In our FAQ we explicitly allow questions about RPG tools and equipment.

Recently we got this question which someone suggested fell under that clause of the FAQ.

Are online communities really tools? I can see both sides of the issue, but this is better decided here, rather than just taken for granted.

So do questions about online communities (their mechanics, their locations, their histories etc) have standing here or should we close them?


4 Answers 4

I think questions such as this, the history question and the "scope of RPG" question are all parts of a bigger issue. We need to figure a way to guide new users to "good" questions, and our options are limited. Per the SE rules, we can only "answer" and "close" (and, eventually, "delete" but that's besides the point).

We really need a middle ground. We need a way to say "hey, I'm going to take this question out of rotation while we help you clarify it so it doesn't get cluttered with useless answers".

I would favor closing dubious questions with a LONG comment explaining why the question was closed, some ideas on how to narrow the scope, and a clear statement that closing is not permanent, just a way to keep clutter answers from clogging the site while said narrowing of the scope is handled.

For this particular question suggestions could range from @SevenSidedDie's "What is the popular successor?" to "Where did user XX go?" to "What other public pbp forums exist?". Point out that some of these might be valid questions, while some are most assuredly not. Then ask the original poster to clarify and narrow the scope with a promise that the question can be re-opened once the scope is narrowed to an answerable, on-topic version of itself.

The point here is to balance between "improving content standards" (which can easily be interpreted as hazing new users) and "being welcoming and inviting".

@mxyzplk ... I have to say that I personally found this community to be pretty reasonable on the scale of inviting <-> hazing. Mileage may vary, though

Closing actually is the middle ground you're talking about... It isn't intended to be permanent, and even non-mods can reopen questions (it just takes a few of them to do it). I think that this thread and a few other recent ones show that we need to work on our commenting/explanation, though. –  AceCalhoon May 9 '12 at 20:44
I totally agree (note, my answer comes around to that point) ... but if we close without long, long explanations it presents as hazing (@mxyzplk) rather than helpful. –  goofdad May 9 '12 at 20:50
I think there is a gap between what "Close" means within the community here (and the software), and what it means to outsiders. We don't mean it to be hostile or permanent, but that's what it means to outsiders. I would like to have a mechanism with less hostile semiotics than "Closed". Something like "frozen" or "in moderation" would convey better that it's a holding state, not a "GTFO". –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 23:21
@SevenSidedDie: Absolutely the point I was trying to make! Unfortunately, we are limited in options on the mechanism, which is where our "reasons for closing" responses come in. If we're stuck with hostile semiotics our only recourse is to temper them in our responses. Saying "closed" with a lot of text could help. How much is the right amount of text? To paraphrase Billy Crystal: "Somewhere between three words and a wall of text is your problem" ... –  goofdad May 10 '12 at 0:01
I don't think it's insignificant that if a question by a new user is closed the system automatically flags it asking for an explanation from a moderator. (not sure if this is mod close only or if it also flags community close). SE wants us to explain closures to new users. Closing is important, its a step in a process of how a bad question becomes good, sometimes we have to stop along the way, but a lot of the time we can make it good. –  wax eagle May 10 '12 at 2:06

As I noted in chat, I don't think this is a particularly terrible question. The problem seems clear1, and it seems relatively on topic. Depending on the size of the original site you could make a case for it being too localized (i.e. if the site was small enough that no one else had ever heard of it).

1 A point of clarification might be whether the asker is actually looking for the community (i.e. the people and the social contracts), the tools that were provided by that web site, or simply a hub for (some RPG related activity, such as PBP).

I think this is the sort of clarification that's going to need some guidance to get to, though.


Closing is for when we're 100% sure that a question is unwelcome. "Bad" or "dubious" questions are for downvoting. Questions that are a roleplaying subculture's first question on this site are definitely to be given the benefit of the doubt.

RPing communities are integral to the roleplayer subculture of online RPers. If someone came here to ask about the history of OtherSpace's rule mechanics, that would be similarly on-topic.

Unless we're going to say that online RPers are unwelcome, we're going to have to be very cautious about closing questions that seem, to tabletoppers, to be off-topic.

