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Regarding this post.

Initially it was accused of being a "brainstorming" question, and unclear based on the phrasing "how would they stay in business. I edited the question to be more clear and ask "why would this courier be hired over traditional couriers." The intent of the question being to gather ideas for why supernatural beings might hire this special service.

Still it is "brainstorming," and to be frank I have no clue why this is even something against the rules. A good 80 to 90 percent of the questions on this Stack Exchange are "brainstorming" in some form or another.

Even a moderator of this Stack Exchange (who later closed my question, but I'll get to that) has some "brainstorming questions: Here Here, especially how it ends with "how?" Here And more.

If this Stack Exchange is often used to brainstorm reasons to justify something in worldbuilding, why should it even be a rule in the first place? What is the intended purpose of this SE? Yes, I have read the documentation, but I still do not get the point against brainstorming.

Then later, despite editing my question to be more explicit in what it was asking -- "how would they stay in business" edited to "why would people hire them" -- it was still voted for closure and closed by the moderator whom I used for examples above -- for being "opinion based."

This question on meta mentions some questions that essentially do the same thing as my question, all of which were not closed.

Fiction is, literally, not real -- I do not see how questions on this site could be removed for being "opinion based" unless they are critically too broad, which my question was not.

And if there is a line to be drawn for questions that are too brainstorm-y, or too opinion-based, somehow, then it is very much not clear where that line is drawn and it is selectively enforced. I do feel my question got closed just because I got sassy with the one accusing the question of being "brainstorming."

Why can we not consider changing the rule, if the community tends against the rule?

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    $\begingroup$ There's nothing preventing people from proposing changes or considering a change to site policy. However we do expect people to actually follow our existing policies, until new policies are adopted. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 14 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ Upvoting because I agree with Tim's general proposition that the prohibition on brainstorming seems to be selectively enforced, and I'd go further to say that this is because there's too much ambiguity in the way the prohibition is expressed. Further, while I am very sympathetic to sphennings' advice that we must all play by the rules that prevail, that's really hard to do when those rules are unworkably vague. Posts like this one will keep appearing until we establish a clearer distinction. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Sep 28 at 4:46

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In short, your question seems to be asking to write your world intentions in your stead. Constraints and intentions are a huge part to one's artistic activity, and we can't either reasonably induce or create them for you. Not having these makes any answer equally valid and thus, opinion-based.

Now I feel confusion, so let me explain in details 🐶:

Why intentions are (very) important ?

Imagine, you're in a cab, and the driver asks you the existential question :

-Where do you want to go?

You have several level of details you can give :

  • Ideally, you give the street and the number. They just set the GPS and go. Easy as the pie I've just eaten 🍰.
  • You know the place you want to go, for instance London's Westminster palace or Paris's railway station. There might be issues if the place is unclear -e.g.: Paris has several train stations-, but overall it's doable.
  • If you give no direction, the taxi driver will gently ask you why you're sitting in their car and will "emphasize" on how easy the passenger door can be opened and how fresh the air outside is. It's not their job to find the best location you want to be, after all 🦋.

Asking a question about your world follows the same idea, you being the passenger and us the cab drivers : There should be a direction to go forward to, otherwise we're forced to invent one in your stead, one that is likely to displease you. From the outside, every answers then become equally valid, since everyone look at different locations, different goals to reach! And... Most likely none will help you really reach what you want, internally. This is not really helpful for anyone.

If you look at the questions you linked, there's always a semblance of direction given :

In my few questions, it's often very explicitly given in a list to avoid any mishap; If it's not, it's stated in the question itself. E.g. : What's the safest way to carry and throw marble sized high-explosive grenades? (The main intention is "safety").

Why constraints are useful?

Constraints are a big helper in setting up the direction, because it's basically where you don't want to go, and by setting them you limit the directions one can take. To sit back in the cab, if your train is at noon and it's 11:30, the driver will take the shortest path to the train station so you don't miss it, but if you say you're a tourist and you have a good two hours before you leave, they might offer to take you next to some interest point and have some city guide talk instead.

Constraints are defined both implicitly by the context and explicitly as goals :

For questions which ask "how" rather than "can" or "does it", it's often not enough, but it helps a lot people to sort what is or isn't possible to do in your world and limit the guesswork.

Conclusion

To avoid your question from being closed as "opinion-based", you should give enough details so that :

  • It tells us where you want to go. It's okay if you don't know how exactly you want to go, but we have to know where you want to be at the end.
  • Less circumstance based, ie. you should add constraints and context. On a side-note, this is the reason some people choose to vote for being "story-based", because circumstances are often seen as being "story", rather than world.

