In this close review, I had some trouble with the close reason that my fellow close-voters gave.

The question is about an event which could happen in a world. Yes, it's earth, but we have an tag that doesn't specify how different earth and earth-like have to be; this question could validly have been tagged with that.

This is one specific example. However, I am seeing a number of disagreements about what questions are off topic. We need to clearly define what fits here and what doesn't: we have the definitions in the help centre but they aren't helping. They get linked and then get their meanings debated.

Two questions:

  • Was that question really off topic? Granted it's not a great question, but I don't think it was off topic.
  • Just what is on and off topic here? Should we review the help centre text?
  • $\begingroup$ I would recommend that if you want to discuss a specific question being on-topic or off-topic, to do so separately from trying to decide if the help center text needs to be changed or even rewritten completely, because the answers to each of those are going to draw from different angles. Also remember that the help center text on what is considered on-topic and off-topic is always going to be a summary; the proof will always be in the specific pudding, er, question. That's what the Meta [specific-question] tag is about: discussing aspects of a specific question, including topicality. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 13:56

3 Answers 3


Was that question really off topic? Granted it's not a great question, but I don't think it was off topic.

Yes it was off topic, in my opinion, as what is on topic is defined as

Effects of events or world elements, including technology and magic, on specific aspects of that world's societies, cultures, and environment.

and off topic has

Elements of plot

In the case of that question we aren't given enough information to know what the impact on society or culture of the event will be as we don't actually know what the event is, or what it will be portrayed as having been as I think the asker may be going for conspiracy. So they aren't asking about what the social changes or cultural changes will be due to what has happened, but what the reactions of people will be, which is a plot element, being part of the events in the sequence of cause and effect.


I agree this question falls into a gray area. I think it is off topic though for one simple reason. It's about an individual event and the localized reaction to that event.

What would the reaction of the crowd be? Scream and run away!

What would the reaction of the news anchors be? That depends on the news anchor - it's a question about a character.

There could easily be world building questions built around a scenario like this - but the question as it stands is asking us to write the outcome of a plot event. That's not the same as asking us to build a world and is explicitly off topic.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree. Although it seems, under the rules in the help center ("Effects of events or world elements") to be OK, I voted to close it because it felt like "write this story for me." However, I was originally going to close with "too broad" until I saw another "off-topic" close vote, since the answer to "what happens" is "anything you want." I'd reopen if the asker showed some more thought and made the question more specific. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 14:38

I confess that I don't see why the question is off-topic either. If you'll pardon my saying so, it is ill-worded and unclear, and perhaps this was the problem. Let me see if reformulation helps.

The situation is clear enough in outline:

  • Busy Times Square crush
  • Suddenly, all the giant TV screens fritz and show an empty Nevada road
  • A message appears, reading, "Submit"
  • All the TV screens fall to the ground, with all the damage entailed

The question is:

  • How might major earth organizations respond to this in the short term?

For example:

  • Apart from sending emergency personnel, how would the City of New York respond? Would they plead for calm, demand revenge, point fingers at hypothetical enemies (Al-Qaeda, for instance), or what?
  • How would major news services respond?
  • How would the state and federal governments reply?
  • How might foreign news services present the same information?
  • Video of what happened will go viral, leading to all kinds of instant armchair "experts" with more or less elaborate theories about the event... like what?

None of this has anything to do with what actually happened. It's a matter of thinking through how our current world functions to make a series of reasonable projections. This is stuff the FBI, CIA, and lots of others do routinely. Surely that is worldbuilding?

What would clearly be off topic would be asking such questions as

  • How should I have my characters respond?
  • What do you think would be a good cause for this effect?

But I see this question as about projecting realistic short-term responses from large and relatively predictable organizations and their spokespeople. So I would say it needs rewriting but then should be re-opened.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ FWIW, "how should I have my characters respond?" is in this context pretty much what the "elements of plot" is supposed to cover, at least to my mind. It's the difference between asking about the society in general (within some defined scope) and the specific actions of a given individual. The idea being that such things are going to depend very much on previous characterization and the story you are trying to tell, which is something that is very much individual to the author, whereas elements of the world itself can be answered in a way that will be useful also to others in the future. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 13:53

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