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Conclusion:

The tag wikis have been updated and the new tag made a synonym of . Users can conveniently find links to the modified tags here: Please review the updated tag wikis for internal-consistency, science-fiction, science-based, and hard-science

Solution:

Based on the answers and comments the following solution has been proposed to the Moderators.

  1. The current tag named will be renamed to and its wiki, along with the wikis for , , and updated to reflect the change.

  2. A new synonym of will be created named , since there is no practical difference between asking for a science-based answer and asking for an answer based on the reality of the Real World. The tag wiki will be updated to explain the synonym.

  3. @DaaaahWhoosh's original Meta post will be updated with a link redirecting here.

Thank you, everyone, for participating!


Almost nobody uses the tag correctly

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, @DaaaahWhoosh asked a perfectly sensible question:

Do we need the reality-check tag?

I even answered the question (badly, I might add...). And after all these years of watching people use the tag over and over in the wrong way (because all they ever do is read the tag title and not the tag wiki), I could wish the tag never existed.

  • Asking if something on a fictional world is "realistic" is, frankly, asinine on a stack that claims, "Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a site for designers, writers, artists, gamers and enthusiasts to get help creating imaginary worlds."

There are two uses that I regularly see:

  1. Here's my fictional idea for use in the real-world. Is it "realistic?"

The answer is always "no" because the fictional idea doesn't exist in the real world — the rules of which are immutable — and we're not interested in the real world anyway.

  1. Here's my fictional idea for my fictional world. Is it "realistic?"

Compared to what? Earth? In this instance what the querent probably means is, "does this idea meet everyone's expectations for suspension-of-disbelief?" But I've worked with some querents who really want someone to tell them that their fictional idea on their fictional world could really, really exist!

Since the goal here is to help people create and consistently use the rules of a fictional world of their own creation, what's the point of asking if something is "realistic" in the first place?

Here's the gist of the problem: What the tag is supposed to do is allow the querent to present one or more world rules and an application of those rules and have us judge whether or not the application is consistent with the rules. In other words, "Is the following scenario consistent (aka "realistic") when judged against my world's rules?"

Currently the tag wiki states that the tag is not for judging anything against the Real World. I freely admit that I put that restriction in the wiki based on years of discussing what the tag was intended for and in an attempt to minimize the number of questions asking whether or not a fictional idea in the real world was "realistic" (it's like asking if a saw blade weapon is realistic).

So, what to do?

@DaaaahWhoosh was correct. Do we actually need this tag? I can see where it would be useful to have a tag like because I think people would basically understand what those two words meant without having to read the tag wiki.

But I think it's a mistake to continue using the tag because it's almost never used in the way it's intended and is almost always used in a way that's contrary to the intent of the Stack. Honestly, how can anyone judge the "realism" of a fictional world?1

Proposal: Rename the tag

  • Up vote this question if you agree the tag should be renamed to (or something similar, I'm open to ideas).

  • Down vote if you want to continue with the mess as it is.

  • Answer if you have insight into how we can either (a) convince people to use the tag correctly, (b) if you have an alternate suggestion for a replacement name, or (c) you simply want to taunt me for being too anal about the whole situation. My wife keeps reminding me that I'm supposed to be an adult, so I think I can take it.

Note that it's been a while since I did any tag maintenance. I can't remember if we can rename a tag or not. If not, then "renaming" the tag means creating a new tag and systematically deleting the old one and replacing it with the new one in 6,077 questions. If that's the case, then we may simply be stuck with the fact that we answered @DaaaahWhoosh's question badly five years ago and hopefully have learned our lesson.


1I had the time of my life reading Greg Egan's Orthogonal Series, which would have been a PERFECT example of the intended use of the tag. He'd present his appendix about the mathematics of his world, a chunk of his story, and ask if his story reflected the "reality" of his world — which had next to nothing at all to do with the Real World (it wasn't even a complete expression of science). If you want to better understand my frustration over the tag, go read his books and then compare your experience to what people usually mean when they ask if something is "realistic."

