Looking over the questions that have been tagged as system-agnostic I have to question what value the tag really has. The questions all are phrased so no system in particular is mentioned, so tagging it as system-agnostic seems to be redundant. When you're searching for an answer (especially those that are new to the site), your first thought for searching is generally going to be specific to the system you're in.

The only value it may have is for those that are just browsing the site looking for nothing in particular, just seeing what's all out there.

So is there really a good reason to keep using the system-agnostic tag?

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8 Answers 8

The tag can serve the purpose of being an easy short-hand for the types of answers being sought. Ideally, if I click on such a tag I'll find lots of questions/answers dealing with setting material, general play advice, the social atmosphere around the table, and so on. I may be in the minority in this, but I've been using the tags as a navigation device.

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I haven't actually searched for that tag, but when skimming I find it to be a helpful visual aid. Also, there is no other way to search for "questions with no tag that corresponds to a rules system". I would have to put every game system tag as an ignored tag, I guess? FWIW, stackoverflow has a "language-agnostic" tag (3,410 questions). –  RMorrisey Aug 21 '10 at 8:28

One use of tags is to help people answer questions, as it can help focus where your specialities lie.

I don't see how system-agnostic helps in this case.

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+1 - theoretically in absence of other indicators/tags the site should be "system-agnostic" by default, making the tag redundant. –  LeguRi Aug 20 '10 at 15:25
    
It should also be noted that there are now 40+ questions tagged as [system-agnostic] –  LeguRi Sep 9 '10 at 17:44
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Unfortunately, there's no convenient way to search for questions which are not tagged with any other indicators and tags. Browsing the top-voted questions in [system-agnostic] is a great way to look for answers to problems you didn't realize you had. –  kodi Sep 9 '10 at 20:28

On the other hand, one of the legitimate uses of the system-agnostic tag could be to clearly flag a question as wanting answers that are system-agnostic. (For example this question and this question.) If we tightly define it that way and enforce it, then I can see it being very useful.

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This is how I interpreted the tag, for what is worth. When I have used it, it was with the intent of hopefully preventing responses that invoke the rules of a specific system. (Although after 7 months with the tag still around, I am guessing it is here to stay.) –  Runeslinger Apr 15 '11 at 12:28
    
@Runeslinger It's likely here to stay, yeah. The general opinion of what it's for seems to have shifted so that it's being applied more usefully, though there are still times I look at the tags on the question and think "isn't there something more appropriate than [system-agnostic] for this?" –  SevenSidedDie Apr 15 '11 at 17:34

"The questions all are phrased so no system in particular is mentioned"

The problem, here, is that sometimes those questions are phrased in such a way that people assume they're referring to a particular system. This is rare so far - for the most part, people are seem more likely to ask questions which could be answered in a system-agnostic way, but are narrowing the scope to a particular system and getting more focused answers as a result. Still, if someone really wanted to ask Is there any benefit to trying to have someone start at the bottom and joining in? in a system-agnostic context, they'd pretty much have to disclaim that they were talking about D&D at some point, either in the question, or in response to a comment asking, "Are you talking about D&D?" The system-agnostic tag strikes me as an excellent way to formally include that disclaimer: "I really do want something that applies to all systems [which have mechanics similar to the one I'm discussing]."

Indeed, [dnd] is seeing a LOT of use as a shorthand for "systems [which have D&D-like mechanics]." With that in mind, I could see tagging a question "[dnd] [system-agnostic]" to indicate that you're talking about games that act like D&D, but that you don't believe the answer depends on any particular system.

"When you're searching for an answer (especially those that are new to the site), your first thought for searching is generally going to be specific to the system you're in."

Well, we should plan tags in such a way that they're useful to people who are not new to the site, as well. And if you have a question that you know will be the same no matter what the system, you might well include [system-agnostic] to avoid getting answers that are too cluttered with a particular system's mechanics. More than that, though, I think that [system-agnostic] is a fascinating tag to browse, because it has answers that are by design applicable regardless of what system I might choose. That strikes me as well-defined and useful.

"The only value it may have is for those that are just browsing the site looking for nothing in particular, just seeing what's all out there."

I do not agree that this activity is worthless. The top-voted [system-agnostic] questions are a fascinating collection already, and I look forward to continuing to browse them as the site grows.

Another problem I've been made aware of:

"There is disagreement about what [system-agnostic] actually means."

