Which seems like a good enough defnition to me; though I'd expand it to include "...or wouldn't otherwise have done; or forcing a player to not do something he wants to do."
Yeah, it seems like it might work as a definition. It captures the idea that people are going for when they say "railroad is bad", and it does in fact explain why a railroad is bad. But if you think about it a bit more, you'll see why it's inadequate.
To not be a tease, I'll explain. Suppose you are engaged in playing a AAA video game RPG and you play the game make many choices and have a good time. You enjoy it so much that you replay the game, this time determined to make wildly different choices from your first play through and to see what you missed. But to your surprise you discover that that no matter what you choose, the game plays out the same. It doesn't matter what dialogue choices you make, the NPC's end up answering in the same way. The same story beats happen. No choice you make actually effects the ending, you still end up in the same place with only some very minor cosmetic changes. Your attempt to go explore areas you missed fails because it turns out there was never anything to the left or the right of what you chose, or the left and right corridors led to the exact same place through basically the exact same obstacles. The clever solutions you found to bypass difficult fights turned out to be the only way to advance and not the clever sneaky hidden alternate route you thought they were, but really the only solution the puzzle had.
In short, you finish and you scream, "It was a railroad all along?"
Was it not also a railroad the first play through even though you were not forced that play through to do anything you didn't want to do? Did you have to know you were trapped on the rails before it became a railroad, or was it always a railroad?
I say that it is always a railroad and whether or not the player is ever forced to do something he doesn't want to do is irrelevant. Because, whether someone is forced to do something that they want to do or not is at best subjective. The fact that you were tricked into believing you had agency and you were making meaningful choices doesn't make it less objectively linear. A railroad can be detected as such by looking behind the GM's screen (as it were) without anyone playing it and making choices at all.
So The Alexandrian's straw man is indeed a straw man. It's a neat rhetorical trick, and it almost amounts to railroading a conclusion on the reader. But, neat or not, it's a straw man.
That's one. Another essential ingredient is that the players have full in-character decision-making power over what elements of said material they will interact with, and in many cases what form that interaction will take.
I sort of agree. I think the way you state it what you say is implied by what I said. But there is a related thing that I think says it better, and that is that to run a Sandbox the DM must allow choices and events that are not at that moment what he would prefer. If throughout the whole adventure, nothing happens but what you want to happen, then it's not a Sandbox (and is indeed not even a functional adventure path but rather choo choo, all aboard we are on rails). Agreed?
This is an important distinction from what you said because again, if the players believe that they have full in-character decision making power because they are allowed to make any choice that they want, it doesn't in fact mean that they aren't on rails. See point #1.
Disagreed. If I prep nothing but a regional map and some deities (kind of essential if anyone wants to play a Cleric!) and wing the rest in response to what the players have their characters do, how an I railroading?
Because everything that will happen will be only what you decided you wanted to have happen at that moment. With nothing to constrain your choices because you are delaying all your choices to the moment you have to make them instead of making them ahead of time, no matter how studious you are at observing your own biases you will still ultimately be only choosing to have happen what you wanted to have happen in that moment.
It should be obvious on a moment's reflection that this is a vastly more powerful way to ensure the PC's are on rails than prepping a plot based adventure. If you prep a plot based adventure then you have to a lot of a work to keep the PC's on rails. But if you prepare nothing until you need it, well you can accomplish the same prepared plot without having the PC's ever the wiser. A truly skilled rail roader does exactly what you suggest - prep the grand ideas and then implement his plans as if they were just the natural response of the setting to whatever choice the player made, whatever that choice was.
Perhaps, but one can intentionally choose to eschew some or all of those elements.
I'm not saying you can't. I'm just saying that there is a continuum, and everyone is on it. The ones that aren't aware of the techniques that create a railroad are perhaps the furthest to the linear end of the continuum because they aren't intentionally eschewing them.
Indeed; though that middle is a big area with many gradations.
Oh absolutely. And many good GMs exploring those spaces.