A lot of stories are set in worlds that are like reality unless noted. These are settings in which the geopolitical situation is virtually identical to the modern world (minus the presence of a few small isolated nations like Wakanda or Atlantis or hidden supernatural groups like a vampire Masquerade), societal standards are virtually identical to the modern world, history is more or less the same as in the modern world (with the exception of occasional supernatural influence that is often handwaved away so that for most humans there is no functional difference), the geography and ecosystem is more or less identical to the modern world, etc.

  • Stories about the appearance of a novel supernatural phenomenon (i.e., zombie plague, alien invasion) in the present day
  • Urban fantasy settings, especially those that involve some sort of masquerade that keeps the supernatural hidden and therefore not overtly influencing human history or behavior
  • "Superhero" settings like the Marvel and DC universes, which are often more or less identical to present-day Earth in most respects beyond the presence of superhumans (i.e., the presence of Captain America or Namor has caused virtually no differences between the histories of our world and the Marvel Universe, compare with something like Watchmen)

These settings are explicitly not set in an alternate timeline, not set in a fantasy world, and not set in the far future or cyberpunk situation. For these kinds of questions, the context of the present day is essential for answering the question. A question of "how would society react to an alien invasion" or "how would society react to magic" is heavily dependent on present-day infrastructure, societal norms, governmental structure, distribution of resources and technology, etc. The answer would be very different for a world where the Roman Empire never fell, or the year 2500, or a fantasy world with completely different society and government from our own.

As a result, it seems as though it would be useful to establish a tag for those questions which are more or less set in the context of the present day. I had debated making one, having noticed there didn't seem to be a dedicated tag, but it wasn't clear if a tag already existed. We already have a tag and a tag, but the scope of these tags and how they do and do not overlap is not really clear. For example, would an alien invasion or superhero question fall under "urban fantasy". The tag descriptions are also incredibly vague.

Overall, we need a dedicated tag for those questions set in the "real world" or something like it to group these kinds of questions together. I am not sure what it should be, or if the and tags should be merged. Hence bringing up the issue here.

EDIT: Looking at some of the responses, what it looks like is not that we need a new tag for this kind of question, but rather that we need to consolidate the tags we have, adjust tag descriptions, and use the tags more widely to make them more widely known.

  • $\begingroup$ Standard question about tags: what would qualify one as an expert in "real world"? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica Can you clarify? I am not certain what you mean. The broader point I am trying to make is Worldbuilding SE right now has a large segment of questions that are specifically about Worldbuilding contexts as they apply to a semi-contemporary setting, but there isn't a single dedicated tag to group these questions together. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ We also have an alt-history tag a super-powers tag and a modern-age tag which, along with urban-fantasy and probably several others, would take care of the space you're proposing for this tag, I think! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Here's the issue, it's not clear which tags cover what. An alien invasion and a superhero world both involve the present day, but are otherwise unrelated. If nothing else the tags for modern-age need to be made clearer, right now there is no widely-used tag for such questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Actually, looking at the tags, what we might need is a mass retagging and synonymy of a bunch of tags. Right now we have separate, unrelated tags for "modern" and "modern age", which cover the same topics. A lot of contemporary era questions lack any tag whatsoever. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, that can be a problem with tags! I generally think less is best. Let the question speak for itself. Tags are really only useful for purposes of watching tags (I don't) and categorisation (for research perhaps). Like you say, it's not always clear which tag should be used. The inevitable result is a surfeit of tags and a question being posed on Meta in 2026 asking to combine a whole load of rarely used tags into "alt-history" or some such! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Either that or no one is using the tag in the first place, which suggests people don't know about it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ I am certainly not averse to someone (you?) volunteering to undertake such a project! What you're saying makes sense to me; I just don't find the tag system to be very useful. I don't follow any tags and don't even pay attention to the tags on the questions I answer. But that's just me! I know others find them useful! And yes, it's very possible folks don't know about certain tags! That could be a symptom of some past member of the community who thought it would be a great idea to propose a tag and then it promptly became forgotten. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ @elimtilas I would love to do it, but I cannot propose tag synonyms because I lack a score of 5 or more on either tag. I have questions that would fall under this, but it seems retagging questions does not count towards the "5 score needed" $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ Hm. See, I'm not even sure what a "score of 5 or more" even means in this context! I guess you'd have some work to do to get that score?? I looked into it: I guess you have to answer (and maybe ask?) questions in that tag in order to increase the score. I think that's just a matter of time and perseverance! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ A usual test to see if a tag is good or not is to see if the sentence "I am an expert in [tag]" makes sense. "I am an expert in ancient history" or "I am an expert in magic system" make sense. "I am an expert in real world" sounds a bit odd to say the least. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica -- Odd only in that every one of us (at least over the age of 30 or so) ought to be competent journeymen if not mastfully experienced in the real world! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You earned that from the School of Hard Knocks, I suppose? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 7:02
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica how many of us are expert in reality-check? I understand from this proposal that it really describes a method of answering (keep everything like real life unless otherwise part of the stated fiction) rather than a field of knowledge about "real life". $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 12:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm Or "science-based". It's easy to be an expert in a particular field but no one would ever say they are an expert in hard science by itself. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 18:41

3 Answers 3


Issue 1: The need for a "real world" tag. I understand the source of the proposal being that not all fictional worlds are radically different from the real world. Hence the linked trope: like reality unless otherwise noted.

