When I’m playing in an RPG and I can tell that the world is basically revolving around the party, I get claustrophobic. That’s the only word I can think of that really matches the sensation. The boundaries of the world shrink. What creatures lurk in this forest? The ones that drive the story forward! What do the major faction in this city want? To hire or kill the party, of course!
Along with this comes the implicit expectation that the DM has put a lot of work into this experience and it would be rude to just drop everything and establish a hog-wrestling arena, even if that would be more entertaining. In a “managed” campaign like this, it feels like the game world is always watching. Long lost relatives and villains from your backstory are always popping into existence at thematically appropriate times. Carefully laid plans are overturned or validated based on whether they “added to the narrative” rather than whether they made sense. Intangible themes and character development arcs hedge you in at every turn, even if only by social pressure.
Maybe what it comes down to is that I like exploring, understanding, and manipulating systems (like the rules of a fictional world), while in managed campaigns you’re really trying to understand and anticipate a person, the DM. I find that deeply off-putting, for reasons that probably reveal more about me than anything else. I like my game worlds as open, adventure-dense, and utterly uncaring as possible.
But I can’t be the only one who actively avoids the main quests in Elder Scrolls Games, right?