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    $\begingroup$ Rule consistency or internal consistency? Because, again, if we benchmark against "our" rules we are just giving an old dog a new dress. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Jun 21 at 6:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch As in the stack's rules? I can see that point. Finding the right two words might be a pain, but the two we have now aren't working for the purpose. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 21 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ I hope you mean "these are the rules of my world, are they internally consistent and/or is X consistent with them?". Because else the reference will always be our real world set of rules, a.k.a. physics. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Jun 21 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch That's exactly what I meant. It's also what I said in the paragraph beginning "Here's the gist of the problem:". $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 21 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ When you are confident with the outcome and want to move forward, you can also ask a mod to to the whole abracadabra with the tags. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Jun 23 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ The answer is not always "no". Answering RC questions, I've learned that : usable masonry structures have to be less than 200' tall. Genomes can be extracted from a well preserved bone less than a million years old. The moon can be any size you want w/o any effect on tides as long as it's far enough away. - None of those have anything to do with their world. It's asking if it makes sense under my understanding of our own, which requires using all of the sciences and why they're my fav Q. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 26 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ You get a hypothesis, one variable, and a control group (the rest of reality unaffected). I've changed more than one thing. Does this other thing still make sense? A three body problem has no answer. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 26 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ I'm in favor of rules-consistency (so I can ignore them), but not at the loss of reality. "it's almost never used in the way it's intended" - agreed, but when it is, it makes for the only Qs worth answering. Changing tags because people don't read their descriptions is wack. "Down vote if you want to continue with the mess as it is." - well, I'd be the one out of 12 so I won't bother. You should've made 2 As : one yes, one no. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 26 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura I think you're over-focusing on what you believe is a useful tag function. Every question you've asked or answered where the abused version of reality-check might make sense would make equal sense with the correct tags (e.g., science-based). If you take a step back and think it through, there is no hole that the concept of a "reality check" as abused today can fill that can't be filled with more meaningful tags. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 27 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura Frankly, the biggest problem users have is that they don't know how to ask a question. "Does this make sense?" is a horrible question on a stack that deals with fictional worlds. "It's your world, of course it makes sense." It's only valid use is when asking for help based on knowledge of the Real World, in which case the question shouldn't be "is this realistic?" (because what you just did was admit you have an answer and are unsure about it), it should be, "how can I do X?" Which embraces the help center's admonition to not give your own answer and ask for more. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 27 at 3:24
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    $\begingroup$ So what about previous meta-posts on reality checks? any new user won't know to search for it after the rename. I would assume almost everyone knows what a "reality check" is. the new tag names may convey the rule associated with it better but i'll be damned if the new names don't really suck. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Jun 28 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ "Currently the tag wiki states that the reality-check tag is not for judging anything against the Real World." ... incorrect. It "Asks if a given concept is realistic in a given context." No where does it say what your "given context" can or cannot be. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 30 at 6:12
  • $\begingroup$ Asks if a given concept is realistic in a given context. Answers should say yes or no, with supporting info. Compare this with the science-based and hard-science tags. This tag should never be the only tag on a question, because this tag frames how a question should be answered, not the topic. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 30 at 6:12
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Time has passed and I believe we have a solution. (a) Rename the current tag to internal-consistency. (b) Create a synonym of science-based named reality-check. Once done I (or another, if you believe it appropriate) I can clean up the tag wikis. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 4 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH mass replacement done, and I have suggested the synonym too $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Jul 5 at 4:30

3 Answers 3

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I would propose naming the tag because the might be confusing for users. In the opposite direction of what it is now: makes them think it is "check against our reality" whereas might suggest something about rules but it is not clear which rules. And we already know users do not tend to check the tag description where they would see it is about the rules of the world.

is a bit more direct what it is about.