For example, from the perspective of dice&paper roleplayers, the question about making armour seems like something we'd have no expertise in. Well of course we don't, if we don't welcome LARPers to participate and share their expertise. I don't know a damned thing about banded mail (it goes horizontal, right?), but it absolutely belongs here if we are going to accept LARP questions at all.

Ditto questions relevant to online RPers. If we drive them off, then of course we have no expertise. And, our tabletopper bias will make it seem reasonable to exclude such questions. The example about OtherSpace is a pointed example: most users here would look at such a question and think it's about videogames, or at best, about some trivia about an online RPing platform. In fact, OtherSpace runs on a Fudge variant, making it solidly on-topic. If we drive off online RPers, who here would know that?

If questions like this that are relevant to a roleplaying subculture have nowhere to call home, then we're not really the Role-playing Games Stack Exchange, are we?

I disagree with your opinion on downvoting/closing. dubious should definitely be in the close set. Dubious questions shouldn't get answered until they are less dubious, we should be the quickest to close these as until they are clarified they only lead to bad answers. –  wax eagle May 9 '12 at 18:38
As far as being welcome to "Online RPers" (and by this I assume you mean folks who play RPGs on forums/chat/voip, not video games), I'm all for it, but lets not sacrifice quality to do it. –  wax eagle May 9 '12 at 18:39
Check a dictionary: "Dubious: Doubtful or not settled in opinion; being in doubt; wavering or fluctuating; undetermined." We should not be closing questions that we're unsure about closing. That's for votes to find out the community opinion. We're close-happy here. We have very few open, low-voted questions. That's a failure of our userbase and high-rep-user guidance in my opinion. –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 18:40
And for driving off users, experience shows that there is no welcome loud enough to overcome aggressively closing new users' questions. We need to close sometimes, yes, but we need to not be so damned aggressive about it. –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 18:41
disagree, users who want to be here will get over having a question (particularly their first one) closed. It's a bit discouraging, but we should be clear when we close that "Closing is not a death sentence" and that they should try to edit their question to actually solve their problem –  wax eagle May 9 '12 at 19:22
@waxeagle Not if there are no open questions relevant to them. –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 19:28
If there are no open questions relevant to them, are they in the right place? –  wax eagle May 9 '12 at 19:38
@waxeagle Wouldn't that be a self-fulfilling prophecy then? Are we not for all roleplaying games? –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 20:31

Yes. It's fine. Why not? As long as they are related to tabletop RP. History of Facebook is off topic. Why do Reviews suck now is on topic. (Perhaps restated more diplomatically, natch). Let's not be exclusionary for the sake of it. If the question has quality problems address the quality problems, but scope wise it's fine.

I'll be honest, I am considering getting more confrontational over the hazing of new posters over some mythical sense of perfect question quality. There's a difference between poor quality and legit questions people have not being a "question for the ages." People shouldn't have to justify themselves to ask questions clearly in site scope.

not looking for perfect, just good. most first posts suck, that's why we have a review queue in the first place. I don't see why we shouldn't try to nicely help these folks arrive at better quality. I'm equally laudatory when new users post good content (look through my recent activity, I've welcomed 10s of new users in the past week, mostly postive). This question isn't good, and honestly it's basically "where'd my friends from 5 years ago go?" is that really in scope? What problem does that solve? –  wax eagle May 9 '12 at 19:23
I think this may indicate an area we need to improve presentation on. Asking "Why do you want to know?" is not (should not be, at any rate) about finding a justification for the question. It's about getting the context needed to provide good answers. Sometimes context is needed to improve a question. Other times context is what makes a question useful entirely on its own. –  AceCalhoon May 9 '12 at 19:29
@waxeagle "What's the popular successor to MasterTools?" would be a valid question. So is "What is the popular successor to Avidgamers?" (The answer may be "nothing", but the question being on-topic is independent of what the answer might be.) –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 19:30
@AceCalhoon I think you've nailed my concerns on this question. –  wax eagle May 9 '12 at 19:41

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