Here we have a well-received, high voted, question with many answers. But it's off topic, and expressly so for most of SE.

Clearly it is liked. So, how about making a way for it to be welcome? Perhaps a creative-writing SE that is for brainstorming rather than explicit answers, or a tag that can be put on the question.

It seems like a lot of what we have here is bordering onnthis kind of brainstorming, without being explicit in its wording (the best way). It is quite the opposite of Physics or Math where questions have definitive answers.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I've just edited it to try to provide definite criteria for the answers to be judged on rather than just "the most entertaining". $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ The question has now been re-opened. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 0:01

3 Answers 3


The problem with this kind of question is it's opinion based and therefore, subjective. No doubt this has been linked many times before but I'll do it again: see Good Subjective, Bad Subjective.

StackExchange, in general, shuns subjective questions, and rightly so. Without objective answer-judging criteria, the award of the surprisingly highly-prized check mark is completely down to the OP and there are no grounds on which other people can object to this.

Now, while the check mark has always been somewhat subjective (it is, after all, for the answer which helped the poster the most), voting should not be subjective. There should be criteria by which people can judge which answer is the best and therefore it will gain votes to float to the top. Without these criteria, all answers are of equal merit and equally deserving of upvotes.

However, the idea that subjective posts don't fit on StackExchange was established fairly early, when most of the sites were about programming, science, hard subjects like that, where a question almost always has a definitive answer. Here we're on a site where creativity and personal opinion are encouraged in answers because it leads to great, creative answers - why not in questions too?

The primarily opinion-based close reason says this:

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

Given the nature of worldbuilding, why should we have to provide specific expertise for an answer to be valid? Sure, if it's a scientific question or even , we expect the answer to be verifiable. But some of our best questions are pure fantasy, which, given that fantasies are all fairly unique, is nigh on impossible to provide facts, references and specific expertise for.

Personally I'd love to see a way for this kind of question to become acceptable here. Come on, we're not exactly a serious topic site: dragons and oversized spiders, anyone? A lot of what we do here is imaginative, creative, fun - and personally, I think that's one of the big reasons this site got going so well. I'd like to see this attitude extend to the content we have.

But. There are always conditions. If we start allowing questions like this, there's going to be friction. How do we differentiate the good subjective questions, like the one in question here, and the bad subjective?

The truth is, as the blog post I linked says, that expertise lies in between objectivity and subjectivity. On many posts, we see differences of opinion, and that's a good thing. It means our community is healthy - we're discussing our points of view on a post, and in general, I find posts are in the state they should be. Bad posts are closed and left that way. Posts that need improving are put on hold, edited, and reopened. Good posts gather lots of upvotes, answers and discussion.

My point here is this: we have a good community. Let's use it. All the subjective posts we get are still subject to community voting and closing: if we get a good subjective, it's likely to stay open; a bad subjective is likely to be closed, just as it is if the post is completely objective. All I would advise here is that we don't vote to close purely because a post is opinion-based or subjective, only if the post has issues.

My opinion in short: we should accept posts like this without voting to close purely due to their subjectivity.


As one of the close-voters, and as someone who initially brought up how broad and opinion-based this question is, I'd like to explain the reasoning I had for closing the question.

Initially, I had no problem with this question - even after posting the comment that I did, I gave my own answer that I felt was within the parameters set out by the question-asker. But it occurred to me while comparing my answer to others that the metric for upvoting answers, that they be 'entertaining', was entirely too subjective, and VTC'd appropriately.

Good subjective questions are easy to find on SEs like this one, and this is definitely a good subjective question, but the metric for analyzing answers to this question was extremely opinion-based at best when the question was first asked. I felt that it needed to be a little more specific in order to get a proper answer.

Now that the question parameters have been edited to be more specific, and to have a more specific goal in mind for which answer constitutes a 'good' answer (The complication of the setup, versus how easily it could be explained away) it's much easier to understand what type of answer is good for this question.

Questions like this will come up again on this SE, and they will be VTC because they're too open-ended again. But just like what happened here, the asker will have a chance to improve the question, make it more clear what type of answers they're looking for, and ask for users to re-open the question in Meta. This is ideal, and this is how the VTC/On-Hold system should work. Now instead of a great question with a small problem, we have an even better question without any problem.

  • $\begingroup$ How it should work: great, and WB is still a small SE. What I've seen on certain other SE's include hold/close reasons that are wrong or misleading and bewildering to the poster, and no review and reopening even after edits and discussion in meta. That is a hazard of a busy (successful) SE where there is always fresh stuff to moderate. Here, it's rare to even have anything in the queues because of the number of poeple covering them relative to the number of actions. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 1:41

I'll admit that the moment I read that question, I contemplated voting to close for idea generation. But I think that in this case, as well as with many others, it's the answers more than the questions that cause these kinds of problems.

When I answered, one could say I gave a shining example of the wrong way to answer a question: instead of exploring the factors and explaining myself, I chose to write a short narrative. These kinds of answers are always dangerous, as they usually provide a single, specific example when a general rule is preferred. It is conceivable that someone else could give the same basic answer as mine (that is, swapping human I/O buffers), but dressed up in a way so as to look completely different.

However, accepting the previous statement accepts the underlying assumption that my answer had a basic form. I'd say that form includes the first paragraph, wherein I build constraints, and an imaginary second paragraph when I explain how swapping perception would fulfill all the requirements of the question in the most effective way possible. If I'd written that second paragraph, and if other answers followed a similar format, then I don't think the question would have been flagged.

As to your main question, whether idea-generation or brainstorming questions should be accepted, I want to say yes, but I think it goes against the founding ideals of SE. Like they say on Stack Overflow, we're not here to do your homework for you.

  • $\begingroup$ The Black Death boat city answer is a good example of a narrative answer that is entertaining and still an answer to the rather vague how could. It explains the needed facts toman outsider, in 2nd person as if from within the setting. The same facts in same organization could be written as 2nd person from omnicient viewpoint, or indirectly like a book report. The last is less likely to be copied directly into a school assignment, and less subject to not answering clearly but just writing something in-world. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ Against the ideals: WB is still in beta, and that kind of thing happens a lot without being so extreme as to want an opininated idea to be the best. How might I... What might happen... that's common here. We need clear rules or will wind up with conflicts and hurt feelings later. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz What I'm trying to say is that narrative or opinion-based answers are usually not as constructive as a general analysis of the problem and the possible solutions. For instance, many of the best answers on the site offer explanations on many possible answers, but don't go into much depth about the specifics. That way, the asker can do more of the actual worldbuilding, but with the knowledge of the possible structures they can use to solve the problem. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 1:22

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