Jeremiah Genest believes it means something very specific, but hasn't shared that definition. I took it to mean something very different. So I'll admit that [system-agnostic] may not be the best possible wording to achieve what I want, because it generates such ideological conflict. Here's what I want:

I want a tag that includes "What problems do evil characters cause?" "What iPhone apps do you use for gaming?" and "What are some alternatives to miniatures?" but does not include "Do healing bonuses (Pacifist healer) apply to flat healing effects like consecrated ground?" and "What are the exact rolls and totals for a direct combat spell?" Each of the first three questions clearly cannot possibly apply to ALL game systems imaginable. I propose that no question could do so. I don't want a tag that means that. I want a tag that means "my question has broad applicability across a number of systems." I don't care what it's called, but that seems to be what people are using [system-agnostic] to mean, and I appreciate being able to readily find the questions that (some people feel) are "system-agnostic" (as opposed to truly being "system agnostic").

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System Agnostic is a meta, non-specific tag that means "This question appleis to anyone, anywhere, anyhow what you play." That is both untrue (all the questions you listed are very specific) and doesn't serve any purpose. They are meaningless generic tags that are rather against stackexchange philosophy (see blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/08/the-death-of-meta-tags). Basically if its a meta tag it doesn't belong. –  anon186 Sep 10 '10 at 17:33
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Again, that is very specifically NOT what I take [system-agnostic] to mean. I conceded above, and I concede again that there is no question that can possibly apply to "anyone, anywhere, anyhow what you play" except perhaps "Where are the Cheetos?" That is not what I am talking about, and I don't believe it's what the people who are applying the [system-agnostic] tag mean to talk about. I find it difficult to interpret the rest of your reply because I don't think we're talking about the same thing. You say all the questions I listed are very specific, and they are... –  kodi Sep 10 '10 at 18:19
    
from the perspective of "does this apply with equal force to Harn and Cops and Robbers?", but not from the perspective of "does this apply to anything except D&D 4.0?" –  kodi Sep 10 '10 at 18:20

Although I have to agree with other answers that say the list of questions tagged system-agnostic is fascinating reading, I don't think it adds anything to the questions themselves. Often it's unnecessary, and seems to be stuck on anything that doesn't deserve a particular system tag. In those cases eliding it would be more appropriate. The questions about mapping come to mind in particular—of course a general question about map-making software is going to be system-agnostic. If it's not system-agnostic, it would be tagged with a system tag.

In other cases it's simply misapplied. There are a lot of questions that are specific to a particular kind of system that use the tag, but they're not really system-agnostic questions. The question about evil characters would be better tagged with something like party-dynamics, which would be something like the in-game equivalent of the social tag, since it only applies to games/systems that happen to have a cooperative party dynamic built-in and therefore isn't agnostic about systems. It's more like the question is pluralistic about systems.

As for fascinating reading, that alone isn't enough to save a tag, in my view. With the other problems I'm seeing in the way the tag is currently applied, I don't think it's worth keeping.

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Looking at the top vote gathers of the tag it strikes me as one that is meta (see blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/08/the-death-of-meta-tags) as it either is erroneously applied (many aren't truly system independent) or unnecessary ebcause other tags serve to delineate the question. We should remove. –  anon186 Sep 10 '10 at 16:58
    
@Jeremiah--as I'm new to SE, I may be off base on this, but it seems that the language-agnostic tag that RMorissey mentioned is roughly similar--is that tag being phased out? –  Numenetics Sep 10 '10 at 23:03

Based on the disagreement over what "agnostic" means in this context, (is it "universal" or "could apply to multiple/many/most systems?"), I'd suggest the term system-neutral as an alternative. I think "neutral" more clearly doesn't require it to apply to every system, just not to be specific to one system. System-neutral is actually the term I was more familiar with from reading product reviews and such.

I know not everyone finds the tag useful at all, but for those that think its useful, this might be a way to clarify.