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    $\begingroup$ I am definitely OK with user consensus when it comes to the tag name. Just so long as the words "reality" and "check" aren't among them. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 21 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ internal-consistency only works for #2 : Here's my fictional idea for my fictional world. Is it "realistic?" (prob. IDK, you changed too many things at once) ... need real-world-consistency for #1: Here's my [one] fictional idea for use in the real-world [otherwise unaltered]. Is it "realistic?" (IDK. Let's find out using the scientific method.) $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 28 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura that's the intention of the proposal - [reality-check] is (only) meant to be checking for internal consistency: according to the rules of the world, does something make sense. Yet it's been misinterpreted as checking if it makes sense in the real world. Which, in turn, is a completely faulty premise. We've never had a tag for this "#1" you're talking about. We have several tags that denote aspects of that, though - most notably [science-based] and [hard-science] but also [biology], [physics], [humans] and others take our world as bases. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jun 28 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ "Asks if a given concept is realistic in a given context." Context: Earth, c. 1985. Concept: flat screen TVs. Answer : Flat-panel display "The first production flat-panel display was the Aiken tube, developed in the early 1950s and produced in limited numbers in 1958." - It's, as per usual, a history question or too easily googled, but that has nothing to do with "how a question should be answered" or whether or not it's story based and should be closed for that reason. S-B and H-S tags only tell us if they want citations or not. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 30 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura I have no idea what you're arguing for here. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jun 30 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ "Yet it's been misinterpreted as checking if it makes sense in the real world." I don't see how the tag description excludes that. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 30 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura sound like you're disagreeing with the very premise of this question, then. You're free to leave an answer to detail why you think the proposal is incorrect. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jun 30 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ Users who don't check the tag description definitely don't read the wiki. It's been misinterpreted as checking if it makes sense in the real world because the tag description doesn't explicitly disallow it; 'in a given [imaginary] context'. - Users are then expected to "Compare this" by getting side-tracked by clicking two other links for their descriptions, and possibly two more for their wikis. - RC, SB, and HS tag descriptions all need to say what all of them do. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jul 1 at 22:08
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Yes, I do support the proposal to rename the misnamed reality-check tag to something more clearly suggesting its intended use.

More than that, I believe we should take a hint from the way in which the tag is so frequently misused and misinterpreted, and absolutely add a tag specifically intended to cover the most common use case, namely checking that with the exception of a small set of fantastic elements the proposed world is realistic. Because...

The vast majority of imaginary worlds are (or attempt to be) realistic

Only very rarely do imaginary worlds intentionally contain unrealistic elements, such as light sabers, effective magic, time travel and such. The vast, overwhelming majority of imaginary worlds are, or at least attempt to be, perfectly realistic, with only subtle deviations from real life.

Yes, there is no country in Europe called Ruritania. There is no county in England named Midsomer, and there is no town called Casterbridge. But there could have been, and part of the charm of the stories is exactly that the places are realistic, albeit imaginary.

Imaginary worlds exist on a continuum: most of them deviate only very slightly from the real world, mostly by containing people who never existed; some deviate significantly from the real world, by including imaginary places, with or without bothering to sketch a full geography; some deviate even more from the real world, by including purely imaginary history and and animals and plants, while still remaining fully within the sphere of realism; only very few imaginary worlds stray into flat-out contradiction with realism, for example by including effective magic.

And even in those stories which are set explicitly in a world in flat-out contradiction with reality, the contradictions are most usually restricted a very few elements; the bulk of the imaginary world works just like the real world, except those one or two elements which set the story in motion.

The point being that a tag asking for realism-check is most clearly needed, because most of the time that is what is of interest. Of course, we also need a tag asking for self-consistency-check, but I am of the opinion that this would be used less often.

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "unrealistic elements, such as light sabers, effective magic, time travel and such"? It looks like our definition differs, because to me they're vastly more used than what you're saying, both in frequency and importance. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 21 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena: Such elements appear only in specific genres. Any work of fiction creates an imaginary world, but only certain specific genres revel in such contraptions. What such unrealistic elements are present in Forsyte Saga? The Palliser novels? The countless stories featuring Sherlock Holmes? And so on and so on. Moreover, some genres which feature such completely unrealistic elements don't give a toss about realism or internal consistency, anyway. (For example, fairy tales. I like fairy tales very much, but self-consistency and rules-following are in no way important.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 21 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ And the reverse is also true, which makes your point null. I can't count how many high-fantaisy and sci-fi there are. Yet Harry potter follows strict world rules, as much as Avatar the Last Airbender and Dr Who. And contrary to your beliefs, oftentimes such unrealistic elements are key to the story, from Full Metal Alchemist magic being essential to character development to any time travelling issues people have (Return to the Future, "Braid" video game, GroundHog Days or Source Code). And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Focusing the reality-check will only throw away these questions. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 21 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena: This is why I propose to rename the reality-check tag and to add a plain realism-check tag. (And I am pretty sure that if I go into any non-specialized book shop, the section of "fantasy fiction" will be much smaller than the section of "general fiction". Fantasy and science-fiction are but two genres. Adventure novels, romance novels, crime novels, historical novels, social novels, ..., are other genres. Even the most realistic novel will create an imaginary world. (For example, Balzac's 48-book series Comédie humaine.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 21 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ It wasn't really clear before your edit, it makes more sense now :). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 21 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ I would like to point out that while we permit real-world questions in a worldbuilding context (which IMO would be the only permissible context for a "reality check" tag), I believe the evidence against the tag's continued use is voluminous. Inexperienced worldbuilders get stuck on the idea of "making my world as real as possible," leading them to ask questions that at best can only be modeled by the arithmetics-d'jour and at worst are entirely opinion-based because they don't realize their faith in science has more in common with religion than the scientific method. (*continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 21 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ To make matters worse, the only set of rules we can use to judge a "reality check" as you suggest are the rules of the Real World - which almost always demands an "even though we think it might be possible, insofar as we understand it, the answer is no" answer. What good is that? The continued use of the tag is permitting a bad behavior to continue because new (and existing) users aren't being forced to deal with the reality that we expect them to build an imaginary world. Frankly, if they want to ask a Real World question, ask it. By definition it's an RCQ with or without the tag. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 21 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH: I suggest two tags. One for realism check, to be used for questions about the aspects of the world which are supposed to be "normal", explicitly excluding the "fantastic" aspects which set the story in motion. There are plenty such questions; are the wind patterns realistic, can I have a desert here or a city there, does my governance structure work, etc. The other for what the current reality-check is supposed to be, and yes I fully agree that its current name is badly chosen. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 21 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP The last thing we need is more meta-tags. The whole problem with reality-check, science-based, and hard-science is that we try to have the tags dictate how people answer the questions instead of expecting people to write their questions in a way that actually asks for what they're looking for. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 22 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ I 100% agree with your sentiment, but isn't realism-check essentially science-based? Because the only aspects of the real world we can suitably check fictional things against are those rooted in science. A question asking for wind patterns isn't necessarily asking about Earth/Reality but about climate science. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jun 23 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm: It may well be you are right. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 23 at 8:42
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This rename isn't necessary.

