0
$\begingroup$

Policy Reference: A proposal to finalize the "are real world questions on-topic" debate

Enlightening Comment: A proposal to finalize the "are real world questions on-topic" debate

Problem Statement: The discussion of Real World Questions has had a tumultuous history. Generally, I approve of the existing policy and the premise that the OP needs a worldbuilding reason to do so. In other words, if it's "just a Real World question," it belongs on another Stack. However, I believe it's time to clarify what a "worldbuilding reason" is.

In times past (see the Enlightening Comment and my answer that it's attached to), we've basically required people to attach some meaningless statement like "I'm building a world!" to their Real World question. As Secespitus pointed out, that's awfully shallow. In other words, it's a loophole that allows any question to be asked on the Stack.

Now, to be fair, some Real World questions seem to be accepted as inherently worldbuilding questions. Questions of celestial mechanics are the easiest examples. It's like Justice Potter Stewart's statement about hard-core pornography... we have trouble defining what a worldbuilding question is, but we know one when we see one... Kinda.

I'm therefore asking for a policy clarification in support of Real World questions that would better define when such a question is appropriate here and when it is not.

Proposed Clarification: A Real World question is appropriate when there is a worldbuilding dependency on the answer to that question. That dependency must be identified as it can (and probably would) affect the answers.

"Worldbuilding Dependency" means that the response to the query depends on an understanding of both a real world phenomenon and the fictional world rule or system the OP is trying to develop. The result will be answers that combine the real world and the fictional world. A legitimate answer that is strictly the facts of the real world demonstrates the query had no worldbuilding dependency, and the question should have been asked elsewhere.

In other words, "I'm building a world!" is no longer a viable excuse for asking a Real World question. The OP must now provide real context of an actual problem being solved that can't be answered (or would likely to be closed) on another stack.

Example question without context: Can a gas giant have an axial tilt of 28°?

Example question with unacceptable context: I'm building a fictional universe. Can a gas giant have an axial tilt of 28°?

Example question with acceptable context: In my universe planets spin on average much more quickly than they do as observed today in the Real Universe. I'm worried that such a fast spin will keep gas giants from having an axial tilt of 28°, which I need for my story. Given that the average planetary rotation in my universe is 125% greater than in the observed universe, would a planet like Neptune in a solar system like ours still have its axial tilt?

If I've used a meaningful example, what I've demonstrated is that the OP has (what I define as) a valid concern that the rules of their world might conflict with the Real World in a way that they can't easily rationalize, and so need our help.

To summarize: I'm proposing that Real World questions remain valid if and only if the OP can describe a dependency on a rule of their fictional world that requires the question to be asked on Worldbuilding rather than on a more appropriate Stack such as Astronomy.

Voting this question up means you support the clarification as proposed.

Voting this question down means you object to the clarification.

Answers to this post should express opinions for or against that help the community understand the pros and cons of supporting or objecting to the clarification.

Comments to this post should only ask for clarifications to the post, not state arguments for or against. That's what answers are for.

$\endgroup$
0
2
$\begingroup$

Bang on the Elephant!

I think this is a very important clarification to the Real World Question Policy, and a long time coming. It seems to me that this clarification might also cover questions of real world speculation in the guise of worldbuilding as well. As with RWQ, speculation is fun, but without sufficient or acceptable context, neither question type is appropriate here.

As I read it, the main point(s) I originally had disagreement with were:

We have many questions about history, culture, physics, chemistry and other topics that are asking for a comparison or background information from reality for aid in developing our imaginary worlds.

&

Provide context. Giving other users context around why you are asking the question allows them to better understand why you are asking and what kind of answer you want.

Two Points:
A long standing issue has been context. I've always encouraged RWQ querents to provide sufficient worldbuilding context so that the question can be understood not in terms of real world history, but as a sort of aide d' entendement for the respondent so that the phenomenon of history can be applied to the fictional reality.

You might want to define a little more clearly what "sufficient context" or "acceptable context" actually means.

I think the term worldbuilding dependency needs perhaps to be more clearly defined, though. Perhaps something like this?:

A Real World question is appropriate when there is a "worldbuilding dependency" on the answer to that question. This means that the response to the query depends on an understanding of the real world phenomenon, but is not based on the real world phenomenon; rather the response is based on the information and sufficient context given about the fictional world.

