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Earlier today I was explaining to the OP of a speculative what-if question why that kind of question is off-topic here and better suited to Worldbuilding SE. I like to support my arguments by links to meta or the help centre where possible, so I looked at /help/on-topic in the hope of finding something relevant there. But that page doesn't seem to say anything about Worldbuilding-type questions!

This is one of the few pages in the help centre which is editable by site mods, so the text there is specifically tailored to SFF. However, it was written long ago when Worldbuilding SE didn't exist. Perhaps back then it was thought that such questions were obviously a bad fit for SE; now that Worldbuilding has proved that thought wrong, maybe we need at least to state explicitly that SFF specifically still considers them off-topic.

Should we mention Worldbuilding-type questions in our on-topic page?

One main point to consider is how do we actually define such questions. Clearly something like "if I went back thirty years in time, how could I most quickly get rich" isn't on-topic here, but how do we define this type of question? Calling it a what-if question isn't good enough, because some what-if questions are fine ("what if Gandalf had claimed the Ring", for example, is answerable from canon). Calling it a non-franchise-specific question isn't good enough either, because the community is still divided on whether some non-franchise-specific questions should be on-topic.

The best I can think of at the moment is to put it in the third set of bullet points, something like:

If your question is about...

Ugh. That needs work.

What do you all think?

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    I think it needs work – Valorum Aug 28 '17 at 11:12
  • The community at large is not divided on non-franchise questions. They get closed in pretty swift order. – Valorum Aug 28 '17 at 11:13
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    @Valorum Currently the top-voted answer on the relevant meta is that we should accept questions about fantasy/sci-fi creatures that aren't directly related to a specific franchise. – Rand al'Thor Aug 28 '17 at 11:18
  • By one vote. And almost all of the representative questions have been closed and not reopened. – Valorum Aug 28 '17 at 11:18
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    @Valorum Yes, it's very close - that's why I said the community is divided. And yeah, most of the people manning the review queues seem to be in the "off-topic" camp where those questions are concerned. But I try to represent the whole community, not just the most active close-voters. Anyway, this discussion is rather tangential - the point is just that we're not going to put "non-franchise-specific questions are off-topic" in the help centre. – Rand al'Thor Aug 28 '17 at 11:20
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    If you are going to link to worldbuilding please suggest that people check if their question is on topic before asking. It may be a good idea to link to this page to make sure they read it before posting. – sphennings Aug 28 '17 at 19:03
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    @sphennings I always do that when leaving a comment recommending people to another SE site. Is it necessary in the help centre itself? After all, if someone's actually reading the SFF help centre before posting here, they're likely to also read the WB help centre before posting there. – Rand al'Thor Aug 28 '17 at 19:09
  • Goodness, this question got a remarkable number of votes in two days. – Rand al'Thor Aug 31 '17 at 2:08
  • No one reads the help center, anyway, right? Have at it. – user31178 Sep 1 '17 at 0:52
  • @CreationEdge Have a tit? I prefer finches. – Rand al'Thor Sep 1 '17 at 0:54
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Worldbuilding mod here. I would say yes to this proposal; I've seen a lot of questions redirected from Science Fiction & Fantasy to Worldbuilding.

Here's my proposed wording:

If your question is about...

Some notes:

  • We do not like broad questions on Worldbuilding. I know that some of y'all think we do, but we don't. Worldbuilding is different because there's more than just one or two right answers, but that doesn't equate with the negative connotations that come with the label "broad" on Stack Exchange. Using that word might send questions that have been closed as Too Broad our way.
  • Asking about already-created worlds is on-topic on Worldbuilding! If you want to ask a question along the lines of

    What materials would be best suited for Spider-Man's silk?

    then Worldbuilding is the place for you. So questions involving a particular universe created by someone else are on-topic for us.