However, I feel it's very hard to give any of those to your question, as adding an intention like "looking for the most profitable reason to use those couriers" already gives a very good start of an answer to the base question. In other words, it seems like you are intrinsically asking for intentions, rather than trying to fit two world elements together or an element and an intention together. Perhaps adding those could work, but it would need some efforts both in the way it is asked and the content which is asked for that.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer gives me something to work with and chew over and I find it much more constructive than the other one. Thank you. I still think the "brainstorming" policy is a bit under defined on the tour page and could be interpreted to be too strict, but I am willing to work with what you've given me here. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Morris
    Sep 14 at 21:01
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It's All in the Writing

So, I think the basic answer to your underlying problem is simply a matter of you writing a query whose form is not a good fit for Worldbuilding. My plan here is to pick out a couple issues I noticed in your Meta query and address those and then discuss the difference between wide open or ordinary brainstorming and how we do brainstorming here in Worldbuilding. Lastly, I'll try to help give some ideas for how you can turn your ordinary brainstorming query into one that fits WB.SE expectations a little better! Maybe even get your question reopened again!

The intent of the question being to gather ideas

Obviously. Compulsory Notice: SE is not an idea gathering service. SE is, literally, a forum where querents ask a focused question and get the correct answer to their question. "How can I get XYZ output in ABC app in PRS format?" --- "You do it by 123ing the ABC". Q&A. That's the SE model. Worldbuilding is different, by proud self declaration in that we don't deal strictly in factual things. Here, our questions tend to want XYZ output where ABC and PRS don't exist, don't function or and nowhere near magical enough! Even so, we aren't a free-for-all idea generating service. We do have to adhere, as best we can, to the underlying model and Rules that SE has established for us. Your question was closed as opinion based, in my opinion, because you wrote your question as an ordinary brainstorming question rather than as a WB.SE brainstorming question.

Still it is "brainstorming," and to be frank I have no clue why this is even something against the rules. A good 80 to 90 percent of the questions on this Stack Exchange are "brainstorming" in some form or another.

You have just discovered the fact that WB is a little different from the ordinary SE forums. And the truth is this: all of our queries are, in fact, "brainstorming" in some form or other. I'd argue that you're experiencing this sense of disjoint, this sense of "why am I being singled out", because, again, you wrote your question wrong.

Even a moderator of this Stack Exchange (who later closed my question, but I'll get to that) has some "brainstorming questions: Here Here, especially how it ends with "how?" Here And more.

Don't compare yourself with others! You make yourself look like a high school footballer whining about why he isn't being paid fifty million to throw a ball around. (But I'll get to that!)

If this Stack Exchange is often used to brainstorm reasons to justify something in worldbuilding, why should it even be a rule in the first place? What is the intended purpose of this SE? Yes, I have read the documentation, but I still do not get the point against brainstorming.

Now we've gotten to the point where you will learn why this forum works the way it does. The simple fact is that brainstorming is not against the rules here. Nor are opinions. What is against the rules here is how you, the querent, go about your brainstorming! I can see that you've got an understanding of the contradiction that is WB.SE --- a Q&A forum that invites and uses brainstorming as its basic tool, yet still still operates within the single strictest Q&A framework on the Net!

The real question you should be asking is not why brainstorming is against the rules, because it's not, but rather, how can I brainstorm within the rules of WB.SE? In other words, how can I write my question in such a way that it invites brainstorming yet does not break the SE ruleset as implemented in this forum?


Since you compared yourself to one of the mods, I'm just going to point out that L. Dutch's question was not closed for being opinion based or open ended or for "brainstorming" simply because L. Dutch knows know to write a question (reasonably well)!

If we look at the third query you linked to (parasitic wasps targeting essentially humans), we see that the OP gave us three out of the four classic parts of a good WB question:

  1. Introduction: A bit of exposition, a broad net to get our attention, a description that focuses us on the specific problem. Here, L. Dutch talks about the wonderfully gross concept of an insect that lays eggs inside a living incubator from which the adults emerge in comically disgusting Space Balls diner scene fashion.
  2. Description of Knowns: list of key points of facts that the OP already knows, yet has a question about. The OP here lists several pertinent aspects of the fictional world or a specific part of that world he's asking about.
  3. Question: What it says on the box. The marquee query and the more descriptive query in the body of the question match up and are focused in nature. The problem I am having is finding a suitable target tissue. I bolded this, because this is where L. Dutch went right and you went wrong!
  4. Criteria: The fourth part of a good query is, I think, viewed by many as optional. It's really not. This section is where the OP should have laid out the criteria by which he would judge any answer as being good or fitting. It helps us give him useful answers; it helps helps him brainstorm ideas that will fit within the framework of his fictional world.

