Although most questions tagged and are unquestionably well within the scope of Worldbuilding, some were or might have been inappropriate causing a discussion about the validity of continuing the tags.[1][2] The discussion is not new.[3][4][5] But this time it captured the attention of the SE Overlords.[6]

As is normal with high authority, the statements made by SE were delivered with a hammer. However, it has always been the culture of Stack Exchange to let the individual Stacks set their own rules — within limits. I have come to the opinion that @CesarM's Meta post was not a dictatorial action to shut down the and tags, but a warning that we must better police ourselves.

So, why am I posting this Meta question? Because as time has passed, it appears we have not settled on how do police ourselves. A recent comment chain argued that a question about the limits of human pain perception should be closed due to the warning given by our SE Overlords.1 The discussion was predictably all-or-nothing. The goal of this policy is to create a standard that will help reviewers judge whether or not a question tagged and/or is "too much."2


@Elemtilas points out a simple truth: everyone will have a different tolerance to vice. In the (in)famous U.S. court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964),[7] Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Theatre in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was convicted of public obscenity for showing Louis Malle's 1958 movie The Lovers, which the State of Ohio felt was obscene. In the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the matter, we learn the basics of our problem:

The most famous opinion from Jacobellis, however, was Justice Potter Stewart's concurrence, stating that the Constitution protected all obscenity except "hard-core pornography". He wrote, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

And that's our problem: when a question crosses the line, we're supposed to know it when we see it. Using violence as an example (although this can be applied to any vice), the complexity is that some will think little of depictions of violence that others would blanche over, some will react badly to violence where others seek to have nothing to do with it. And all that rests on the answer to a single question, "what's violence?"

The SE Overlords don't know any better than we do, save for one possibility: when somebody's parent contacts SE because they believe what we've posted on a publicly accessible site is objectionable, the threat of that lawsuit draws a line in the sand that I never expect SE to cross (nor should anyone here). As painful as it may seem, we are responsible for helping the company that provides the services we enjoy using free-of-charge to avoid unnecessary scrutiny — which means erring on the side of "decency," which is a word just as difficult to define as "violence." (Yup, we know it when we see it.)

Proposed Policy

Worldbuilding is about creating and consistently using rules for a fictional world of an individual's own creation. Questions about torture and execution are acceptable in a worldbuilding context under the following conditions:

  • Questions asked here must be suitable for asking on Biology or Medical Sciences. If the method of asking the question would be considered too gratuitous for those sites, it's too gratuitous here. ("We accept a lot here as long as it's written in a clinical voice."[8])

  • We allow real-world questions with worldbuilding context[9], but the purpose of this site is not to help a querent find the most3 gruesome, disgusting, disturbing, objectionable, or upsetting way to express a torture or execution — all of which are storybuilding. We will only help create the rules of torture and execution. This includes questions about methods, procedures, and consequences so long as the previous bullet is strictly adhered to and a specific and objective question is asked. Open-ended questions are strictly forbidden (as per the Help Center).4

  • Questions that ask about the rules of and/or that are not tagged appropriately shall be immediately edited (by anyone) to include one or both tags as appropriate. This allows users who do not want to subject themselves to those topics to more easily avoid them. Users who disagree with the application of the tags are encouraged to ask about the issue here, in Meta, rather than engaging in an edit-war over the matter.

It is further proposed that the and tags be updated to include a link to this post so that querents interested in asking such questions have easy access to the discussion that led to this policy.

1If you haven't realized by now that I'm still upset by how SE treated Monica Ciello... I can't help you.

2"Too much" is obviously a subjective term. It is highly unlikely that we will come up with an entirely objective criteria by which all tagged questions can be easily judged.

3Please do not accept the superlative word "most" too literally. We're not here to help anyone find those descriptions to any extent. Per our help center, we don't help people build stories.

