People who know me even a bit know that I love my gaming. This isn't just restricted to pen and paper based role-playing games but as sorts from boardgaming to traditional cards to all sorts of video games. I own an XBox 360 (and have for the past 3 years or so) and before hand, my video game fix was facilitated by a PC. A video game, much like a campaign in a RPG can be a great medium to tell a great and compelling story. Unfortunately, like an adventure scenario, players may feel railroaded along a predetermined set of encounters of challenges.
Now of course, videogames are going to do this -- it's a program designed from start to end to respond to a particular set of variables from start to finish. However, some do it better that others. You have on one end of the equation games like Fallout 3 or the latest Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim. These are pretty much a sandbox -- you can do whatever you want within that sandbox and the actions and path you take will affect the outcome of the games in different ways. Much to the game designers and programmers credit, this is as open as you can conceive a video game experience to be. Most good games play like a good movie or novel -- they throw twists and turn and draw you in as you participate in unfolding the events that move the story forward. A good story will make the participants forget that you are following a script. Either of these approached when it comes to playing in a campaign is fine and with the players participating in writing the script, as long as the GM is a good GM, no one will know for certainly what will happen next. There is nothing wrong with either of these two game designs.
The greatest sin is having an experience where it is painfully obvious and you are almost beaten on the head repeatedly with the fact that there is but one correct path for the game. This is when the game experienced goes beyong 'railroaded' but really is a rollercoaster ride. This is how I differentiate the two. Railroading means being forced down a particular path but despite this, how the participants go down the path is still up for variation and choice. At the very least, it is an illusion of choice. A rollarcoaster ride means not only are you on rails going towards a specific objective, but all the twists and turns are identical. This is game design at its worse.
I bring this up, not because of a bad campaign I ran or one that I've participated in but a video game I've recently been playing. The video game itself wasn't a big hit and, from what I understand, it almost wasn't made or completed. However, there were elements that I found really appealling and, for the price I paid, there was fantastic value for the dollar. For the curious, the game in question is called 'Wet' (reference to wetworks) and I got the game new for $10. Most might think that buying any game for $10 is asking for trouble given the typical costs of videogames but it was an older game and reviews were decent for it. The game is a lot of fun actually and plays / feels like a Tarintino or Rodriguez produced flick. Specifically, it is very 'Grindhouse' and brings to memory cheesy b-movies playing at a drive through. Unfortunately, the game also has sequences which are simply very badly designed. These sequences force the player through a series of moves at key points. If your character is not in the right space at the right time, the character dies and you have to repeat the sequence over again. And again. And so on. One sequence had you in free fall and you were essentially dodging debris and it was truly over the top and could have been very fun. However bad design made if more frustrating than anything else and came down to you being forced to do sequences in an exact manner for the story to continue. Nothing drives me more insane than very bad game design -- no matter the type of game you're playing. Very few things will break the mood or distract you from the story more than this aside from discusssions (debates) in the middle of a game session because of a poorly implemented rule. Either way, if forces the game / story to grind to a halt.