Ah! I said the word brainstorm! As you can see from the six answers, we got essentially five radically different tissue types for the bug to target. That was successful brainstorming only because of how the OP worded the question!

Now let's look at yours!

Right off the bat, you're asking a "why" question. This is a problem: why questions seek responses that address cause, reason, or purpose all of which essentially boil down to motives or thought processes or choices of individuals or corporates and are thus "story based questions". I would have chosen that rationale to close your question.

A point in your favour is that you give us a solid if succinct introduction, that is, your premise. I find your premise interesting, and that's largely why I'm helping you here in Meta --- if you edit your brainstorming question so that it fits our requirements, I would love to be the first one to vote to reopen it!

I can see that you made an attempt to give us some knowns, but I'm not really sure how they fit with your question. I mean, it's interesting, highly entertaining and possibly noteworthy that an insufficiently trained courier might die on the job, I'm just not sure where you're going with that, or how I might want to work that into an answer that would be both entertaining and useful!

You do expand upon your query a bit, but it's still essentially a why question and thus inviting of any and all opinions. While I have never been opposed to opinion based queries, there's a difference between I want to do this, that and the other given the following constraints and what colour should my faction's symbol be. Can you see how we nuance "opinion" and "brainstorming" into different levels of saturation?

And of course, you did nothing to reign in our brainstorming and our opinionising by giving us any kind of guidelines. So, essentially, I could write Because the magical couriers are all hot girls with brilliant violet eyes and prominent boobs; while the muggle couriers are not as an answer and it would satisfy your question as well as any other.


What to do about it!?

Now that you know that brainstorming is not only not against the rules but encouraged, I think all you really need to do is edit your question. I'd suggest not asking a why question and perhaps narrowing the focus to some aspect of the customer's business, for example, on how the magical courier might benefit their business. Second, I think it would be helpful to offer some description of what you mean by "magical" in this context, some description of the nature of the world itself, perhaps some description of how the magical courier works. And lastly, give us respondents some sense of purpose! Give us a sense of what your actual worldbuilding problem is and also what criteria you're looking for in an answer. Like, "a good answer would touch on the following customer needs."

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Stack Exchanges is an opinionated platform. It has been designed to be strict about the questions that are permitted on a site. Certain categories of questions are prohibited sitewide. Important for this discussion is the prohibition on primarily opinion bases answers.

To quote from the tour

Not all questions work well in our format. Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers.

Don't ask about...

  • Anything not directly related to worldbuilding
  • Questions that are primarily opinion-based
  • Questions with too many possible answers or that would require an extremely long answer

Brainstorming questions are usually primarily opinion based, and tend to have many equally valid answers. Worldbuilding explicitly calls it out out as not suitable for this site in the help center

Questions must be specific as well as answerable. If you are looking for discussion, brainstorming, or an overall process rather than specific questions and answers, the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange might not be a good place for your question.

A question where any explanation is equally valid, such as "Why would a magical courier be hired?" runs fowl of our restriction on questions with many valid answers. They have a royal monopoly, they're secretly spies they carry messages at a loss as a cover, and it's fashionable, are all equally valid answers. Looking at the 6 answers to your question, it's clear that there are many many more answers out there.


There seems to be enough individuals who are ignorant of or have chosen to ignore site policy, that it is disrupting the experience of new users.

This is unfortunate. Site policy, and site design is clear about what is and isn't permitted. Instead of participating in the moderation process, their ignorance, inaction, or deliberate interference, creates an inconsistent and confusing experience.

This site is predominantly moderated by the community. Moderators occasionally step in when community voting is insufficient. Problematic questions can easily get missed. Instead of complaining about inconsistent moderation, you can become part of the solution by participating in the process.

What can you do?

It is the expectation that everyone is familiar with site policy. Stack Exchange is opinionated about what features should be used for. Your intuition from other sites will mislead you. Learn and abide by the rules of the site. Just because you see someone else violating the rules does not mean that the behavior is permissible.

Flagging is one of the first privileges you gain on this site. It is earned at only 15 reputation.

You should flag questions that as-written aren't suitable for this site. Questions that are too broad, subjective, unclear, duplicate, or off topic should all be flagged. It's helpful to leave a comment explaining the issue and suggesting remedies.

Because site policies evolve over time, and occasionally questions are missed by reviewers, we tend to leave old questions alone. However when a question becomes active, or is referenced in a discussion, it is our policy to close old questions.

You should flag comments that aren't suitable for this site. Comments are intended to be used for suggesting improvements or requesting clarifications. Pay particular attention to answers in comments as these circumvent the normal upvote/downvote and review processes of answers.

You should flag any disruptive behavior. Mods can't be everywhere or see everything. They have tools to address problems that cannot be handled by the community. Leave a note for the moderators explaining why then need to take action.

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  • $\begingroup$ 75% of this answer is just copy & paste. My question has multiple correct answers and that is why it is "running fowl"? Seriously? As I pointed out, even the moderators post questions that can have "multiple answers." You told me to visit the meta to bring up my issue with the brainstorming rule, and so I have. And all you are doing is repeating yourself and copy & pasting. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Morris
    Sep 14 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ The rule is really contradictory to having a worldbuilding community where people might want multiple answers to a problem that is open-ended. Half of the questions do this. Even the mods do this. I followed your suggesting to make a meta about this. Here we are. Can you give me some human interaction instead of being a lawyer? $\endgroup$
    – Tim Morris
    Sep 14 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ "There seems to be enough individuals who are ignorant of or have chosen to ignore site policy" if they choose to ignore site policy, then maybe the policy should be changed. If the community wants it to be more open-ended, why can we not change the rules to allow it? $\endgroup$
    – Tim Morris
    Sep 14 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ "[Y]ou can become part of the solution by participating in the process." And what is the process to begin advocating that rules might be counter to what the community seems to want here? $\endgroup$
    – Tim Morris
    Sep 14 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @TimMorris Then propose changes to site policy. However you're proposing removing one of the feature that differentiates SE from Reddit, Yahoo answers, and Quora. Read the tour. They tell you that this site is different. They tell you that there is a strict focus, questions and answers only. They tell you that not every question works well in this format, including subjective questions. If you don't want a site that delivers on that promise then perhaps Worldbuilding isn't the site for you. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 14 at 18:51
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To add to the other answers, Stack Exchange has a number of rules that are the basis for our no brainstorming policy. From the Help Center we read:

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where … every answer is equally valid.

And that's why brainstorming is prohibited. You're asking for a list of equally valid answers on a service that has prohibited asking questions that lead to lists of equally valid answers.

If you wish, you can stop reading here. The rest of this answer explains how we accommodate the need to ask specific questions that might lead to short-list answers.

To be fair, we understand when limited lists are necessary

Worldbuilding is the most creative, imaginative and chaotic Stack in the Stack Exchange universe. It's not at all like, oh, Stack Overflow where most questions are of the form "how do I programmatically achieve X?" which will result in a limited list of possibilities and a very practical "best answer" that can actually be associated with a "best practice." Yeah... don't we wish that were consistently true here!

In truth, it's not that uncommon for a specific question to result in answers that provide multiple options. Is this brainstorming? No, and here's why.

We insist that Stack Exchange's rules be followed. Thus, some time ago, I started cataloging question types. An in that list are two types that have been unofficially accepted generally:

You see, Stack Exchange also has another rule. From that same page we read:

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where … you are asking an open-ended, hypothetical question.

We take that phrase, "open-ended" insanely seriously. If you can...

  • Provide a list of limitations, restrictions, and conditions that scope your question.
  • Explain how you will judge a best answer by providing insight into your goals, expectations, and reasons for asking the question.
  • Resolve as many of your story dependencies as you can (failing to do that is a VTC reason in its own right, BTW).

Then you've asked a question that meets the expectations of Stack Exchange. You're no longer brainstorming, you have s specific problem to solve that happens to have multiple solutions that meet your specified criteria. In this case, it's no different than one user on Stack Overflow offering three possible solutions that could just as easily be offered as individual answers.

And that's as close to brainstorming as we're willing to go.

And for the record, we fully admit that it would be better for everyone to stick to one option per-answer so that the voting can reflect a "best answer" rather than a "most complete" answer. But, it can be difficult to herd cats.

One of the many differences between worldbuilding and storybuilding

Finally, from the Help Center we also read:

When asking questions keep in mind that the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story.

I'm an electrical engineer. EEs don't brainstorm about how to build a circuit. We brainstorm about how or why a circuit may be used. But we do not brainstorm about how to build the circuit. We ask specific questions about how to achieve specific goals based on known restrictions, limitations and conditions relating to the circuit.

Yeah, circuit = world.