4Worldbuilding.SE is generally casual about open-ended "How could I X?" questions. But in this case, we will hold querents to a higher standard. It is not our job to explain to you how to create as much pain as possible or how to keep someone alive as long as possible. Perhaps the difference is, "could I do X and not kill someone instantly?" would be on-topic as an objective, clinical question while "how do I keep someone alive as long as possible?" would be closed as open-ended and gratuitous.

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    $\begingroup$ Just because they behave like a 10 years old don't assume they are really 10 years old ;) $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Dec 25, 2020 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica Yeah, yeah, yeah... perhaps the salient point is that it's impossible to know who's on the other side of the curtain. However, I'm also an advocate of the idea that I don't need to be hit by a truck to know that it would hurt to be hit by a truck. Thus, the gory details are less important than many think. $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2020 at 6:02
  • $\begingroup$ so is this mean, the tag will be restored or try to? if it is, i really suggest to get a better or safer/softer naming for it, because the name is controversial and too suggestive especially to the ppl that dont read the description, i hope you get what i mean, because i am suck at explaining. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 26, 2020 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ for example "capital punishment" or "death penalty" to replace the name "execution" tag, at least in my perspective now it more hard tied to law/culture or worldbuilding stuff, and definitely link to death, which is execution is about, without much need to see the description. because to me the name execution in itself can be interpreted as a whim of the tyrant order or something that related to character action possibly without any connection to worldbuilding which can be considered storybase, which i believe is one of the reasons for many question to be like that. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 26, 2020 at 6:40
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun Unfortunately, the name and its effect on people is entirely subjective, which is why we close questions asking "what's the best name for X?" What's softer for you won't be for another. Worse, "capital punishment" and "death penalty" both have heavy political connotations in the U.S. There won't be a best choice. Too many people, too many points of view, too big a planet. $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2020 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ but at least now it have some clearer basis on the law or culture or religion, rather than execution, which pretty broad without clear basis on it. at least now i get why the downvote or deleted action regarding "what's the best name for X tag?" type, despite i think it can help develop solid and clearer tag to be self explanatory without needing to read the description, because thats what i believe tag should be, and the tag name itself play a huge role, also because i see some tag name that kinda misleading without reading the description or full context or understand its purpose. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 27, 2020 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ oh yeah, also whats wrong with heavy political connotations? even your santa question is heavily mean to mock U.S.A law and thats not even the first time i see a well received question that mean to mock real politic in certain nations especially U.S.A, are question related or connotate with real law or politic with worldbuilding sprinkle in it is a no no? $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun I apologize, I wasn't clear. A phrase like 'capital punishment" has very specific meaning and/or connotations in the U.S., but might not (and doesn't) in other cultures. That's the problem. A phrase that makes perfect sense to you won't make perfect sense to someone else. I'm neither for nor against a change in name - I just know it's the least valuable change we can make. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2020 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ like what? because from google seems like it have the same meaning of death penalty base on the law system, some may interpret it as military one but the core is still the same it has law as basis which can be related to worldbuilding. is there even a country that interpret it differently? including non english speaking using english translation? to me the tag name is the most important though, it can help narrow down or self explain the tag purpose just simply looking at the name imply as, at least thats how i see tag is done to be self explanatory in other site. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 28, 2020 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun Nobody misunderstands what "execution" means. On the other hand "capital punishment" is something that is authorized by a government. "Execution" is something both governments and non-governments can do. (If a gang puts a hit out on someone, it's an execution, "capital punishment" would be the wrong term to use.) If you want to debate this more, we need to take this into chat, because the purpose of this post is NOT to change the name of the tag. $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2020 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ exactly, thats why i called it too broad, and as you mention gang put a hit without any authorization is already out of worldbuilding context but more plot or storybase, and reason why most question end up not worldbuilding related, thats why i say ppl misunderstood it in the context of worldbuilding or this site specifically. yeah i just simply give suggestion, beside the main point is to help this tag to be appropriate for this site no? $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 28, 2020 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun I was not discussing the plot of a story, but the actual real-life uses of the words and phrases. No. I personally don't agree that the name should be changed. I do not believe people misunderstand these tags. I do believe that we need to provide some structure to better manage their use. $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2020 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ isnt that only prove my point that your real life example use regarding "execution" is too broad and not related to worldbuilding? tell me what part of gang personal hit has to do with worldbuilding? unless you mean the gang execution also has their rule regarding execution matter, and thats still considered death sentence or capital punishment to me, just like tradition or religious or even military laws not just public/nations laws. well i just suggest it, either being applied or not, is up to you "all" to decide. beside, i doubt many read the context in the tag anyway especially newbie. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 28, 2020 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura (a) We have limited ability to modify the help center. SE retains the vast majority control in all cases. (b) If your opinion is "all such Qs are off-topic," post it as an answer so the community can vote on it - then expect it to be poorly received for a number of reasons. (c) Weapon design and use is a common question type the usually doesn't breach either tag and rarely is expected to reach the point of real-life design. We point that out to people when they ask for too many details ("...if someone had that answer they wouldn't answer here, they'd be running to the patent office...") $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2020 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Chipster It's not uncommon for one Stack to reference another Stack's policies when developing their own. The purpose of citing Biology and Medical Sciences was to underscore the fact that questions concerning torture and execution must be clinical in nature. Balancing the desires of the community with the desires of the SE Overlords isn't always easy. $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2021 at 21:35

