To clarify first, I'm not trying to get rid of this policy. I'm just trying to ask if there are any better signs that something might be high concept before I waste my time and the curators time writing questions and responses in the sandbox when it could be saved with just a bit more thinking on my part.

I think the title sums this up pretty well. I have so far asked one question (the isolationist dwarves one) on the main wb.se site that from the response seems to have been alright (But if I just got lucky with people answering when they shouldn't have, feel free to tell me that) but one thing I've noticed is that the go-to phrase said to new users is not very helpful. While yes a topic being capable of having a book written about it is generally too much, I can imagine (while yes, often particularly dry but still decently long books) books written about many of these questions, I could even imagine one about transportation between floating islands if they were kept treacherous enough.

tl;dr I have some other questions in mind but I'm hesitant to put them out there and be a nuisance if I still need to do a bit more work on them or even just scrap them entirely and figure them out on my own, except I don't know how to tell.


1 Answer 1


The most basic form of a high concept question is that it suggests a small change and then asks what large consequences may occur. They are considered off-topic for violating one or more of the following:

  1. They often cannot be answered without writing a significant part of, or addressing a significant plot point of, a story. In this regard they are VTC:Too Story-Based. Another way of looking at this is the admonition in the Help Center that we do not help people write their stories. This is most difficult when what the question author wants is help creating the historical context needed for a story. Since history is, from a practical point of view, a story, it makes such a question very (very) difficult to embrace within the context of the Help Center's current rules.
  • There are certain kinds of worldbuilding that don't easily fit within the original Stack Exchange context when it was just Stack Overflow. We deal with imagination. Programming questions can be imaginative, but they're not based on imagination. Thus historical worldbuilding, cultural worldbuilding, and sociological worldbuilding have had a difficult time here. We have recently begun the process of taking a hard look at the Help Center rules and our policies to see if we can overcome weaknesses like this one. But for the moment....
  1. They are often a request for substantial free research, which is contrary to Stack Exchange's expectation that research be performed as a component of a good question.

  2. They are often open-ended, which is prohibited in the Help Center.

  3. As you've already noted, they often violate the Help Center's Book Rule.

  4. Answers are often VTC:Opinion-Based. However, given that ours is a Stack that deals with opinion on a regular basis (e.g., one can be an expert in balancing magic systems, but who can be an expert on magic?), this is an uncommon complaint that usually reflects the Book Rule violation, meaning that the request is so broad that too many assumptions are being made about how the response can benefit the question. Nevertheless, question authors should avoid, to the best of their abilities, unlimited/unconstrained questions that allow respondents to make assumptions.

  • It's worth noting that users (especially new users) will often intentionally avoid adding constraining details because they want as many options to choose from as possible. This is specifically contrary to what Stack Exchange expects for their service. It's also a disservice to the question author, though they don't realize it. A large number of simple or mediocre answers is rarely an improvement over fewer, more detailed answers and it's always possible to ask additional questions.
  1. They often violate the Help Center admonition against brainstorming. Indeed, considering the nature of the question many equally possible solutions can be promoted (violating the Help Center's prohibition against all answers having equal value) leaving the question author to pick a best answer based on no useful metrics other than which tickles his/her fancy the most. Stack Exchange's focus on the selection of a best answer is intentional and questions are expected to be asked in a way to permit a best answer to be selected by listing restrictions, conditions, and if needed, the specific goals for which the question was asked.

Finally, the Help Center explains that questions are expected to be specific, reasonably objective, and focus on a problem to solve.

  • High concept questions are, by definition, ambiguous due to the low detail of the initial condition and expected breadth of answers. For example, we might ask "how would WWII turn out of Hitler died one year earlier?" That sounds specific because we are told exactly when Hitler dies in the alternate time line. In reality it's very ambiguous because the only detail offered is a change of dates and so much can happen between that and the end of a war that took place on multiple continents with many combatants that it can't be determined what might have happened.

  • They are occasionally subjective, meaning that without constraint it's impossible to determine what details are important to the question author. An example might be, "if aliens landed today, how would the world react?" People in one area will react differently than those in another. How a five-year-old reacts is different than how a 90-year-old reacts. The subjectivity comes from the absolutely enormous number of options that all legitimately answer the question.

  • And finally, there isn't actually a problem being solved. Please remember that the Tour states that we are not a discussion forum. If answers arrive before closure, users will attempt to answer without the benefit of a discussion, but too often the only way to give a good answer to a high concept question is to enter into a discussion.

The long and short of it is that Stack Exchange's basic design is not conducive to high concept questions. However, although I don't know how practical it would be, there is a way to do it. In Chat you can ask anything you want — even discussion-based questions. The unfortunate problem is that Chat isn't haunted as much as it used to be and there isn't a way to advertise the opportunity on the Main site.


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