If you're brainstorming, you're not worldbuilding. You're storybuilding. You're worried about how your story will develop and you're trying to force your world to conform to your story. And that's simply not what we do.

Infinite list questions are a sure sign that the querent has not yet figured out how to disassociate their world from their story. But we require that.

One last thing

We hate the "opinion-based" VTC reason. We have NO control over it. We have NO control over the text used to describe it. Obviously, any question tagged "Magic" is opinion-based by definition.

Kind of...

Remember, we're here to help you develop the rules of your world. From the perspective of rules, it doesn't matter if we're talking about magic or physics. "Opinion-based" reflects the "every answer is equally valid" prohibition. If the querent can't explain why their answer is better than all the others, then it's just an opinion.

Whether or not they can make that argument is always based on whether or not you, the querent provided enough information (see the "finite list of things" discussion, above) for them to justify the choice.

So, please don't misunderstand "opinion-based" and I beg you not to complain about it. We're stuck with it. In the end, we have rules you're expected to follow. If you can explain how your question follows the rules, then whomever chose to VTC as opinion-based was wrong. If you can't....

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    $\begingroup$ Overall a great answer but I have to disagree with "if you're brainstorming you're not worldbuilding" it's still worldbuilding to throw 100 ideas at the wall to see what's the coolest. In fact I'd argue good worldbuilding should be more of the creative idea generation that isn't suitable for this site and less of the dry mechanical making sure that the ideas fit together well. As an SO site we're fixed in our structure which can create a distorted idea of what is and isn't worldbuilding... $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 21 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ Just because a question isn't suitable for this site doesn't mean that it isn't about worldbuilding, and just because it is about worldbuilding doesn't make a question suitable for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 21 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings I understand your point... but a question on meta.SE is a question about SE, not someplace else. Meta.SE is the worst possible place I can think of to philisophically ask the question, "what is worldbuilding?" because the only answer that's permissible here must begin, "well, on Stack Exchange it's...." As you said, as an SO site we're fixed in our structure. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 21 at 3:15
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    $\begingroup$ On SO they wouldn't permit asking "how can I program a Slack clone" but they would still say that it's about programming even if it isn't permitted on SO. They'd flag it as too broad, and say "We're not here to write your program for you" . Similarly on WB if I ask "How are my couriers profitable?" we'd flag as POB, and say "We're not here to build your world for you". Unsuitable for the site does not necessarily imply that it is off topic. Defining worldbuilding aa only what is permitted on this site is a circular definition useless for any conversation about site policy. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 21 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ I fail to see the issue with saying "On WB we've agreed on X standard to determine what questions are considered on topic", separate from considering whether a question is suitably asked. If we stick with your circular definition every post with multiple asks is NAW, even if both questions in isolation are suitable for this site. To me such a standard doesn't pass the smell test. It's probably better to create a semantic distinction between what is permitted on this site and what can be considered worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 21 at 3:38
  • $\begingroup$ We certainly can make changes to what is considered permissible while still following the philosophy of SE. We have done so in the past,when created a policy on 3rd party worlds. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 21 at 3:42
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings You're welcome to edit your own answer and make that point. From my perspective, Meta's purpose is to discuss policies and culture of this stack. Are there perspectives other than those valid for this stack? Certainly! Is the purpose of the meta for this stack to discuss (or even acknowledge) those other perspectives? No, not in my opinion. All that would do is muddy the water. People should come here to learn about what our rules are on this stack. If they want to know what the rules are elsewhere, they're invited to go elsewhere. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 22 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ You're entirely correct that on this stack we expect people to know and follow the rules of this stack. However this stack hasn't adopted the definition of worldbuilding that you're using above. Only you are asserting that brainstorming is NAW. This is incorrect. Brainstorming is POB, too broad, and inappropriate for this site. Saying that brainstorming isn't worldbuilding goes against the definition of worldbuilding you quote from the help center. Better to be clear that we have many reasons to close questions, NAW, POB, unclear, story based, and too broad. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 22 at 2:41
  • $\begingroup$ You seem to be overloading the term "worldbuilding" and instead of using it to mean "the process of constructing a world" which is what the NAW close reason is referencing, you're using "worldbuilding" to mean this particular stack exchange site. Perhaps, instead of asserting that brainstorming isn't worldbuilding, you could more accurately assert "brainstorming does not belong on this site'. Especially in a discussion of site policy and closing questions, where NAW, already uses worldbuilding to mean, constructing a world, overloading a key term when emphasizing a point leads to confusion. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 22 at 2:47

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