has been bugging me lately, and I think it's because it's become a meta tag, at least in how it's commonly used now.

In The Death of Meta Tags, they're described thus:

meta-tags […] do not describe the content of the question. They describe some other aspect of the question, like the author’s skill level, or the author’s motivation for asking it, or generally what “kind” of question it is (poll, how-to, etc.).

A proper tag describes the content of the question – it merely labels something already there. It seems to me that has recently been tacked on as a constraining instruction that doesn't always have any mention in the question body. That sounds like a meta tag to me.

It's also falling afoul of a less-obvious telltale of a meta tag (emphasis original):

If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it’s probably a meta-tag. In a cruel, ironic twist, the meaning of the tag [subjective] itself … is actually subjective. Ditto for [best-practices] and [beginner]. Best practices to whom? Beginner by what criteria? These tags are impossible to define by anything remotely resembling an objective metric. In comparison, the the meaning of tags like [java], [c#], and [javascript] are crystal clear to all but the nuttiest of nutbags.

often gets tacked onto questions that can't actually be answered without knowing, if not the exact system involved, at least the sort of system. The question How can I deal with players who are reluctant to spend resources? became a bit of a mess because the asker wanted to cover a bunch of systems, but it's functionally unanswerable without focusing the problem to how those specific systems work. Notice all the answers that mention systems by name in order to answer usefully, and how all the "bad" answers are the ones that are truly ignoring the systems that the asker is actually asking about; not agnostic ("unknowing") of the system involved at all. I see this happen frequently with questions that require the assumption of a trad system too, when a truly system agnostic question would include a much wider set of mechanical designs in valid answers. Apparently means different things to different people, which makes it likely a meta tag.

It's also getting tacked onto questions unnecessarily. Do we really need to be told that How do I avoid clichés while improvising? is not about any one system? Doesn't and cover the question more than enough? I don't think over-use is evidence that it's a meta-tag—I think this happens because it's such a pervasive tag that people feel like it's necessary to include if a question doesn't otherwise have a system tag. I do think that the pervasiveness of may be the fault of being a meta tag, though, indirectly causing this kind of over-use.

I do think the tag is seeing legitimate, non–meta tag uses as well. That makes it less obvious whether how it's being used is actually a problem. I might just be cranky.

Is a meta tag?

If it is a meta tag, can we figure out a policy for its proper, non-meta-tag uses so we can keep it?

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5 Answers 5

It is a useful tag with specific scope and purpose.

Just to amplify, it serves a critical role in our community: It illustrates that the querent has no system to which he or she refers, and therefore explicitly accepts answers from all systems.

We, in effect, have a "please tag your answer with your desired" system tag ontology, with a lesser ontology of "signal if you want pure with that tag alluding to a more RAWish answer.

Therefore, because we, in effect require a system tag (I certainly go out of my way to edit it in), system-agnostic is useful. On the other hand, there are times when it certainly isn't warranted.

For reluctant-to-spend resources, you should indicate that system-agnostic is a bad fit, because resources are too close to system. But that's a problem for individual questions. It's just as poor a fit as a physics question for 4e. "Your question cannot be answered under the tags provided" falls into a number of types of close.

We should fix questions rather than try to fix this specific tag.

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No, or if so, I don't care.

This SE is rampant with people wanting game rules specific answers to more generalized roleplaying questions. It's a useful tag to keep that away from proper general questions. It's so popular I can't imagine we'd actually go remove it regardless of tag theory.

But I don't think it's a meta tag - in fact, "agnostic" is a great word that shows its validity by direct analogy. If this were a religion SE, then "Christian," "Muslim," "agnostic," "atheist" would all be valid choices. Here, "D&D 4e," "Pathfinder," "Weirdos and Wombats," and "system-agnostic" are likewise valid choices.