All of our active users understand it. All of our new users get the gist of it rather quickly. Is the reality check tag the problem here? or is it really that there are a plethora of good questions that don't meet SE's format that use it?

Since we can't burn the tag, it must have worth. The rename is unnecessary and reality check is a pretty widely understood concept.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good question that don't meet our format should be closed, there is no reason to cater to questions that don't belong here. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 28 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings "But I think it's a mistake to continue using the reality-check tag because it's almost never used in the way it's intended and is almost always used in a way that's contrary to the intent of the Stack." Is it the tag or is it the SE format? $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Jun 28 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ Well we are a SE site. We will always be bound by the SE format. If you want an open ended discussion site, perhaps a forum would be a better fit. Or try reddit There are plenty of less structured, or differently structured alternatives out there. Our entire DNA is built around the idea of bring a well structured Question and Answer site that focuses on collecting good answers, even if that means that means refusing some questions. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 28 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ Then we should be burninating a bunch of tags that really stress the boundaries of what SE can offer. Magic is a primary one that comes to mind. magic questions by default pretty much forge a path away from one question one correct answer. with a lot of fantasy questions being impossible to have that "correct" answer that gets the checkmark. Worldbuilding skirts that edge all the time and I am not sure this rename is even remotely necessary. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Jun 29 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ With magic the problem isn't in the tag. The problem is when people underspecify the rules that their magic follows, or when they are asking us to brainstorm or generate ideas about how their magic system could function. The particular issue with reality-check, science-based, and hard-science is that they're not topic tags, they're tags that dictate usage. This is a no-no across SE. We've kept them around but they regularly cause problems through misuse. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 29 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @ITAlex On Stack Overflow, by the very nature of programming, there are often multiple possible answers to a question. If the Stack Exchange model was "there should only be one possible answer", we wouldn't have a "Your Answer" box, but rather just one Community Wiki answer that starts off blank. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Jun 29 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ "asking us to brainstorm or generate ideas" has a close reason. Use it. "it's almost never used in the way it's intended"... that has nothing to do with the OP or their question. "this tag frames how a question should be answered, not the topic. " Which to me is: kid gloves off, call BS if you can. - There shouldn't be an SE that 'helps create imaginary worlds' but there is, and if it needs one thing it's, hey, guys. Is this stupid? And it's of some value because on SE you have to explain WHY. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jun 30 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ (a) The tag has existed for many, many years and almost no new user uses it correctly. (b) The effort of explaining how to use it to new users is painfully high. (c) The fact that so many people use the existing tag consistently in the wrong way is a terrible reason to choose not to rename the tag. The whole point of this post is to try to get to the very solution you're talking about without invalidating years of questions that properly used the existing tag definition. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 1 at 4:49

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