The fallout from Worse than zombies, part 1, has reminded me that I keep meaning to ask to what extent one can ask question about things they are curious about rather than issue they need answers to. As I'm writing this I've asked 44 questions on the main, of which only 15 are actually about anything that resembles a project I need help with, there's about 10 about projects that were finish before I asked them, some are on the site because I thought the processes around them might be useful to others, the rest because I was curious about some aspect of the issue. The other 20 questions are only on the Stack because they occurred to me as random thoughts at some point and I posted them to see what people had to say.

So my question is should I, and by extension other users, be using this site only for help with [worldbuilding] story aspects that we are having issues with or does curiosity have a place in this community?

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    As far as I know nobody has ever asked an OP proof that they are working on a concrete project, so why should it matter if it is real worldbuilding or just curiosity? – L.Dutch Aug 8 at 14:11
  • This is related of course: worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5863/… A large family of questions that have absolutely nothing to do with projects and are really just about random things you might wonder when watching TV for example. I think I've seen a couple of questions from you that fall into that category (more or less ...) – Raditz_35 Aug 8 at 14:12
  • @L.Dutch From Chat - Ash: to me the question is pure abstraction. MichaelK: Well then the question stays closed because the Q&A part of Stack Exchange is — explicitly stated — to solve actual problems that people are having, and not just to chat away a bit and bouncing ideas around. That is what we have the chats for. :-) – Ash Aug 8 at 14:14
  • I think that applies to just juggling around with "what if.." types of ideas. But if the fictional world is just in your mind and not in a project and you are having a concrete problem to solve, I see no obstacle. – L.Dutch Aug 8 at 14:24
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    The motive of the question is not important as long as the question is considered good by the community. But I find it easier to flesh out question when they are grounded in a world/story. – Vincent Aug 8 at 14:30
  • @L.Dutch Only the 15 questions I mentioned, which are all related to aspects of the FHS Universe I'm working on, are related to any specific fictional scenario at all. – Ash Aug 8 at 14:32
  • @Vincent That would, with a little flesh on it make a good answer, the kind of answer, regardless of which way it goes, that this question is looking for. – Ash Aug 8 at 14:33
  • @Raditz_35 Not disagreeing with you in any way but which ones did you have in mind? – Ash Aug 8 at 14:59
  • @Ash I should perhaps be a bit clearer. I think a couple of your questions could fall into that category if presented right, even though none of them directly asks about a trope. I'm not 100% sure, but I think I've heard your "there could be zombies" thing before on some TV show. I went through your questions and think a couple applied, but none of them were closed, so no point in debating it – Raditz_35 Aug 9 at 10:11

I think you might have stumbled onto an issue that first reared its head about two and a half years ago, waaaaay back in early 2016. It started with Is Worldbuilding a What If Site? - a discussion that came about because a lot of us felt that the site was no longer being used for actual worldbuilding. Instead, people were tossing out half-formed hypothetical questions, and asking questions just for fun - and on Stack Exchange, We Hate Fun.

In retrospect - and I think Daaaahwhoosh got this right - that a lot of the problem came from the community/network dichotomy. The rest of the network didn't understand our scope, and it sometimes felt like we were being used as a trash heap. On the other side, we probably weren't doing a good job of being communicative about what the heck we were about. It was all exacerbated by the fact that a lot of us in the community were either engaging in this or not doing enough to stop it.

After quite a few more discussions (1, 2, 3 and others), we basically came to the consensus that the problem wasn't What-If questions, per se. The issue was something that was originally called Idea Generation, where question askers essentially didn't flesh out their ideas or show their work, and wanted us to build the world from little more than a foundation. That's not cool, and we don't take questions like that. Never have, never will.

I was . . . a bit reluctant to fully agree with this, I think, because the motivation for asking a question has always mattered to me. I've always wanted this to be a site exclusively for worldbuilding - in other words, a place that would actively reject questions that weren't motivated by building a world, but were more along the lines of what you're talking about, ideas that sprung from being curious. My mind was changed, though (and changed for good after I asked Is this question about the colonization of Mercury on-topic?), because in the end, even questions arising from curiosity can prove helpful to the worldbuilders of the future.

This whole episode has made our scope even more confusing at times, but it's also given us some clarity. Here are some of the takeaways we got from early 2016:

  • It's okay to be curious, and to ask questions because of it.
  • You don't need to be explicitly building a world to ask a question.
  • A question should come from an idea that's at least partially formed, and has some life to it. You need to put in effort to consider the scenario yourself before asking.
  • If you're here to learn, and know the scope, ask away.

This has all been a made a little clearer with modifications to the help center, thanks to the results from A proposal to finalize the "are real world questions on-topic" debate. You for one definitely know the site's scope, and I think what you're doing now is okay.