5 Answers 5


I am UNANIMOUS in offering a raspberry to anyone from Corporate who tries to lord their authority over any community whose foundation is free interchange of ideas & speech within the limitations set forth by said community, and so am going to stand with JBH's proposal to define Worldbuilding's statement on self policing.

Caveat No. 1: defining "too gratuitous". No one from slutmongers to SCOTUS greats has ever been able to offer a more razor sharp definition than I'll know it when I see it, so I think you might want to consider some kind rewording of that bullet point.

I've answered a large number of medical queries here, several of which are quite explicit in their physiological gore factor. That's just the nature of the beast whenever we deal with questions of what goes in within the icky insides of animal life forms.

I have a very high threshold for what I consider to be "too icky". Other people here are ready to edit out even the merest mention of blood or other fluid leakages.

The take away is that you're not really going to be able to define what is "too gratuitous" in a way that will satisfy everyone. Although I understand the need to tone it down, we need to have some room for creatively on topic gore.

I think this will require some discussion & refinement.

Caveat No. 2: I concur in so far as such questions are obviously written in a story based manner. Those ought to be closed a/o edited as appropriate.

However, I reserve the right to entertain creatively on topic gruesome, disgusting, disturbing, objectionable, & upsetting so long as it stems from the "nature of the world", the culture, the history, or some other mechanics.

Problem No. 1: I concur with L. Dutch re bullet point No. 3. It's rather self contradictory to say we both will and also will not answer physiology queries. In so far as "how" refers to nerves & mind~brain perception, rather than matters of instrument.

Problem No. 2: Re 10 year old children, I hold that we ought to continue our (astonishingly) high level of discourse in this forum. This is honestly one of the best geopoetical forums you can leave an unattended ten year old child in on the entire internet.

Level of discourse is high; interactions are regularly civil; language is tame by comparison with forums on Reddit; respect for persons & ideas is high as well.

That said, I am not going recast what I say as if this were Strawberry Shortcake Land just because we might have some ten year olds in the audience. If they wander into the adult world, they're going to be exposed to adult concepts.

I concur that we must self regulate whenever the temptation to descend into the depths of what is rude, crude, vulgar, and violent comes to the fore! We should be more creative than to rely on crudity & vulgarity anyway!

