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I've noticed a lot of worlds described as our world, but with one change, like "our world, only gold is replaced with lead," or "like our world, only there's mutants that can see the future." The questions usually start from that and end up at a few broad sweeping questions like "how would religion change?"

I have trouble with these questions because there are so many answers. It's not like changing one thing locks the entire reset of the world in stone. It also usually sidesteps the issue that, when you change something, everything changes a little bit to adapt to it. I fear we are doing a disservice by answering because it seems like the individual is electing to World Build themselves in a corner by trying to draw straight causal lines where they don't actually need to be. In many cases, the answer should be "whatever you want, as an author," because, even if you pick a particular a priori answer to their question, its easy enough to build a world to match that answer.

My first instinct is to identify them as what they are: idea generation. There is too little information to really constrain the question. However, this is the WorldBuilding forum. Trying to provide good helpful answers to questions that are right on the edge of idea generation seems to be a worthy endeavor. Given how often questions are framed in that form, it makes sense to try to help those questioners.

Does it make sense to try to form a consensus on how to deal with these questions, to shape them as a community?

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  • $\begingroup$ Just a note that these scenarios are what I created the earth-like tag for. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 21 '15 at 15:18
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I see it as a kind of filler they're using to set the scene.

I agree there are a lot of them that don't make sense if the part about "just like our world" is taken literally. Otherwise the answer is obvious, "it's just like our world except that thing you said was different".

So, when I read them and it's something like "just like our world, except sentient beings can see six seconds into the future" then I take that to mean, anything that massive change doesn't touch is the same. It's a shorthand way of saying there isn't anything else fundamentally different in that universe. There are a whole lot of things that are not the same as our world, but they all stem from the difference described.

They should certainly mention if the difference is a branch or a trunk. For instance it may be alternate history where things went differently, a branch from this universe. A trunk would have had that change since the start of time, like slow gravity or some other fundamental change.

If the ultimate question is still idea generation then we should treat it as such, whatever the setup for the question was.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if it might be valid to post answers which simply explain why calling it "earth-like" isn't valid any more. At some point it becomes hard or even impossible to create a world where anything that isn't touched is the same. If you start from "earth-like, but everyone speaks the same language, how would America be different?" the answer may need to be "that world is too far from 'earth-like' to be phrased this way" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 21 '15 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon "Earth-like" and "just like our world" are quite different in my mind. I take the world in "our world" to be this universe; to be of the same world in worldbuilding, not the world Earth. In your specific example the Earth would still be the same for physics, landmasses, broad animal types, etc. While it may be valid to tell the person that if language was different it might not be called "Earth" or there may not be a continent or country called "America", those don't make useful answers on their own. It may be useful to ask in a comment for clarification. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Aug 21 '15 at 16:05
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The first thing that you do is vote to close them as too broad or possibly opinion based, since we don't want people to answer them while they are in this state. (If anyone has answered them, consider downvoting any answers if the answer is also highly opinion based).

I was about to say that we make sure they are tagged or or as appropriate. Why do we have two alternate tag anyway? But back to the question.

As for improving the post, this could be one of a few things, either the poster thinks that the question is cool and is asking it just to see the answers, which is not technically supported by the site, they want to create a realistic world and this is different (which seems weird, just to change something without having an idea of the outcome), or they are suffering from the XY problem.

Our second action, after issuing a close vote should be to comment and ask "What are you trying to achieve?" or something similar.

Ramble:
I did an analysis a while ago that I never managed to finish (because I found exceptions to the framework I was using). These questions fall under the category of "What happens next?" which is almost always a candidate for closure. The theory postulated that most questions have A, B and C. A was the starting point, B was the influence or change and C was the outcome. A?C questions are the best fit, or as I called them "How do I get from here to there?". If the question is ?BC, or "Where did I come from?" this is also generally fine, since A tends to have some defining characteristics already. AB? is where we have the problem, and any question asking for C needs to have a very clearly defined A and B, as well as a very narrow focus for C, in order for any answer to be meaningful.

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  • $\begingroup$ "If anyone does answer them while closed, consider downvoting the answer, we shouldn't encourage answers to closed questions" It isn't possible to answer a question that is on hold or closed, even for a diamond moderator. (Though of course, a diamond moderator can compose an answer, open the question, post the answer and then immediately re-close the question. I fail to see what the point of such an exercise would be.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 21 '15 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, my mistake. I guess I have mis-understood something from another site. I'll remove that. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Aug 21 '15 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ I like the ending ramble. $\endgroup$ – Stig Hemmer Aug 25 '15 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'm glad you enjoyed it @StigHemmer $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Aug 25 '15 at 9:24
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Depending on how the long form question is written, I think they should either be told to focus on the one aspect that they really want answered, or if the question is already focused then let them stand as is.
Someone may get inspired and come up with an answer, even if others don't see it.

If the user can't, or won't, focus the question, then a close vote is appropriate, but shouldn't be the default.

With the possible exception of tags, most answers on here are going to be somewhat opinion based, since my answer should be different than Samuel's answer based on background knowledge, interpretation of the question and personal opinion on strengths and weaknesses of different options.
If Samuel's answer is the same as my own, then I should just up vote his, and possibly add a comment if needed.

Why have and tags if they can't be used for questions where the majority of stuff is the same, but not everything.

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