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    Do you know what I like most about this? I don't need to be working on an electronics project to ask questions on Electrical Engineering or to be actually stuck coding something to ask questions on the famously intolerant StackOverflow. I therefore agree with HDE 226868 that there shouldn't be a work-related-requirement here. – JBH Aug 9 at 21:44
  • A good question is still a good question no matter the motivation of the person asking. (And a bad question is still a bad question). – Tim B Aug 20 at 16:38

I expect 10,000 words on my desk by next Thursday on any subject you've asked a question about.

I'm pretty sure nobody was really writing a story about Santa relating to any of our Santa questions. The same probably goes for a significant proportion of other questions on the site.

Sure, some people are writing stories, or constructing worlds for D&D purposes or other games, but many, possibly most, are just out of curiosity or simple fun. Others are clearly heavily politically loaded, or just asking after potential mechanics for something that already exists in an existing fictional universe.

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    LOL, I think the shipping time to get it to your desk could be a prohibitive factor in that scheme. – Ash Aug 8 at 14:57
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    @Ash Use a fax machine. You're not getting out of that so easily! – Frostfyre Aug 8 at 15:54
  • @Frostfyre Do you know that Separatrix has a fax machine on the desk? Otherwise I'll be able to get it to the office but fall short at the last hurdle. – Ash Aug 8 at 15:56
  • @Ash Doesn't say it has to be a hard copy, so you could just send an email and hope Separatrix opens the email at his/her desk. – Frostfyre Aug 8 at 15:58
  • @Frostfyre That could indeed be a workable work around. – Ash Aug 8 at 15:59

The answer to your question is frankly moot. Even if we wanted to require questions be asked for non-trivial purposes it would be impossible to enforce and would simply be an arbitrary requirement that would hinder everyone's enjoyment of the site.

  • Not to me, I asked this question so I know whether I should be asking the mods to delete 20+ questions and or starting over with a new profile and a completely different interpretation of my use of the site and the way I approach close voting, among other things. – Ash Aug 8 at 15:44
  • @Ash I think you are being disingenuous. Your question was not closed simply because it didn't have a world behind it (although that is a reasonable interpretation of what MichaelK said). It was primarily closed because it was simultaneously extremely broad, primarily opinion based, and for the most part off-topic. It's the epitome of a brainstorming or idea generation question which I'll admit are often extremely popular on this site but are also generally considered off-topic. – Mike Nichols Aug 8 at 16:03
  • My Asperger's is severe enough that if there are no clear cut rules I don't function well, or at all sometimes, if I find I'm in violation of how I'm supposed to be using this site I will pull things apart so that I am working to the rules. The particular question isn't important to me, it simply served as a reminder that I've been meaning to ask this meta question since I asked worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/89602/40408. MichaelK's comment that "the Q&A part of Stack Exchange is — explicitly stated — to solve actual problems that people are having" is really worrying to me. – Ash Aug 8 at 16:13
  • @Ash Think of it like this: it cannot be used for people to assert hypothetical problems. I cannot use it as if I thought something like “I know an awesome way to do something. Let me think of a problem which could allow me to propose that as a solution.” That kind of pre-emptive thinking is rather more–or–less useful, of course, but it inverts Stack Exchange — Stack Exchange software is not designed to accommodate such a thing. For one thing, you have trouble with people designing faux problems which don't really operate as being described. – can-ned_food Aug 16 at 1:42

A simpler form of the prevailing opinions here:

Your question does need to pertain to worldbuilding. It needs to show worldbuilding and a dilemma with filling or closing some gap.
It does not, however, need to be a world which you intend to use in some capacity elsewhere.

Just my opinion, but these points constitute my thoughts on your query and especially in light of HDE's explanation of some of the historical issues of this forum:

  1. Be as curious as you like!
  2. Guide your curiosity towards worldbuilding topics & interests.

I am not of the opinion that a querent must be actively working on a legitimate & substantial subcreational project in order to ask a question here. So, I wouldn't have a problem with What-If questions, so long as they relate to a fantasy / sci-fi / gaming type world. This would weed out all the historical type WIs (like what if the South won the Civil War?).

But questions really should be directly applicable & related to worldbuilding. (I still am not of the opinion that "real world questions", "maths questions" and the like are on topic here, though I have ceased tilting that particular windmill.)

Curiosity certainly has a place here, otherwise, we wouldn't even be in business! But that curiosity should be directed towards our primary focus, worldbuilding, the making & detailing of fictional worlds.

As a huge fan of Randall Munroe's What If series I often find myself tempted to ask similar questions here, though I know they would be off topic.

That being said I have asked a few questions that had little to do with my actual world building projects (which, to be fair, are mostly in my head anyway so it's hard to tell the difference) and were mostly just curiosity as to how something could be done or if it could. The important factor is that they were all about World Building though, and while the answers do little more than satisfy my curiosity they may be of some use to others further down the line.

For example:

Neither have any real bearing on anything but I feel they're both reasonable, on topic questions the answers to which may prove useful to someone (or even me) in the future.

So as long as they have a relevance to world building I don't see any issue with them not being associated with any particular project.

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