I am, at the moment, having an argument with myself.
On the one hand, I firmly believe that the DM's privilege of running a campaign is dependent upon the players. The DM is effectively 'chosen,' or in the very least tolerated by the players, enabling the DM to have authority and run the campaign. If the players don't wish to play, they can shut the campaign down by not turning up.
Of course, there are many DMs who believe the contrary. They are responsible for their own campaign, they do the work, the players are lucky to be able to play, etc. "No one 'grants' me the right to be a DM, I earn that by doing all the work," etc.
There are going to be the inevitable fence-sitters who rise up now and say, "It's both, yes, it's everyone working together ..." Cue sappy tone of voice and bright shiny eyes staring into the distance, thinking of a time when the whole world joins in union to live life in perfect harmony.
I don't believe it's 'both.' I think that's a very convenient evasion of the fact that the players can force the DM's game to end, while the DM cannot force the players to play. Of course, the DM can also force the game to stop, but does that really make sense? The DM works on the world so the moment can come to play and the DM says, "Well, fuck you all, I don't like you, we're not playing."
Naturally, the DM can always wander off and find a different group of players. Except that the DM will still be beholden to them to run the campaign, so it's really just trading off either bosses or consumers for the DM's product. The latter there, however, certainly makes it sound like the DM is in control, the DM has produced something and now it's being flogged around to find buyers who are ready to buy into the product and play. The recent culture has even embraced the term, "buy in," in order to reflect this premise that the onus is on the players to bow down and acquiesce to the DM's product.
And thus, the argument I am having with myself.
It doesn't take much thought to recognize that any product that is provided to anyone to satisfy a need is, in fact, the making of money from servicing people ... or as George Orwell called the restaurant business in Down and Out in Paris and London, a servile practice, one that is done by a slave. So there you have it. The DM may be in charge of the product, but the product itself is fundamentally one of servility, in that the player's needs - for a good game, presumably - are being satisfied in exchange for their attention and appreciation. The DM might go find another party to play in the DM's game, but this is done hat in hand, with the proviso that the DM is reduced to begging.
Aha, says the opposition, doesn't the player also come begging? Doesn't the player plead with the DM, "Please let me come play in your game?" It certainly looks like the DM has all the keys, and all the power, and that if the DM closes the door, the player is out of luck. It's not like a restaurant, because the DM can close the doors if you don't happen to dress properly or if you speak incorrectly or if you're just plain annoying to the other customers.
Of course, you can just start your own campaign.
That leads, I think, to the difficulty of starting a campaign. If DM's are truly 'talent,' then they offer something that you, the player, cannot obtain on your own. You can't make food that tastes as a good as what a restaurant can provide, or in the very least you can't provide it for yourself as conveniently, in your car on the way home. For that privilege, you're ready to eat absolute shit ... and in the same light, showing up on a Friday night without having done even as much as rewriting your character sheet, you're all set to play having done no prep work at all.
So the DM is in control, nyet? The DM has the talent, the DM is the gatekeeper, the DM sets all the rules for behavior and what restrictions the game will follow ... and the player had better just suck that down and be grateful they're allowed to sit in the DM's hallowed presence.
I guess where my issue lies is that if the DM does have anything remotely like that attitude, they're more than likely to behave in a manner that demands their own importance, including intimidating and influencing players to make them grateful when they are not, or to demand that the attention at the table be directed at themselves, while DMs pursue a set of behaviors that are set to compensate for their miserable lives outside the game, or their miserable childhood, or their personal enjoyment derived from killing player characters, or watching players fight one another, like Elvis dragging in hookers to wrestle each other while offering more money to the one that gouges deeper. There are many DM's who silently ingratiate themselves on their own importance while cheerfully directing players to participate in a different fantasy game, one that is at the same time gladiatorial and sycophantic, at the expense of players who have been browbeat into believing that they are lucky as hell just to be in the company of this great fellow who has deigned to work so hard to make the game possible.
THAT, I think, is the central reason why players have problems in games ... it is because they are mistreated by DMs who simply fail at being human beings, who manage still to delude players into thinking there are no other options, that the players have got to take attend this bastard's game because there are no other games available, and because it is just so gosh darn hard to create a world of their own where everyone plays cooperatively and has a good time. I also think these miscreants running their campaigns are advertisements for every dirty bastard of a player who wants gladiatorial games and are more than prepared to by sycophantic in order to get them.
It isn't so much that the players necessarily ARE in control, but they could be, any time they're willing to cease putting up with this shit together, which they could do by speaking up during a campaign against both the bastards in the player role and the bastards in the DM's chair.
But then, we've been crying for some time now that any time we're willing to get out into the street as a group and threaten to tear down the fucking government, the government will change their tune, but as long as we sit quietly and suck our own tongues down our throats, the corruption and criminal behavior of politicians will continue unchecked. The pitch for unilateral action is about as successful as waiting for a Republican to admit that perhaps God didn't say fuck all about abortion in the Bible because God had never heard of it.
Still, we're not talking about all of society here. We're talking about three or four adult people sitting at a table saying, "You know what, it's time you, the DM, started running a game we want to play in," and seeing what happens.