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The many meta questions regarding scope have quite firmly established that questions must be about a work that is related to sci-fi/fantasy. We have, however, seen dissenting opinion and behavior when it comes to questions about non-SF/F elements within a SF/F work.

In a recent meta question, one user chimed in on such questions:

I feel this is very close to that - the briefcase used in the show has no real impact (as far as I know) on the show's sci-fi nature.

A great example of this was the question Nolan's Dark Knight: Why would Dent's convictions be overturned?. This question was closed as off-topic and actually migrated to the Movies/TV stack (though it was later migrated back).

In the ensuing meta discussion, the explanation offered up, and confirmed by the mod who migrated it was

The reason, I would presume is due to the fact that the sci-fi setting holds no bearing on the issues addressed in the question, nor in the answer. You could have asked a similar question from a non SF setting and had the same response.

However, the most highly voted answer (by 10:1) was that it never should have been migrated because

We have plenty of on topic questions that aren't asking for, or answered by, details specific to fantastic elements.

This same poster refers to a well-received question about archery in Game of Thrones, and their well-received answer. Archery is not at all a SF/F topic.

Similarly, many of our top-voted questions that are still open, are only marginally about SF/F elements - many are only really on-topic because they are about behind-the-scenes elements which have been deemed on-topic.

For example, Why did Douglas Adams pick 42 as the ultimate answer?.

An even better example would be Was the Cantina music deliberately off-tune or just an artifact of cheap production?. The question is open, with 91 upvotes and 0 downvotes. But the arguments used to close the Harvey Dent question all fit the Cantina Band question exactly as well.

Contrasting, in another recent meta answer, the upvoted answer states

  • If the question is about the unrealistic combat (or something that relates to it) then the answer would be yes, it is on-topic.

  • If the question was merely asking for an explanation of a plot point that was wholly unrelated to any unreal elements, then I'd say no, take it to Movies:SE.

This answer ignores whether or not the work is SF/F, and only considers whether or not the subject of the question is SF/F releated.

Even in instances when the questions are not closed or migrated, there are a number of users who leave comments such as

Perhaps this would be better suited in the Movies/TV Stack?

This is also slightly problematic. If the question is on-topic here, it's on-topic here. Should we be encouraging a migration to another site with no official cause for migration? (Note: this could be less problematic if such comments were more about finding a better audience of experts).


How should we handle questions that are about non-SF/F elements in a SF/F work?


Additional reading

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    Thank you for raising this question with ask this evidence. This is definitely a good discussion too be having. – AncientSwordRage Feb 15 '15 at 17:41
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    I don't think the Dent question should have been touched. If the central plot of the show is SF/F, then questions that are not innately SF/F are on-topic since they relate to the SF/F world – The Fallen Feb 15 '15 at 17:51
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    I would like to think any reasonable question about a show element would be topic, but I have also seen such parsing about things that make NO sense that anyone would want to ask about (see question about Observer briefcase for example). The briefcase has no particular powers, abilities, technologies and as far as I could see no distinctive pedigree. Why would anyone ask a question like that? In cases where we're stuck trying to decide if an element is SF/F enough, we should probably just let that question be closed until a case can be made for the SF/F element (or background) being discussed. – Thaddeus Howze Feb 15 '15 at 18:21
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    @Thaddeus Where does one draw the line though? Does Batman use Linux? or Was Yoda fully sane on Dagobah?, for example - both well received and considered on-topic, but not about SF/F elements. – phantom42 Feb 15 '15 at 21:34
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    In the case of Batman and Linux, I could see the question making sense because of the UI being used and the fundamentals of screen production for movies. It skirts the boundaries of the fantastic enough to be interesting to consider. Sane on Dagobah? A mystic trapping himself on a world to hide from an empire bent on his destruction, going just a bit insane from loneliness and his failure to protect his religious order from persecution...Yes, I think it still qualifies. Madness in the line of SF/F should still count. – Thaddeus Howze Feb 15 '15 at 21:36
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Before I get to my real answer, two things:

  1. No, we absolutely should not migrate questions off this site if they are on-topic. There are plenty of cases in the Stack Exchange network where site scopes overlap and the rule, as far as I am aware, is always to leave the question on the site where it was asked unless it's overtly off-topic.

  2. We need to be careful when specifically throwing out "just take it to M&TV" as an option during meta discussions, for several reasons:

    • Not everything here is on topic for Movies & TV; we deal with a lot of literature and graphic novel questions. The last thing we want is a different policy for SF/F movies and SF/F novels.
    • M&TV has stricter off-topic rules than we do. They'll refuse to migrate questions that are about some "minor or trivial" aspect of a SF/F movie, for example.

Having said that, I don't think those questions are off-topic here at all. This is a site, as our Help Center says, "for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts." Our "What can I ask" list says that all of the following are on-topic:

  • Plot, character, or setting explanations
  • Historical or societal context of a work
  • Behind-the-scenes and fandom information
  • Story identification
  • Franchise/series reading or viewing order

Arguably, only one of those bullets will have anything specific to do with a fantastical element of a work; in other words, if we limited questions to those things which were specifically about some part of a work that was not realistic, we'd cut our on-topic list down by 80%.

IMO, people come to this site to ask questions that people who read SF/F can answer. If you have a question about Star Wars, whether you're asking about The Force or what they made C-3PO's costume out of, you'll want to ask a Star Wars fan. That's what we have here, so I see no reason to punt those questions somewhere else.

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