the most satisfying experiences I've had. Sure, the satisfaction was rarely from a decision I made, but the guys at Infinity Ward are talented enough that like a skilled movie-maker, they can make you feel as if you are being truly involved in everything that's going on. And I think that's what really matters; you don't necesarily need a very free-form game like Geo Wars to feel that way.
In the end, though, it pretty much all comes down to what your personal preferences are. Some people like open endings, others like some kind of definitive closure. Some people want to read manuals before doing anything, others want to find out the rules by themselves.
I think it's almost a "mood" for me. At certain points I feel like being led by the hand, and I think being led is a form of immersion to me. As was mentioned, Call of Duty 4 fit that bill perfectly. Other times I want to get in up to my neck and control the world around me, which is the main reason I still play Neverwinter Nights regularly.
I suspect that most people have a dual nature in this case.
Even seemingly 'open-ended' games promise freedom whilst at the same time prohibiting expression. Oblivion succeeded in providing a character creation/evolution framework that was highly granular whilst not being stupidly complex. That was a big achievement. Its world was (at least on release) mind-bogglingly big, luciously detailed and free to roam at any given time. Another plus. However, what let me down was how one dimensional and 'lifeless' quests and interactions with NPCs were. Maybe no more so than every other game up to that point, but still, I had expected a little more.
Once you've played the speechcraft game for the seven-hundred-and-fiftieth-time, you start to understand that the 'role playing' aspect of Oblivion is more 'choose your race, equipment & demeanour, collect your role on the way out'. Oblivion's highly linear quest/NPC interaction structure was pretty much the only letdown for me - but still a major one, as it neon lit the hoops the game provided.
IMO, the inflexibility of storyworld information and character is one of the last major hurdles games need to overcome (particularly RPGs, which would likely benefit most from more dynamic, generative structures for their narrative content). To this end, I'm currently pursuing a PhD on related issues. Will let you know if we manage to crack it. Don't hold your breath, though...
Also, though CoD4's story mode succeeded in being compelling and throughly linear, this is completely counter-balanced by the online multiplayer. CoD4's multiplayer modes take done-to-death formats, trim the excess fat, add some muscle and adrenaline, and comes out with that magic game quality Matt talks about - total freedom of expression within well-defined gameplay limits. Right down to the custom character classing, CoD4 nails it.
You have to admit, if CoD4 was just the single player modes (which are great, don't get me wrong), you'd struggle to see how you'd got your money's worth.