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I want to ask in the context of the now-infamous gerrymandering question, which got removed because it did not do enough worldbuilding. It's not my question, and I have zero interest in seeing it put back on Worldbuilding.SE. I just want to understand the limitations, so that fewer of my questions get closed.

Summarising the question like this:

  • What sort of proportional election system could have local representatives but prevent gerrymandering?

I am giving up trying to voice my own understanding of the reasons, since that always gets me bogged down in details and I'm always wrong anyway. Instead, teach me by example. Which of the following questions (if any) would be on-topic for Worldbuilding.SE?

  1. What sort of proportional election system could have local representatives but prevent gerrymandering? The country is populated by apes with the exact same intelligence and habits as humans.
    • This is adding "Worldbuilding context" in the most literal and irrelevant form. The question is exactly the same, but now it's an ape country instead of an (implicit) human country.
  2. I have a country of intelligent apes who want to be locally represented but hate gerrymandering. What sort of proportional election system could they use?
    • Variant on the above, turning the constraints on the question into constraints on the species; forcibly making them relevant.
  3. Could a country with local representatives but no gerrymandering exist?
    • Same question, but asked with more speculation, and including a reality-check element of whether "society" would tolerate this system, therefore having it cover more than just politics.
  4. What are the weaknesses of a hypothetical political system with local representatives, each from a district, with each representative carrying a vote proportionate to how many people voted for them?
    • The most upvoted answer to the original gerrymandering question, asked in a reality-check form.
  5. What sort of tank could my fictional country, situated in the desert and at war a nation across a river, use for their military?
    • I consider this an equivalent of the gerrymandering question but applied to engineering: it asks for A (tank/election system), which can be hypothetical or already existant, for purpose B (attacking over a river/have local representatives), under restrictions C (works in desert/no gerrymandering).
  6. My goal is a fairer country where every citizen feels they are represented; how can I build a system to facilitate that?
    • Broadening the question and contextualising it with the author's purpose instead of with worldbuilding fluff.

Many of these hypothetical questions would be closed for other reasons like being too broad, I get that. I do not intend to ask questions like these. I just need to know, for future reference, which ones of these - if any - qualify as worldbuilding.

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My take, a 5 point scale of fictional world context:

  1. What sort of proportional election system could have local representatives but prevent gerrymandering? This query is straight up political-science 101. There is no hint of any kind of fictional reality: no fantasy setting, no alt-historical, no sci-fi. This query should either be closed immediately for being off topic, or else exported to the appropriate SE forum for answer. Level zero means absolutely devoid of fictional context.

  2. I have a fantasy / sci-fi world; What sort of proportional election system could have local representatives but prevent gerrymandering? This question has potential, but basically is a non-sequitur. Non sequitur mean, literally, "it doesn't follow": the content of the query does not flow from or logically follow the opening statement. Level 1 means potential connection with a fictional scenario, but still devoid of fictional context.

  3. I have a fantasy / sci-fi world where there are Merpeople and Catpeople and Dogpeople and everyone rides purple and gold unicorns. The Catpeople and the Dogpeople are always fighting each other, even though they live in the same cities. I'm wondering: What sort of proportional election system could have local representatives but prevent gerrymandering? This question has a rather more potential. We learn more about the fictional setting itself, we can surmise some things about the culture and history. However, when we drill down into the question, we find that this is much worse than the non-sequitur. In this case, like the non sequitur, the question doesn't logically follow from the context. Level 2 is the red herring: the OP has given us fictional context, but is leading us down the garden path by not connecting the fictional context with the body of the query. The red herring query is a waste of our time and effort as respondents. I find this kind of query far more frustrating than the Level 0 or Level 1 questions, simply because I've become intellectually & creatively invested in the fictional world, only be stood up at the altar when the actual question comes.