The problem here is that there are a number of tags already that point to this generality. , , , , , , , and probably many others all point in the direction of the proposed tag.

The question I'd ask is: does the solution really help or does it only serve to muddy the waters?

Issue 2: synonymising vs merging tags, as I now understand, is a very dangerous step to take, simply because the action deprecates & disallows the use of the synonym.

The problem here is obvious in that merging or even synonymising all these tags would only serve to reduce one's options when searching for questions or when asking questions. For example, if one has an urban fantasy world or wishes to research urban fantasy worlds here, one might not be interested in superheroes or alternate history. If the tags are synonymised or merged, then one will see all queries tagged with synonyms rather than the specific tags one is interested in.

The question I'd ask is simply whether this is an effective or useful solution for the community.

Conclusion: While I am somewhat ambivalent on the issue of creating a new tag "real world", I find that its wording indicates subject matter that comes very close to being closeable for not being about worldbuilding. I'd be happier with the slightly more unwieldy "like reality unless otherwise noted".

As the situation stands, it seems that we have a lot of tags that approach the idea of a fictional world that is very similar to the real world from relatively well known specific genres (urban fantasy, alternate history and super heroes in particular). I am not convinced that adding a general tag would make the situation any better. But neither am I convinced that a general tag should not be created.

On the other hand, I am now quite convinced that synonymising or merging any of these tags is a bad idea. I think that to say we'd need to approach this with care is an understatement and I'd much rather see lots of useful tags than well intentioned merging that might make the tag system less useful.

A Solution?: Perhaps the best way forward would be for gung-ho individuals to engage in systematic programmes of proactive as well as retroactive tagging. If you see a new query that isn't tagged or that could be tagged better: tag it! If you see an old question that isn't well tagged: retag it!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I really wish we could add more than five tags, then it would be easier to have more tag diversity $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ Creative tagging can be an issue! The only thing I could suggest there is trying to hit the main highlights. "Creature design", e.g. assumes some kind of biology is in play, so one doesn't really need to use both tags. That kind of hierarchy of tagging can open up free spaces for other tags, if needed. Other suggestion would be less is best: choose the tag(s) that best reflect your purpose & focus in asking. One doesn't necessarily need to tag a creature design query with "fantasy" & "medieval". The focal tag ought to be sufficient. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 17:50

I do not believe this would be a valuable tag

Worldbuilding for this Stack can be defined as follows:

Worldbuilding is the process of creating and consistently using rules and systems for a fictional world of your own creation.

One of the reasons we had a debate about real-world questions is that all such questions can be answered on other Stacks (and often should be). However, the community recognized the need to ask (and this is important), functionally real-world questions in an effort to forward the process of building a fictional world.

You're post appears to be investigating that line of reasoning. A fictional thing is happening to Earth as we know it. But there's an important distinction — something fantastic is happening.

That worldbuilding context, the creative and fictional aspect that changes the nature of reality, is important. But as a result, the question really isn't about the real world anymore. Because asking how the real world would react to (e.g.) an alien invasion (since one has never happened other than in science fiction) is no longer a real world question.

As @elemtilas explained, there's always something different — and that something different is an incredibly important rule that must exist for the question to be valid here.

For example, if someone were to ask "how would the United States in 1985 react if something like the Cuban Missile Crisis happened in Bermuda?" Except that this is .

I recently has a comment discussion with an OP who regularly asks if a fictional creature is "feasible." The implied question is, "whether it's a fictional world that has the same rules of physics and biology as Earth, or simply Earth, could my fictional creature exist?" I regularly VTC such questions as opinion-based because, unless a remarkably complete explanation of the biology of said creature is also presented, the "real world" question can't be factually answered.

And that's why I disagree with the value of the proposed tag. The whole point of this site is to create fiction. The existing set of tags, IMO, adequately do that.


The modern world but with Atlantis, or caped superheroes, or periodic zombie outbreaks, or elementary school wizards, is already covered by :

For questions in which reality is different than it is in real life. This may range from small, historical changes to absolute revisions of the laws of physics.


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