If I've written a good definition, then I've grasped what you mean by worldbuilding dependency -- if not . . . then maybe you'll have to work out a better definition!

Conclusion:
Without the clarification, we really do run into instances where questions that lack worldbuilding context can't actually be answered in a fictional manner! Or else questions can only be answered with real world speculation. The long and short of it is that we shouldn't be answering "questions about history, culture, physics, etc." We should be answering queries about problems with making or ordering a fictional world whose answers touch upon & require an understanding of history, culture, physics, etc.

$\endgroup$
4
  • $\begingroup$ We're frequently in sync. I think the phrases "sufficient-" and "acceptable context" should follow strictly from the definition of "worldbuilding dependency." I like your definition, but I'd like to see both the real world connection and the fictional world connection. Let me see if my rewrite fits in the next comment block. $\endgroup$ Oct 11 at 23:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "This means that the response to the query depends on an understanding of both a real world phenomenon and the fictional world rule or system the OP is trying to develop. The result will be answers that combine the real world and the fictional world. A legitimate answer that is strictly the facts of the real world demonstrates the query had no worldbuilding dependency, and the question should have been asked elsewhere." $\endgroup$ Oct 11 at 23:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact -- That I can go along with! I just emphasise the fictional over the real, but certainly understanding of both aspects is a requirement! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 12 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ You two seem to be in agreement with each other but I see a marked difference between your arguments. "Worldbuilding context" as elemtilas describes it, I have interpreted as "purpose; this is what I wish to accomplish with this question". But "fictional dependency" as JHB describes it, I interpret as "a system or rule not found in our reality which is critical for the question". The resulting difference means that by elemtilas' rule the question about achieving stable climate on a toroidal planet would be on-topic, but by JBH's rule it would be off-topic because the physics is all standard. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 18 at 13:57
0
$\begingroup$

You should add another, more mundane example of a fictional dependency

Settings that include alternate laws of physics are definitely not going to be confused with basic real-world questions any time soon. Before I personally know if I agree with your proposal or not, I would like to ask that you narrow down your requirement of fictional dependencies by providing a more mundane example of such a dependency.

Note that I personally do not think that the last one is all that suitable for the site, and not just because of the real world issue. But as far as worldbuilding context is concerned, where do you draw the line between that question and the other three? That's why I would appreciate more examples on your part, so I get a better picture of what your proposal would yield in practise.

Alternatively...

You should add an example of a question that is currently accepted but you think should not be accepted.

So not a question whose only context is the "I am building a world..." disclaimer, which is an extreme case even if I have no doubt those questions are found. Consider a well-motivated worldbuilder who is using the site with only good intentions. In what way are you altering their question-asking experience? Describe the best possible question that is currently considered on-topic and which you think should be considered off-topic.

For example, is this question off-topic under your suggested rule rephrasing: How would a torus world (donut shaped) have to rotate in order to have a stable day / night cycle in all of its regions?

That question gives no alternate laws of physics. They just present a weirdly-shaped planet. But what matters to me is that they are clearly asking for any allowable way to accomplish something for a story (stable day/night cycle), rather than just giving a set of facts and asking yes/no whether it would make sense in physics or not. To me, this question is worldbuilding. If it is not worldbuilding in your view, that's fine, but I would like to know whether or not it is.