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for mention of subjectivity. People have different levels of tolerance for things. And not just relating to torture. Some people consider things like funerary rites, dissection, mating habits in animals and humans, and even base anatomy to be upsetting. A question that might be fine to one person might be upsetting to another, though trying to achieve a common denominator would probably result in the whole site being banned. $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2020 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @user2352714 -- That's an excellent point. It's telling, in fact: We don't seem to mind detailed descriptions of military activities or economics of Dwarvish mines or post Pockyclyptic scenarios. In fact, when such things are nòt well described, we tend to close the queries for not being clear or detailed enough! Yet here, the call is for precisely the opposite. Again, I'm not saying descriptions of violence must always be excessively & gratuitously over the top; but there does seem to be a double standard in the making here with this proposal. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 26, 2020 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ there also option to use ignore tag if it bother them, though i never use it, so maybe the function is different than what i think. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 28, 2020 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ I've updated the post to incorporate your observations. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2020 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ "I am UNANIMOUS" you agree with yourself? Or am I missing something about this expression? $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 4, 2021 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Honestly there are some topics that users from other cultures might consider crass that we keep. For example in China depictions of the dead and/or undead are taboo and depictions of lawless apocalyptic or revolutionary scenarios might be considered...socially unacceptable. Justifiable censorship is in the eye of the beholder. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2021 at 0:58

I find the wording of the following statement self contradictory

We will answer questions involving the physiological aspects of torture and execution with one, overriding limitation: we will not explain how to cause pain.

When it comes to torture, I don't see how one can explain the physiological aspect without also explaining or implicitly suggesting how to cause pain. If X is well know to be painful, it's obvious that X is a way to cause pain.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I was having trouble defining a line that's better than all-or-nothing. However, I perceive a difference between, "Will this procedure cause pain" and "will this procedure cause enough pain." I suspect it's the latter we're trying to avoid - the tendency to excess or gratuity. How would you explain such a difference, or do you believe the line should be either all or nothing? $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2020 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I could easily see someone asking a medical question with the intent "can I do this ''without'' causing harm to the patient". But then that could rapidly be turned around into a torture technique. $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2020 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 You're getting it without realizing it. "How can I X without?" means you've established a limitation or condition that controls the gratuity of the gore. "How can I do this and achieve X" is without limit and allows gratuity. The discussion is about how to define those limits in as objective a way as possible (because L.Dutch and Elemtilas are right, there may be no perfectly objective way to draw the line). $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2020 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ I've updated the post to include your observations. Thanks! Also, while you're at it, could you push the comment tree into chat? Thanks again! $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2020 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH What about psychological torture? There's no physical pain but few would argue it isn't torture of some kind. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2021 at 1:07

It kind of feels like this is much to do about nothing. I was under the impression that both tags were gotten rid of, and in the time since I've been here I don't think I've seen one specifically torture or execution-related question. Going through the database reveals maybe three such questions in the last year? And most questions that are really over the line are going to get close-bombed to oblivion within a few hours. I see there was the recent question cited above but even that one really isn't torture, it's asking if humans have an in-built maximum pain threshhold.

The more pressing issue is that banning the [torture] and [execution] tags won't solve anything. Take for example the controversial question in question. It doesn't include either of those tags in it at all. People are just going to take their torture-related questions either to something like [anatomy] (because most torture typically involves exploiting the human bodyplan) or [history]/[society] (going into historical details of capital punishment). And even if someone does say "well this crosses the line into torture and so we have to close it", how is that any different from a question just being close-bombed into oblivion normally?