  4. I have a fantasy / sci-fi world where there are Merpeople and Catpeople and Dogpeople and everyone rides purple and gold unicorns. The Catpeople and the Dogpeople are always fighting each other, even though they live in the same cities. For the most part, Dogpeople live in clannish neighbourhoods, while Catpeople are happy to live spread out in various neighbourhoods within the City. Merpeople refuse to allow anyone else live in the dryland parts of their neighghbourhoods. I'm wondering: What sort of proportional election system could have local representatives but prevent gerrymandering? This is much better (but please forgive the example, as it's entirely off the cuff!). We have relevant context, in that we now know something about the habitation patterns and something more about the worldviews of the people. Level 3 is what I'd consider to be the minimum allowable context level for an answerable question. I'd still like to know a little more about the political situation (who's in charge, what is the current state of district boundaries, etc) but I think we might get some good answers.

  5. I have a fantasy / sci-fi world where there are Merpeople and Catpeople and Dogpeople and everyone rides purple and gold unicorns. The Catpeople and the Dogpeople are always fighting each other, even though they live in the same cities. For the most part, Dogpeople live in clannish neighbourhoods, while Catpeople are happy to live spread out in various neighbourhoods within the City. Merpeople refuse to allow anyone else live in the dryland parts of their neighghbourhoods. Right now, the Dogpeople and the Merpeople are the dominant political forces in the City. The Dogpeople, being pack oriented, have been successful in creating district election boundaries that make their own districts more powerful, while chopping up Catpeople habitation patterns and assuming them into Dogpeople districts. There is only one very small Catpeople district, and it only exists because there are no Dogpeople living in or nearby. I'm wondering: What sort of proportional election system could have local representatives but prevent gerrymandering? Level 4 gives us not only the existence of a fictional world, but also introduces something of its background; the querent also states their assessment of the problem, giving enough context to allow for a decent treatment of the entire issue. There is plenty of room for creativity and expertise to come to the fore; but there is also enough background to direct that creativity towards answers that might be useful to the querent.


My assessment of your questions, in light of the proposed scale above:

Q 1 is a Level 1 type question: no real worldbuilding context.

Q 2 is close to a Level 3 type question: barely sufficient context; still need to know more.

Q 3 is actually an entirely new & different question, in that it asks about the existence of something based on some other criteria. I'd close it as lacking detail or clarity until you could edit it. It's also a Level 0 type question in that there is absolutely no fictional context.

Q 4 I'd say is also a Level 0 query: no fictional context given.

Q 5 is not about worldbuilding, and I'd probably VTC it on that basis; I think there's also a strong argument for closing this query for being story based, in that you're focusing on the choices of a military governorate and not on how your fictional world functions.

Q 6 again is a Level 0 query: no fictional context given.

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  • $\begingroup$ I first off want to thank you for your answer - and of course for the entertaining tales of the various beastfolk. Where I want to hone in however is the purpose for which you, as the answerer of such a question, would be using the context. Level 3 and 4 are mostly an explanation of what gerrymandering is, and they name the specific groups involved - you could infer from as low as level 0 that there are in fact multiple groups... $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 22 '20 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ The biggest difference I see in the higher levels is that the extra details regarding the reasons for the districts are attributed to the species; that serves to provide alternative avenues for answers that zoom in on those special aspects. One potential answer could include catnip as part of the strategy and barely deal with the concrete politics of it. I would call such answers borderline-frame-challenges, which are not always desirable by the asker. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 22 '20 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ Now that I see your judgement of my example questions, I must say that it surprises me that it's really the amount of context that seems to be guiding the classifications, rather than the questions themselves. I'm really of the opposite mindset; I tend to consider such context as implied (which is why I did not provide any with my example questions), and not immediately relevant unless a specific creative hook - a borderline-frame-challenge - is used in an answer. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 22 '20 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm -- You're welcome! Well, extra details is often where it's at! Just extra details of the right kind! The more you can tell me about your world and about the situation you're asking about, without writing a 700 page travelogue to do it, the better answer I can give you. An outstanding Level 4 query might focus a little more on the plight of the Catpeople who live in heavily populated Dogpeople districts; it might also consider whether or not Dogpeople are aware of the injustice, or simply consider it par for the course in Dog eat Cat city politics. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm -- Indeed! I'd say it's rarely a problem of the question itself. The gerrymandering question is a perfectly valid question: it's just not perfectly valid in this forum! When it comes to understanding your fictional world, I as respondent am very limited: you know everything there is to know about it, and I only know what you tell me in a question! If you tell me a little, I may be able to help, or I may not. You may not be telling me the right things about your world. But if you tell enough of the right things about your world, then I should be able to give ... $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ ... you extremely helpful answers! I understand your perspective better now: nothing personal, of course, but I find queries of that sort where the OP "assumes and implies" the context that I actually need to give an answer to be very frustrating questions indeed! Now, your perspective makes sense: you know your world, and you probably have some kind of idea of what the answer ought to be, so you just want to ask the question straight up. Just remember: I don't know anything about your world or how you've gotten it to work thus far! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ I still feel that there's one particular riddle unsolved for me. Why do you need details to make helpful answers? If I am really only interested in solving gerrymandering for my fictional nation, and I am not concerned with naming the specific groups in their various power positions - just the fact that there are different groups in different power positions (which is implied by gerrymandering being a concern) $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 22 '20 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ - then what do you need details for, other than to give me less helpful answers that are not specifically about what I was asking about? Or if "there is gerrymandering" does not sufficiently establish that there are in fact different groups, then shouldn't the question be closed for Needs Details, rather than Not Worldbuilding? $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 22 '20 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ I have experienced that details are often used as back doors, so to speak. If one were asking about solving a specific political problem for a nation that happens to be populated by beastfolk, and someone answered along the lines of "organise an annual hunt" or something else that relates directly to animal instincts - bypassing the politics angle entirely - then that is not a helpful answer. I have one or two such answers on many of my questions. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 22 '20 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm -- Why do I need details? This is just me: my personal goal in answering questions here is twofold. One part is to give you a sensible answer. The other part is to exercise my own creativity and writing skills. For example. I could have just said: this is the area and mass of the Asian continent wrt the area and mass of Earth; here are the pertinent equations for ripping 20% of the planet away; you can do the math and come up... $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ ... with your own answer. I would much rather give the answer in the form of a narrative. It's more fun for me to write; and I hope it's at least tolerably amusing for others to read. As for the gerrymandering question, as it was originally written, I could honestly say: would you like me to google that for you? We have to have a balance, especially in this forum; and we have to be able to demand a certain amount of respect for our respondents. Part of that is not treating us like a search engine, not expecting us to do math homework, and not allowing us to ... $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ ... engage with you (the querent) in a creative fashion. Basically, if you just want to solve a simple gerrymandering problem, then I think the community is well within rights to invite you to ask that kind of question in a forum that kind of question is not only on topic, but conventionally acceptable. It's not that we can't answer real world questions here; it's that some of us don't want to, and none of us should be put upon to answer real world questions, simply because the nature of this forum is different. We want to answer fictional world questions! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ As for your last question, I of course don't know the questions you're referring to, but I would ask you to do a self assessment. If you see a pattern whereby one or two clever chops are circumventing your expectations, then I suggest that you might want to consider reviewing and possibly rewording the "conditions" part of your questions. You could simply say: condition 2: I am looking for political solutions only. The smart arse answer about organising a hunt will probably end up either being downvoted into ... $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ ...oblivion, or else commentors will ask "how does this answer the question!? the OP explicitly asks for a political solution! It may eventually be deleted or converted into a comment. There's no doubt about it: there is something of a game being played here. Querents play games, usually of the "what kind of off topic questions can I get away with" type. Respondents also play games: "how clever can I be at answering this question" and also "let me dance through the OP's loopholes!" Ultimately, you are correct that this kind of game is unhelpful. But at least there are actions the... $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 23 '20 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ ...community can take (commenting, downvoting, flagging); and also actions the querent can take (tightening up the wording of a question, giving sufficient detail and context to guide the responses) to minimise those kinds of shenannigans. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 23 '20 at 0:03

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