$\endgroup$
12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Bullets #1 and #2 are good in my book, so long as the OP explains the dependency in detail, providing information about how the rules of their world differ from the Real World. Bullet #3 is probably a "Heck No" because questions about the actions or decisions of single characters have always been off-topic (see help center). Off the top of my head, I can't think of how to avoid that. (Frankly, the example Q you give is lucky - those are usually closed. Superlatives are 99.99% of the time opinion-based.) $\endgroup$ Oct 18 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ Bullet #4 is an absolute "Heck No." At best, motivation is just another form of character decision/action. Asking questions like, "what's the smallest historical change that would have allowed the HRE in the 1100s under Frederick Barbarossa have conquered Capetian France" are on-topic as they're establishing an alternative history. But motivation? Are we gods to guess objectively if someone wanted something just a little bit more than they did, could they have succeeded? I don't believe that's ever objective (or even Good Subjective). $\endgroup$ Oct 18 at 0:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that if I hunted down an example of a Q that was currently accepted but I think shouldn't be, I'd vote to close it. As L.Dutch has pointed out before, once someone with rep like mine votes to close, others tend to follow fairly quickly. I don't think that's a a valuable reference. $\endgroup$ Oct 18 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Putting aside for now the "actions of single characters" debate, which has nuances of its own - the fact that you accept the fictional nations as a dependency tells me that you are fine with dependencies that are within our laws of physics, as long as they do not happen to exist - which, because you cannot prove a negative in an infinite universe, translates to "as long as we know of none" for astronomical questions. So the toroidal planet question is fine, even though it does not contain any alternate physics, which you did specify as a req for your own axial tilt example? $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 18 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact And I really disagree with your insinuation that it is fine to start acting on a proposed rule change while it is still being considered. You should gather all those questions you think should be closed, to serve as the most exhaustive supply of examples and clarify your proposed rule change down to minute detail - and then, the moment it becomes clear you have some consensus behind you, then you can start throwing them in the VTC queue (and linking to the corresponding meta debate in comment). $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 18 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ The reason I'm making my comments is not to try to do a "gotcha" or expose a flaw in your reasoning or whatever. My view is not intrinsically better than yours, the one with the most votes wins. What I need is to understand your view. You talk about alternate rules and alternate systems; my fear is that you would only allow questions with magic in them, because only those diverging from physics can be said to be truly dependent on new rules. So rather than patch a loophole, your proposal would exclude a myriad questions currently accepted. That's why I need more examples - to understand you. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 18 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ The fact that you accept the fictional nations as a dependency tells me that you are fine with dependencies that are within our laws of physics I have no trouble with fictional worlds with our laws of physics. I have problems with questions about physics in fictional worlds with Real World physics. Please do not conclude that a question about physics or technology is legitimate just because in the OP's fictional world the U.S. is dominated by Communism. I'd vote that down in a heartbeat. The question dependencies must actually relate to the question. $\endgroup$ Oct 18 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ I really disagree with your insinuation that it is fine to start acting on a proposed rule change while it is still being considered. I've been asking people to explain how their Real World question relates to their Worldbuilding efforts for years. There will never be an exhaustive supply of examples and I believe it's entirely unreasonable that I go through years of questions just to make you happy. If you can't see the reason why this clarification is being sought, you need to do your own research. $\endgroup$ Oct 18 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ My fear is that you would only allow questions with magic in them. I'll bet my 84K rep against your 11K rep that you can't prove that's my behavior. If only because magic questions are frequently their own problem, unbounded fishing-for-ideas questions that are about the effects of magic rather than the system of magic. In the end there really is a place for Real World questions on this site - but only within the context of worldbuilding. If it doesn't make sense to you that a pure physics Q better belongs on Physics, I don't know what I can do to help you understand. $\endgroup$ Oct 18 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I should just stop talking because this is turning into a conflict which is not my intention. I did not mean to insinuate that you had some pro-magic bias, I meant that your requirement for "fictional rules" might be interpreted as a requirement for magic. I know that interpretation is unlikely to be right but for both my benefit and that of people who will reference this discussion years later, I hope you can provide some examples (not necessarily dozens, but more than zero) so that the concrete applications and implications of the suggested rule tweak become more clear. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 18 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact The only thing you can do to help me understand is answer me: would or would you not VTC the toroid planet question for off-topic. I'm not questioning your experience, your motivation, or the existence of a problem. Just bear with me, assume my IQ is beneath room temperature for the moment, and say whether or not that question should be closed, following your proposal. Just yes or no is fine. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 18 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ The torroid plannet question? I wouldn't (and didn't) VTC that question. But please understand, it's not relevant here. The question is not a Real World question and cannot be until or unless humanity discovers an actual torroid planet. Until then, it's pure worldbuilding. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that the same question had been asked of a spherical planet. It would still be a worldbuilding question due to the need to rotate on two axes, which isn't possible or plausible in the Real Universe according to what we know (that would be a rule change). $\endgroup$ Oct 19 at 0:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .