Let me posit four classes which can be used to classify any questions that arise when creating a world. (Of course, by ‘world’ I mean that which some might call “universe” of a story or an open setting.)
- someone has a question which pertains to some minor aspect of their created world.
The aspect is believed to be peripheral, and probably would never make a noticable difference in any developing stories being created within that world. However, it could be good to know for later developments; it is always pleasant to explore anyways.
Also, maybe the aspect is no so peripheral as the asker initially believed. It would be better if they had an answer now rather than wait for someone to point out a fault in their world later — simply because they didn't know the implications of some important premise.
- there is an important, but not core, aspect of some author's world that is beyond their acumen, knowledge, or intellectual skill to develop.
This happens to all of us. We come up with a good premise for a story or a world, we go along, but then — wham! — we see that we need to know the climatic characteristics of some planet.
Sure, we could and should do all we can to learn the details of hydrodynamics, meteorodynamics, and lithodynamics if we are creating a typical spheroid planet, but it is helpful to have an expert guide us and explain things which are a tad too conjectural for most encyclopedia.
Something cheaper than hiring a professor or postgrad is also useful for many of us — though, of course, if the aspect is important enough, you do want to involve some more stringent examination at some point prior to finalized publishing.
- someone learns of a fascinating idea — grafting of extra sensory instruments, a creature which uses some bodily organ in a novel way, a bizarre inversion of some familiar concept, or so, — and thinks that it would make a good premise for a story; however, they don't know enough about the related mechanics so as to begin making a world, let alone a story in that world.
So, they need some help.
Now, these such requests are a tad dishonest, methinks. Why are you writing the story, anyway? Is it because you are a subtle and esquisite wordcrafter, but a paltry worldbuilder? Or, do you simply not have the science or wherewithal whereby to develop the germ of premise?
How do you know that it will be a promising premise?
It would be much better to either
- attach someone, whether to the published credits or merely by contract, who can then receive some compensation for their contribution. If their help is that fundamental to the story, then they deserve some acclaim at least.
- add to your backburner those ideas that look promising but are beyond your contemporary level of expertise.
- pull a Roddenberry: it's a Warp Drive, Food Replicator, a Transporter, and a Universal Translator all–in–one! It's a Repli-trans-warp-aporter!
- a person wants to begin writing a fantastic story or designing the fantastic setting for an MMO world, but they've got no premise which they think is appealing enough.
“Let me gather a collection of generic concepts which I like, and stew them together, and then I'll see if someone else can digest them and return to me something which is workable.”
There can be many variations on that rather grotesque satire, and some may seem less dishonest than others, but let us take them as alike enough so as to warrant the same handling.
Most would agree that the bottom class is unacceptable here.
As for the third class, I would say that it is also unacceptable. Some might disagree with me — indeed, many of what I believed were such questions have not been marked as off–topic or as non-worldbuilding.
The first and second ones are the only ones which I believe belong here — and not so as to reduce the bloatation of the question population, but because they are the most honest.
What if the question itself is the only extant germ for a worldbuilding not yet begun? Or, what if the asker has no immediate intentions to do any such building of world in their planned future?
Well, I don't believe that should be encouraged here — but, if it occurs, I don't think people should be too swift to downcast those questions which seem to do so; err on the side of benefit to all as often as is possible.
I do think that such questions would be better served by directing them elsewhere. If the other Stack Exchange sites aren't receptive to hypothetical postulations or queries, then that doesn't necessarily mean that they should go here.
I believe this because of one major reason: if the questions here don't support answers which are conducive to worldbuilding, then the entire environ of this site is diminished accordingly. People could conceivably begin answering the so–called What–If questions as if they were that, restricting the scope of their answers. New arrivals would see this, and adopt it.
That's my concern in that regard.
Now you know, all those who wondered why I claimed certain nebulous questions weren't qualified for worldbuilding. I now hold back my vociferousity, depending on the quality of the answers I see or plan to give. I do think it is a valid danger, though.
This is not a ‘think tank’. It should not to be used so as to do your worldbuilding for you — i.e. contribution. The problem is not that such a thing is done, but that such a thing is done under pretenses of consultation
The purpose of the answers here should be twofold:
- a documentation of the worldbuilding for the posterity of later similar efforts
- a medium through which to request informative consultation for the purpose of worldbuilding
That is the criterion which should be used to assess questions as solicitations for “idea generation”.