  • We're not limited to science fiction. Obviously, SFF's target audience are fans of science fiction and fantasy, and so most questions here will be along those lines. However, I'd like people to know that Worldbuilding covers worlds that are beyond those genres, too.
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  • Thank you for weighing in here! But I'm not sure if your categories of question are broad (ha) enough to cover all the WB-type questions we tend to see on SFF. If someone's question is explicitly about creating a fictional universe, they'll probably realise by themselves that WB is the site for them. [cont] – Rand al'Thor Aug 28 '17 at 19:52
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    How about a question like "if I went back in time 30 years, how could I most quickly become rich?" Too broad as it stands, but kinda similar to this, and could probably (correct me if I'm wrong) be made on-topic for WB with more specifics. We see a lot of this kind of question on SFF (people guess they're on-topic here because they're about sci-fi themes/tropes like time travel), and we often recommend the OP to WB, or migrate if the question is good enough. But this isn't really covered by either or the things in your suggested guidance. – Rand al'Thor Aug 28 '17 at 19:52
  • I think there's no stopping these users from asking broad questions somewhere, the only difficulty is in where they land. While we have no desire to "dump" bad questions on Worldbuilding, it seems clear from the examples in my answer that at least some of these questions can legitimately be asked there. The difference, so far as I can tell, is A) questions are better received if they claim or imply that the OP is writing fiction of some kind and B) questions with a lot of detail go over better than brief one-liners. (B) is obviously important, not so sure about (A). – Kevin Aug 28 '17 at 20:43
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    @Kevin As to A) Yes, I've noticed that at our site as well, but it's more of just a culture and less any explicit rule. B) It's not detail, its constraints. Almost all WB questions have a bad habit of leaning towards brainstorming, but questions that are undeniably brainstorming with no way of determining a "best" answer tend to be poorly received. More constraints and more details in the question tend to avoid brainstorming answers. – Ranger Aug 28 '17 at 22:22
  • @NexTerren: Sorry, by "the difference", I meant "the difference between good WB questions and bad WB questions." SFF is not for "how do I write X?" questions. – Kevin Aug 29 '17 at 4:47
  • @Randal'Thor That's a fair point. I've made a slight edit to my proposed wording. – HDE 226868 Aug 29 '17 at 13:29
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    What about linking to Worldbuilding's sandbox? – EKons Aug 30 '17 at 10:28
  • I've gone ahead and made the change in the help centre. Let me know if you notice any issues on WB (e.g. increase in bad questions) due to this. – Rand al'Thor Oct 14 '17 at 23:23
  • @Randal'Thor - That link is dead. – Valorum Oct 15 '17 at 7:48
  • @Valorum Oops, I guess it's mod-only then. I assumed regular users could see the revision history page at least. – Rand al'Thor Oct 15 '17 at 17:17
7

Try this:

If your question is about:

  • [Leave the Writers.SE bullet alone]
  • Hypothetical questions not tied to a specific story or franchise, ask on Worldbuilding Stack Exchange.

This remains agnostic towards other genre-wide questions, but still makes clear that generic hypotheticals like "Why does a bucket of water put out a dragon's flame?" are off-topic.

Here are some examples of the kinds of questions that would fall under this:

All of these questions contain phrasing similar to "I am building a world with feature X, how do I make it work?" and so are obviously off-topic here. But if this phrasing had not been present, they would be essentially the same questions, and they would still be off-topic here.

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    I'm not sure what "genre-wide hypotheticals" means. I think it needs some explanation, and that explanation needs to be understandable to people who are not familiar with the terminology used by regulars on this site. Perhaps some examples would help. – Blackwood Aug 28 '17 at 22:16
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    @Blackwood: My answer already contains examples, so I'm not sure what you are asking me to do. – Kevin Aug 28 '17 at 22:39
  • Sorry, I could have been more clear. I meant your proposed wording for the guidance should explain (preferably with examples) what you meant by "genre-wide hypotheticals". I see you have edited that to "Hypothetical questions not tied to a specific story or franchise" which is much better, but I think examples would still help. – Blackwood Aug 28 '17 at 23:02
  • @Blackwood: While I agree that examples would make it clearer, I think we have to ask by how much. The longer the help center text gets, the more the user will be inclined to hit the back button without reading any of it. At some point, you're losing more than you gain. If we put examples on this bullet, it would look odd to leave them off of the Writers.SE bullet, and by then reading the whole thing turns into a chore. – Kevin Aug 28 '17 at 23:22
  • Fair enough, I'll go with that. – Blackwood Aug 28 '17 at 23:24
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No

Worldbuilding (or any other SE site) isn't our trashcan for bad questions.

In my experience, most of the speculative questions of that kind we get are really bad questions, but also not too frequent. One that probably Worldbuilding wouldn't like either. (This is hard to prove, because even with my 10000 score tools, it's not easy to browse deleted questions.) It would not be nice of us to redirect people who ask bad questions to another SE site. It would be especially bad to even categorically encourage that sort of question in a highly visible place in the Help Center, when those questions aren't that common in first place.

(Look, someone had to write the no answer, so people can vote on it easily. You should rather believe the Worldbuilding admin who spoke before me rather than me.)

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    What made you say no to a mod of the site saying yes? – Edlothiad Sep 5 '17 at 16:15
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    @Edlothiad HDE 226868 is a mod to Worldbuilding (and other sites), but he has less experience with Sci Fi SE, and probably doesn't see the sort of junk to-be-deleted questions Sci Fi gets as often as I do. I don't mention those questions often (not even in chat), because it's junk that should just get deleted (and indeed it does get deleted), but I do see them during the obsessive refreshes. – b_jonas Sep 5 '17 at 20:13
  • @b_jonas, do you really think those junk questions come from people who actually have read the on-topic section of the site help and then asked their question? – Wildcard Sep 9 '17 at 2:31
  • @Wildcard That's a good point. No, most of those people don't read that section. Moderators will read the question, but they'll probably know better than to migrate such questions to worldbuilding. – b_jonas Sep 9 '17 at 15:57
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    @Edlothiad Isn't that explained in the last paragraph of this answer? – Rand al'Thor Sep 10 '17 at 17:34

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