As for when to use it - "when you think it's needed." In some of your cases cited above maybe it's not needed - but maybe it is. "How to encourage players to spend resources" is a legitimate cross-game question as it does have some basic psych answers regardless of the system at hand. And that proves the second point, which is that people often use it reactively to swat off the "but what about the RULESET!!?!!" flies. If the asker wants it for a ruleset they should list the ruleset; if they want it without one then sadly system-agnostic ends up being needed. When it's not, you get either a) hardcore D&D answers because 80% of the world assumes all RP revolves around D&D, or b) people demanding it get tied to a specific ruleset. And to be honest, with all the indie games out there, you can't really say gm-techniques is by definition agnostic. It is for most trad games but now there's at least one game that bizarrifies any given aspect of GMing and the "most games" answer isn't valid for it...

I personally like browsing the system-agnostic tag as it generally means less pedantry, more higher level thought in the questions it brings up.

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Entirely agree that it has value. I've edited in an important second question at the end there. It's implied, but it's important enough that it needs to be reiterated. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 5 '13 at 1:45
    
Good food for thought in the edit. Thanks. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 5 '13 at 20:15
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why can't a lack of system tag be enough? –  wax eagle Mar 6 '13 at 13:48
    
Read my answer again is why –  mxyzplk Mar 7 '13 at 2:45
    
I completely concur. I also think it really helps newer users on the site understand questions and avoid the 80% assumption you mentioned. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Mar 7 '13 at 22:05

Some data and observations, but I'm not sure where it leads....

From looking at the page,

is most used along side , and questions in turn are only rarely tagged with a specific system.

is also common in questions, and while incidence of systems in questions is more common then in it is still common to have no system.

Looking at questions tagged only we have:

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Where it seemed appropriate I've added tags to some of these and retagged a couple others. There are still a couple for which I can't think of any other reasonable tags, though. –  Oblivious Sage Mar 8 '13 at 21:52

is completely unnecessary.

When a question cares about the game being played we tag it with that game's tag.

So shouldn't the lack of a game tag indicate system agnostic already?

Shouldn't basically any question that does not have a specific system attached to it be then labeled ? Doesn't that effectively render the tag meaningless?

I'd argue that should be replaced where it is a solo tag with more descriptive tags and it should then be burninated.

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This about sums my feelings about the tag when I was writing the question. I see mxyzplk's point though. On the third hand, needing a tag to "fend off" system-specific answers and comments seems like masking a dysfunction. Which returns me to the first hand. I'm not sure which is overall best for the site, short and long term. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 6 '13 at 15:27
    
One point in support: only the most novice of users fail to add a system tag when they mean a system. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 6 '13 at 15:29
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your second point sums it up nicely. And usually if a system is detectable an experienced editor comes along and adds it. –  wax eagle Mar 6 '13 at 15:34
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And if it isn't detectable, someone will ask, "What system is this in reference to?" in the comments within 10 minutes or so. –  Oblivious Sage Mar 8 '13 at 20:41

Cross-posted from a related question:

The contention seems to be between these two perspectives on how to use :

  • should be for questions that are useful without knowing anything about the system being used, so it should, as reasonably as possible, apply to all systems possible.

  • is about avoiding system-specific answers, so it only needs to apply to a goodly range of systems, not all or nearly all.

If we do keep the tag (something I'm coming to think may be unnecessary, if not unwise), then it should probably be a constraint on answers rather than on questions. It becomes a way for the asker to say, "You don't know which system I'm using, and I don't think the exact system is relevant to this question, so please don't bring system into it."

At the same time, that shouldn't mean that an answer can't use a system, merely that a good answer won't assume a system. It should be OK to say, "System X uses mechanic Y to solve that problem, here's how it works... and here's how it might be generalized to apply to other systems..." but not OK to say, "Well in system X mechanic Y takes care of that. END"

I think that will be more restrictive than (and therefore superior to) having it restrict the question to applying to a broad swathe of systems. If answers can be applied to a wide variety of systems, then the question is automatically useful to a wide variety of systems. Merely restricting the question to being "system agnostic" would allow overly specific (and therefore less useful) answers.

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