# Clarifying “What topics can I ask about here?” from the help center

This is pretty much a continuation of JBH’s post but it is narrowed down to a specific issue. It also comes after a suggestion from elemtilas to refocus the question.

This is the question that shed light on a problem we have on the site. Despite several edits, it has been closed, reopened, re-closed and now it even has a vote for deletion. I have no idea what is the justification behind the recent trend of deletion votes on questions but that is another issue.

Questions like these get closed but the asker insist that he is building a world. It is not a new issue but it bothers me more now, and it’s hard to justify when there is nothing in the help center to legitimate the closure.

I would summarize the issue like this;

1. The question now has a worldbuilding context, but people still think it is off-topic. I don't know what it takes to change their minds or what needs to be done to make these questions acceptable.
2. People use the lack of context as an argument to close questions but there is nothing in the help center that requires an ** explicit worldbuilding context**. We assume that the questions asked here are about worldbuilding but there is no requirement to have an explicit worldbuuilding context.
3. Worldbuilding in itself is rarely a topic. The question are always about something else like geography, history, linguistic, physics, etc. Some questions might appear to be less focused on worldbuilding but they still are about building a world. If I want to ask a physics question in order to help me build my world, there is again nothing in the rules preventing me to do that.

It has been said countless times that it is not because a question is on-topic on another site that it makes the question off-topic here. Yes, maybe the person will have a better answer on the other site but it’s his/her choice. Questions about building fictional worlds are off-topic on other sites since it’s supposed to be our topic. So asking these questions on other sites is likely to end in closure or migration if there is a slight element of woldbuilding involved.

So, with my understanding of the situation, I see two things that can be done:

1. Stop closing these questions as off-topic because they are on-topic according to the help center.
2. Change the help center to reflect that questions need a clear worldbuilding context, otherwise they will get closed as off-topic.

Right now, we generate a lot of frustration from new users. They get told that they do not follow the rules but when they check the help center, they find nothing. We have to fix it one way or another. Feel free to share your views and solutions to the problem.

Link to the help center for reference.

Edit: JBH's question was not specific enough. By narrowing down the issue, it is more likely to get solved. I felt the other question was not heading anywhere.