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    $\begingroup$ Well, it is much to do about nothing. A good read of the linked query by Imperious Overlord No. 679 reveals as much. I think JBH is simply, and thoughtfully, not only telling the Overlords what to go do with themselves, but doing it in such a way that their baseless concerns are adequately treated. No, the tags were not "gotten rid of"; and no, we don't get a whole lot of torture queries. I think you hit an important nail on the head as regards tags: tag removal won't solve anything. You also hit another nail: close bombing of such queries largely comes down to which "cadre" of the... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 26, 2020 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ (cont) ... community is awake and active at the time the question is posed! I know there are some folks who are fairly active in asserting that such questions are "not allowed" and thus must be closed for example. I don't think it's the point of this proposal to deal with tags per so so much as to serve as a call for some level of moderation in terms of the description of violence and torture. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 26, 2020 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ Your observation that the Q that triggered this discussion doesn't use either tag underscores the reason why this discussion must happen. Is our policy (which is fundamentally independent of tags, which only serve as a way to impose a controlling effort for the policy) all, nothing, or something in between? If they're going to happen anyway, then that magnifies the purpose of this discussion. $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2020 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ Very good point about the existence of the tags. Personally, I think the tags help make sure that those who do not want to read about violence and torture don't have to without having to ban the subject all together. If I personally did not want to read about that, I'd be upset to find such a question tagged something innocent sounding like "anatomy" $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 6, 2021 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH The problem is it doesn't really matter what we as a community decide. If we decide as a community that questions focusing on human pain tolerance are acceptable but one describing explicit torture methods are not, then an SE Overlord comes by and considers a question like the one that started the OP to be against site policy (like what happened with Cesar M's comment), they can use that as an excuse to come down on us like a ton of bricks and there is nothing we can do about it. We only have the power to make the rules until they decide we don't. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2021 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki There are already gruesome questions that lack either violence or torture. For example worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/191607/… $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2021 at 0:56

Gruesome violence, torture and sex is part of human history and nature. At age 6 I was taught about the particular ways to be killed or tortured and go to hell if I was a bad child. In school children are taught around the age of 8 explicitly about human anatomy and how sex works and how various kings and queens were devastating their enemies and sometimes putting their heads on pikes or other times impaling them by trusting pikes from below upwards. At age 9 I was already studying the holocaust in history lessons.

At age 12 in america children can consent to have sex with other children of similar age, same goes for most of europe too... Except it's 11 and 13 in some countries.

So children can have sex in your country, but they can't see nipples on Tv?

The pegi system doesn't seem the smartest thing ever.

Is it ok to say that this type of censure is ridiculous and founded on adults who have no idea what children are like?

I'm young myself, so I still didn't forget what is like to be a child.

60 years ago children were murdering enemy soldiers to defend themselves and their families, it would be an insult to all the brave souls to treat todays children like some weak snowflakes.

  • $\begingroup$ Such a thing seems highly, highly variable based on what is considered age-appropriate wherever one lives. I mean I knew about the Holocaust before I was in Kindergarten, but all I knew about it was "people tried to kill people on the basis of group". I didn't learn about the gory details of what that entailed until I was 12 (and even then it was watered down). It's also highly dependent on graphicness. The destruction of Alderaan in Star Wars and the policies of the Imperium in Warhammer 40k are both genocide, but they are almost diametrically opposite in terms of graphicness. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2021 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'd also say arguing it's okay to show children this "because that's what children were exposed to in the old days" is a poor argument. In ye olden days it was also considered acceptable to force teenage girls into marriages with much older men, employ children in back-breaking labor, and rape every young girl and murder or enslave every able bodied boy in a village when your side won a battle. The increased psychological damage caused by being a child soldier compared to an adult conscript is well-documented. The past doesn't have any moral high ground here. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2021 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 that's kinda twisting the words out of my mouth, A is close to B but they still make different sounds. $\endgroup$
    – user81643
    Jan 9, 2021 at 1:21

Adding to the discussion about "Stack Overflow has a policy of making things appropriate for 13 years old or older", I think one aspect we may be overlooking is that even though you have to be 13 years or older to join Stack Overflow, you don't have to be 13 years or older to see Stack Overflow. Anyone can see answers posted on Stack Overflow just by using Google, and I have no doubt that Worldbuilding SE comes up as one of the first results if you search for many worldbuilding questions.

Of course, this ties into a broader Internet issue that you can't stop children from Googling anything unless you block every website with certain criteria, and when it comes to the Internet children....um...find a way, but it's certainly worth considering.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, stack exchange literally thrives off google searches. $\endgroup$
    – user81643
    Jan 8, 2021 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @user81643 There's nothing stopping 12 year olds from searching "Stack Exchange torture" in Google. Actually testing this results in History SE being one of the first results. Though Worldbuilding SE is the first result and is the only stack to appear more than once. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2021 at 23:51

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