First, some clarification on how I'm using these terms:
By "unstructured" I don't mean play without any structure, I just mean play without formal sequential structure. That is, play that isn't broken up, either by the rules or by the GM, into set units like Turns or Scenes or Tests or Encounters. I'm talking about play where player choices emerge and are made and have their outcomes as part of a free flow of conversation and narration, without being organized or broken up into units.
By "decision identification" I mean the ability of anyone at the table to notice, and everyone at the table to agree, whether a given decision is or is not "relevant". And by "relevant", I mean both consequential (the choice impacts an outcome we care about) and informed (we're not proceeding from deep ignorance of the "might as well flip a coin" variety).
So I'm talking about something that's very simple in retrospect -- this decision was relevant and deserved some play time and effort, while that decision wasn't and didn't -- but very often botched in practice.
If you've ever formed an elaborate plan for dealing with waiting hostiles, only to charge into an empty room... if you've ever argued with your buddies over whether to go left or right, then found the paths connected in a loop... if you've ever come across a random fork in the road and grinded out competing theories on the pros and cons of each path, losing track of the fact that it was all speculation... if you've ever gotten into a pattern of making every decision quickly, so as to not waste time, but then one day you charge into a direction that costs you what you wanted... these are what I'm referring to as problems of decision identification.
This field of problems has been solved in various ways for different play agendas, but I think it still has not been solved for some pretty common ones. Fiction-first challenge-based play and character-based immersive exploration are two that come to mind -- as far as I'm aware, house rules and informal best practices lead the way here, without ever having become particularly transferable to new GMs and groups. In other words, I don't know a core game text (as opposed to a module) that supports OD&D or CoC-style play and also covers decision identification.
Has anyone else observed this phenomenon? Am I describing it accurately? Do you consider it solved?
I've got some ideas about helpful principles that might be simple enough to turn into rules or easy-to-follow advice, but first I'd like to see if this post makes any sense to anyone and what y'all's thoughts are.