• Oml. Maybe it's just me, but that innocent little post I put out on antimatter has sparked something like 5-6 meta discussions and polarized everyone. People, I was just asking a question! I'm not sure whether to feel guilty, glad, bitter, or whether I should just laugh – FoxElemental May 7 '18 at 0:20
• @Anonymous don't feel bad about it, we should have had the conversation a while ago. Sometimes there is a problem but you need time/opinion of others to be able to narrow it down. As I said, it is a trend but eventually, you realize it's to much to ignore. – Vincent May 7 '18 at 0:37
• I haven't read through all the history, but in its current form this seems to be clearly a worldbuilding question. I'm tempted to use my mod powers to reopen it. (And I agree that we need to clarify our scope and documentation.) – Monica Cellio May 7 '18 at 0:57
• Possible duplicate of Enough is enough. NOBODY can obey rules that are only in someone's head – The Square-Cube Law May 7 '18 at 15:01
• @Renan JBH's question was not specific enough. I already explained why they are not duplicate. by narrowing down the issue, it is more likely to get solved. I felt the other question was not heading anywhere. Also, if you are the one casting deletion votes, you should stop this disruptive behaviour. – Vincent May 7 '18 at 15:11
• @Vincent I understand that you are trying to narrow the issue down, and I appreciate that the suggestion on how to solve it is so straightforward. I think the core of this question is the same as JBH's, though, and that reverse rule-lawyering might not solve it. Even if we write down that questions need to have some worldbuilding made explicit in them, people will be questioning what is worldbuilding and what isn't. – The Square-Cube Law May 7 '18 at 15:22
• @Vincent if you are the one casting deletion votes, you should stop this disruptive behaviour. I do not think this is disruptive behavior. According to the Help Center: When should I delete questions? Closed questions that are of no lasting value whatsoever should be flagged and deleted. – The Square-Cube Law May 7 '18 at 17:00
• @Renan trying to fill the breach is better than doing nothing. – Vincent May 7 '18 at 18:57
• @Renan but you should also consider the paragraph following that sentence : "Before voting to delete, please check whether there are any good answers; if so, then the question should be flagged for moderator attention as a potential merge candidate. We don't like to lose great answers!" – Vincent May 7 '18 at 19:28
• The main issue I still see with the original question now edited is that there is still no actual connexion between the question and the action of making a fictional world. I could ask "so, I have this world with Gnomes and I want them to be able to make a chocolate cake; what's the recipe for chocolate cake?" Same exact problem. In both cases, the "worldbuilding context" is a red herring that I think you've been misled by. Like my baking Gnomes, the OP's "need for a source of lots of energy" is irrelevant to the actual question. – elemtilas May 13 '18 at 23:31
• And I see the question that got this started has, for some strange reason, been reopened. Nothing about it has changed: it is still a simple maths question ("how much...") and still lacks any hint of worldbuilding. – elemtilas May 16 '18 at 16:25
• @elemtilas I'm not sure I understand the issue. On one hand, people close the question because it is too simple (not everyone agrees it is the case), on the other hand, questions get closed because they are too complex. Is it because questions need to be in a sweet spot? – Vincent May 16 '18 at 16:45
• @elemtilas by judging from HDE new answer, it doesn't look so simple unless maybe you are already familiar with topic. – Vincent May 16 '18 at 16:49
• @Vincent The issue that I see is that the question has been treated like a football. It's clearly not a worldbuilding related question, has been closed as such. Then it got reopened. Then closed and reopened again. I think this speaks more to us as a community not having consensus as to this forum's purpose, which is why we're actually here in Meta discussing this very question! Also, the fact that the original question has never been substantively edited to make it a worldbuilding question: it should never have been reopened until that happens. – elemtilas May 16 '18 at 17:41
• @elemtilas I believe my initial point still stands: the question does not violate any written rules. Maybe it violates the spirit of the law but it's hard to agree since it's not written anywhere. But after reflection, changing the rules could have bad consequences. Too strict: it becomes harder to ask a question (good ones could get closed because of technicalities) but at least the rules are clear or too slack and it becomes hard to justify the closure of any question. So I think the actual situation, while not ideal, is not so bad. – Vincent May 16 '18 at 18:00

Perhaps an area of focus we need to work on isn't so much "what topics can I ask about here" but rather "What is Worldbuilding Stack Exchange all about?"

Going back the Source, we read here at the Stack Exchange tour: Stack Exchange is a network of 172 communities that are created and run by experts and enthusiasts like you who are passionate about a specific topic. We build libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on each community's area of expertise.

I notice two key ingredients to what SE is:

• We are experts in & passionate about a specific topic. In our case, worldbuilding.
• Our task is to provide answers that focus on our community's area of expertise. Again, in our case this is worldbuilding.

There are some commonalities of definition:

• The Font of All Knowledge says: Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The resulting world may be called a constructed world. Developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology is a key task for many science fiction or fantasy writers.[2] Worldbuilding often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people for the world.

• Here on Worldbuilding.SE, this question actually came up and we said in response:

• Worldbuilding (noun, verb, adjective) - The act or subject of construction of (fictional) worlds, especially as an aid to the creation of art or to facilitate play

• Worldbuilding (verb) - The creation of lore, history, religions, geography, or any other aspect of a fictional world which is not directly related to the characters in a fictional story

• Worldbuilding (verb) - the creation of the setting of a fictional story

• Worldbuilding is the term used to describe the art of building an imaginary world -- i.e. a setting in which a story or game takes place. This might involve creating fictional geography (maps), biology (races or creatures), politics (kingdoms), history (famous people or events), language, religion, mythology, technology, philosophy, or pretty much any other aspect of the world.

It seems to me, then, that what is on-topic here are those topics, questions and problems directly pertaining to what we have actually self-defined our area of expertise and passion to be.

We certainly may touch on physics and maths and chemistry and even music and literature and sociology. But those really aren't our areas of expertise. Our area of expertise is applying these matters of human lore and science in a fictional direction.

Getting back to the question that got this whole discussion started, I see these ways it can go:

• First, we leave it as is. The problem here is that, in its essence, at the core of its being, that question boils down to "please do this math problem for me". The OP can layer on all the worldbuilding "context" he wants. He can go on ad nauseam about energy sources and mega weapons and whatever else, but that's all my eye and Betty Martin.

