"My realization led me to view that each inconsistent hand-wave was sort of a backhand to my players creativity. I had been beating them behind an electrified fence that became my world. Their creativity learned not to cross certain bounds. The weird part was that they raved about my DMing skills. They always accepted the hand-waving and they were very encouraging. I supposed they were just happy to be playing. I came to see them as sad puppies in a puppy mill."
This, I think, is the most telling paragraph - and one that truly highlights the DM's dilemma in a way that most voices on the internet simply fail to understand. After describing his players' discontent with hand-waved judgments, after describing the going-through-the-motions world that LTW began to feel he was running, after admitting that he was keeping the players back with a stick (and an electrified fence), they're still happy. Yet that's just not good enough. There is a clear understanding that LTW has, that I have, that I think most of my readers have, that the players are just happy because this is all they know . . . and that glorifying in that 'happiness' isn't right. It sours the game, knowing that it could all be better, even if the players don't know it.
In some ways, this is the critical point between starting off as a DM and learning to go right, not left. We've built the world, we've got it working, we've learned that we're substantially just another player . . . but as it has gone we have gathered insight that the players haven't, because we're making the decisions. This is normal. This is how responsibility goes. And when we're ready, as LTW says, to burn down that first world and build a better one, we've accumulated the experience we need to see better how not to just go right instead of left, but to take care of our players, and stop pretending that their being sad puppies in a puppy mill is all right with us.
Of course, we know that some DMs like it. They delight in being the ruler over sad puppies - and then they use that delight online to argue that the existence of sad puppies in their game somehow proves that their way of playing, their game, is right and proper. They lord it over everyone else: "I have sad puppies and that is good enough for me!"
That's always going to happen. As ever, I've been thinking about the fundamental problem that plagues the community - and I think it is this: a considerable number of people simply cannot see the problems of an average DM from any perspective outside of themselves. They cannot put themselves in the shoes of another person, they cannot address the subject of "improving a game" from the viewpoint of someone else who wants to improve it.
"What works for me" isn't the end of the argument. Some think that it is. Some suppose that, having sorted out their agendas or their priorities, that other people can look after themselves and that's the end of the subject. It is as if I were to say to you, "Imagine what it might be like if you were black, how would you feel about this?" only to get back the argument, "That's the stupidest thing I ever heard. I'm not black and I'm never going to be black, so the question has nothing to do with me."
This is a point made by James Flynn in his Ted Talk. A point I wanted to get into but my daughter has shown up so I'm cutting this post off short. Watch the video. I'll talk about it later.