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I think the tag is really causing more trouble than it's worth. If you ask a question that contains

  • Fantasy Setting
  • Co-operative dynamics
  • Antagonistic dynamics
  • An established game master position

Then it may not longer be system-agnostic. See this question for an example

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What trouble is that causing, exactly? –  kodi Sep 9 '10 at 21:00
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I don't see how the bullet points you lay out are not system-agnostic. That still describes quite a few different game systems: Runequest, D&D, Warhammer Fantasy, Dragon Age, HeroQuest... I don't know tons of different systems, but those are a few examples. –  Numenetics Sep 9 '10 at 21:07
    
@Kodi see the question. –  C. Ross Sep 10 '10 at 0:25
    
@Numenetics I agree, but if you look at how people react to the tag, if it has any of those traits it's not system-agnostic because it can't apply to all questions. –  C. Ross Sep 10 '10 at 0:27
    
Isn't that what the tag wiki is for? system-agnostic is a very different claim from system-universal, which seems to be what people reacting to the tag are assuming. If enough people find the tag useful (currently the highest rated answer here, but not by much) we just clarify its use in the wiki. –  Numenetics Sep 10 '10 at 2:53
    
Except in this context, "agnostic" does mean "universal". "Agnostic" means roughly "able to be ignorant of X", so "system agnostic" means a question that is relevant regardless of system. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 10 '10 at 4:53
    
That's not a definition I'm familiar with. The closest "official" definition I can see is "someone who is doubtful or noncommittal about something." You bring up a good point, though--maybe we are disagreeing over the second word, not about the tag. –  Numenetics Sep 10 '10 at 12:30
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@C. Ross: I have read the question a number of times. The only "trouble" I can identify is that Agent_9191 does not believe it has value. Is that the trouble you are referring to? Or are you referring to the fact that we're having this discussion at all? If the trouble is "Some people value it and others are ideologically opposed to it," I don't see how getting rid of it is the obvious answer. –  kodi Sep 10 '10 at 15:11
    
Please are thinking system agnostic in very specific ways based on their experience. And thus I find myself disliking it. I'd rather see it not used as a tag. If I'm interested in campaign development I can follow that tag, the system agnostic tag tells me nothing new. –  anon186 Sep 10 '10 at 15:41
    
@Kodi Evil is a horrible thing. I play a game of hard boiled spies and some might be highly moralistic, others gray others black, but evil doesn't really apply, even if the game is all about moral choices. The evil question is very, very fantasy based and not system agnostic at all. –  anon186 Sep 10 '10 at 15:42
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@Jeremiah Genest : I'm totally on-board with "we can't agree what system-agnostic means" being a problem. I took it to mean "this question is not tied to the mechanics of one particular system" rather than "this question applies to every possible system." I do not believe that any question could apply to every possible system, so I assumed based on that belief that no tag attempted to describe such an impossibility. I'll edit my answer to reflect my thoughts, since I'm out of characters here and generally really hating the comments system. –  kodi Sep 10 '10 at 17:07
    
I think that it's being used as "this Q is not tied to the mechanics of a particular system, but it is tied to the mechanics of a set of similar systems". In that case, shouldn't we identify the commonality and tag that? –  SevenSidedDie Sep 10 '10 at 21:13
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@Jeremiah: I wholeheartedly disagree that the evil question is fantasy based. Mixing evil (or "bad", or whatever term you like) characters can be a part of CoC (any time period) D20 modern, GURPS (any setting), Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha, Star Trek, etc. etc. It's not really a question about the fantasy alignment system (at least as I read it), but about parties of mixed morality. –  Numenetics Sep 10 '10 at 23:01

I use tags to get the highlighting in the question list so I can easily skip over those that aren't of interest to me when I am browsing the landing page. Let's say I would like to see questions that are tagged with one of the many dnd tags, or questions that are not system specific, but I don't want other system specific questions highlighted. Without a tag to represent questions that are not system specific there is no way I can get that highlighting.

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Thanks for essentially (re)defining the entire purpose of tags. But not everybody keeps ignored tags visible. Plus, like Richard commented on the other answer, site is set up for any and all RPGs so it seems to make more sense that the question is "system-agnostic". So adding system specific tags to your Interested tag would add a better highlighting rather than dimming out ones you're not interested in. –  Agent_9191 Aug 20 '10 at 21:24
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I don't really see how he's redefining the purpose of tags; that's how he uses them, and other people may use them that way as well. –  Numenetics Aug 21 '10 at 2:04
    
I wasn't trying to (re)define the purpose of tags. I don't generally click tags at all. I'll visit when I've got time, and look at the front page or two for those that are highlighted and see if there is anything I have input on or interest in. I'm not married to the system-agnostic tag, I'm just demonstrating how some people (myself included) may find it useful. I thought it would be easier to add system-agnostic to my interesting tags rather than add every other system to my ignored tags. If the majority want to get rid of it, I'm fine with that, whatever makes the site more usable. –  digitaljoel Aug 21 '10 at 3:59

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