• Second, we fix the question. The OP has already (justifiably) complained: No one seems willing to tell me how, exactly, I can fix it. To which I answered: I would think, and this is my opinion, that it is obvious that a question that asks for the answer to a (simple!) physics equation is not related in any way to worldbuilding. Even though you do hint at this being part of some kind of maybe SF story, the question itself doesn't touch upon the construction of fictional worlds & settings. Others disagree with this position, saying that basically anything that can be asked about the primary world touches also upon worldbuilding. Not a really helpful metachat! At this point: plug the numbers into the equation yourself or ask on Physics! I stand by the opinion that this kind of question is by definition off-topic and can't really be "fixed". A non-starter this.

• Third, we fix something about Wordlbuilding.SE that clarifies the basics for those people who are pointed in this direction, who land here accidentally or who do research and find us themselves:

• We clarify what Stack Exchange itself is, and how we at Worldbuilding.SE fit that model;
• We clarify what worldbuilding itself (the art, the hobby) is and what it isn't. The scope of our expertise, in other words.
• We clarify not "what topics" we answer, but perhaps rather what kinds of topics we answer. In other words, we don't want to limit ourselves unnecessarily but also I think we don't want to leave ourselves so broad that we become little more than a dumping ground.

The main problem with the question under discussion is that a serious answer would require a lot of work and a lot of physics; there are not that many people on this site who have the capability to do the work, and, in addition, there are not many people on this site who would appreciate it.

The accepted answer, posted by the inquirer themself, is painfully wrong. One cannot simply take E = mc² and plug in some numbers mindlessly; one must consider what would actually happen. As the planets begin to collide, the energy released would shatter them and vaporize huge amounts of material, which would then proceed to expand; we now have two superhot rapidly expanding spheres of matter and antimatter which will interact in wonderful ways. How it would play out depends on the velocity (speed and direction) of the impactor.

To summarize:

• It's a complicated physics problem.

• The accepted answer, posted by the anonymous inquirer, is wrong.

• I'd say that deleting the question, or, if possible, leaving it closed with a big warning on top, would be justified.

• I don't agree with the first paragraph because we let it happen very often and a lot of people actually like these kind of complex question. Your secound paragraph is off topic, the fact that the answer is wrong is not relevant here. This question is just an exemple and I'm more concerned about how we apply our rules is inconsistent. – Vincent May 13 '18 at 14:45
• Note, though, that the question isn't / wasn't "what would happen if...", but rather "what quantity of energy do I get if..." Now, thát question, what would happen, might actually not have spawned this whole line of discussion! There's actual worldbuilding meat on that bone. – elemtilas May 13 '18 at 23:24

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a site for developers, designers, writers and artists to get help creating imaginary worlds.

there is nothing in the help center that requires a worldbuilding context.

is false. There is. At the very, very beginning.

• No, it says they need to build a world, it does not say they have to provide the context surrounding the question. – Vincent May 7 '18 at 14:39
• @Vincent well, if you want to twist it like that then I guess it should be even more explicitly stated that only questions about worldbuilding are on topic on worldbuilding. On the other hand, quite possibly other texts will be twisted later as well... – Mołot May 7 '18 at 14:48
• I am not twisting reality, I just don't put words that aren't there. I don't give it an interpretation, I am reading it as it is written. And I assume people come here with good intentions, to ask questions about worldbuilding. Maybe that is a little naive but I don't see anything against doing so with the rules as they are written. That is why I posted this question. – Vincent May 7 '18 at 14:55
• @Vincent even if the rules state that questions need to have worldbuilding in their context, people will still be rule-lawyering about what constitutes worldbuilding. Rewording the help center pages would be just a token effort. – The Square-Cube Law May 7 '18 at 16:05

The lines will always be blurry on Worldbuilding SE regarding what is on-topic and what isn't.

The community is either divided or doesn't have a strong opinion on how the rules should be understood.

It falls on the responsibility of individual members to judge questions according to what they think is the best thing to do for the community.

Disagreement will continue as users have different closing criteria, bringing confusion for newcomers. But it looks like the community in general is fine with this situation.

• Sadly, I have the feeling this is where the whole issue is going to end up... – elemtilas May 13 '18 at 23:27