Occasionally, the resolution of a movie is that all the scifi or supernatural elements turn out to be fabricated with some conventional technical tricks. For instance, "ghosts" may have be en simulated with light effects, etc., possibly to make one or more characters erroneously believe they are witnessing supernatural happenings.

(Example: 1990s paperback with a recently divorced woman plagued by a stalker and a paranormal presence )

Are such works in scope for this site?

The question has already been answered positively for the related case of dreams or hallucinations. Technical trickery may or may not be treated somewhat differently, though: Dream worlds in fiction typically form some kind of universe of their own (even if said universe is not a physical reality in-universe), whereas the described tricks are more about misleading the protagonists and the audience likewise.

At the same time, I could think of some cases that would make this kind of works hard to exclude completely:

  • A work may leave it open to interpretation whether everything was fake, or whether something supernatural was going on after all.
  • Especially in story ID questions, askers may not be aware of the work's resolution and the supernatural or mundane nature of things presented earlier in the work.
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    The linked Reveral is probably relevant too. Specifically point 1 of the accepted answer; "If it's marketed as SF, it's on-topic."
    – Jontia
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:56

2 Answers 2


I'll take the opposite stance.

If a work presents itself as having a fantasy element, then it should be on topic. Even if later those are shown to be a trick.

This is mostly a matter of practicality. A story that appears initially to be about ghost, or time travellers or some such will be presented as such in its blurb or trailers. The "twist" of it being faked can't be revealed without reading/watching the whole film and is a massive spoiler. As you've noted under the story-identification tag, there's no guarantee that the questioner remembers or even read the twist ending in the first place.

If the advertising of a piece of media makes it SF&F, then we should treat it as SF&F. As per Occasional Sci-Fi Elements point number 1.

  • I agree with your reasoning, but I think my question is a duplicate. May I kindly ask you to also post your answer for the other question so it factors into the range of suggested options over there, too, please? Jul 25, 2019 at 15:59
  • Yes, please do post an answer at my other question.
    – Buzz
    Jul 25, 2019 at 16:14

One of the most recognisable examples I can think of that would fit the type of questions you are talking about here is Scooby-Doo. In the show various mysteries that seem to be monsters, ghouls or ghosts turn out to be "some dude in a suit". Nothing supernatural has actually occurred (I'm ignoring the films here). I bet most people would say it is off topic for that reason.

And this applies to the rest of the type of works you are talking about: if nothing supernatural has actually occurred then it isn't SFF-nal. And if it isn't SFF-nal then it isn't on topic.

However, had the supernatural thing turned out to have been fake but created by means that were themselves SFF-nal then it is on topic, just not for the reasons initially thought.

If the work leaves it open for interpretation then by definition we don't know if it was or wasn't SFF-nal and I think it would be best to have it be on topic. We don't want to erroneously exclude something that later turns out to be on topic.

questions are themselves a different ball game because the asker may or may not know if the element was fake. I think we can draw some easy guidelines on it though:

  • If the asker doesn't know that the SFF-nal elements were created through normal means then it is on topic.
  • If the asker does know, as in your example question, then it is off topic as they know it isn't SFF-nal.
  • I'm alright with the current result. To me, that sort of sonic weapon was sci-fi, and adding the paranormal kind of presence she felt (albeit ultimately faked) also matched. That said, I also understand that the categorization on the site has shifted in some ways.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:35
  • Scooby-Doo feels like an outlier, because it's a series. The idea that anything supernatural is going on is debunked very quickly and each episode is just looking for the twist. This would generally make the series not SF&F. That the films go wild, and that one of the main characters is a talking dog...
    – Jontia
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:38
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    @FuzzyBoots To be honest the sonic weapon doesn't seem SFF-nal to me from your description.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:41
  • @Jontia I don't see how when debunking the SFF-nal content should matter. If it is debunked at all that means there was no SFF-nal content so it isn't on topic.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:42
  • It matters because it's ongoing. Scooby-Doo isn't an investigate the fantasy element cartoon, it's a find the bad guy faking it, cartoon. If Sculley was always right and you knew that going in, then the x-files wouldn't be sci-fi either.
    – Jontia
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:46
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    @Jontia I don't think it matters when though. If we find out at any point that there wasn't actually any SFF-nal content then it isn't SFF-nal is it? And of it isn't SFF-nal then it isn't on topic...
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:51
  • 1
    Fair enough. I don't agree, but it is a reasonable position. That said Scooby-Doo does get more complicated when runs turns into Scrappy-Doo and the monsters start being real...
    – Jontia
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:53
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    Noting, of course, that in later episodes of Scooby-Doo there were actual elements of the supernatural
    – Valorum
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:53
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    @Valorum Sure the example is explicitly about the earlier episodes with people dressing up.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:55
  • My pet peeve with Scooby Doo was that the monsters always looked and sounded so real. I mean, the see-through ghosts that could fly and move through walls, the eery lights and spooky voices, and then it turned out to be just the bad guy in a bedsheet, period. It was never explained how they did it! Grrr!
    – Mr Lister
    Jul 30, 2019 at 10:15

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