According to the on-topic help page "questions about plot" are on-topic and "speculative questions about developer intent, with respect to both mechanics and narrative" are off-topic.

Here is the question that generated some discussion about being on/off-topic:

Was Super Mario Bros. 3 all just a performance?

In my opinion, it is a question about plot that might require developer only knowledge, but it is not speculative. Apparently the moderators think it is.

Related question:

Is "This question requires developer only knowledge" the same thing as developer intent?

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    At the end of the day, do we really want to become a sounding board for nutty fan theories? Sep 11, 2015 at 3:58
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    I absolutely agree with @LessPop_MoreFizz's point. If you start supporting these kind of fan theory questions you open up a very nasty can of worms. Some fan theories may be well put together, but others are completely insane.
    – two bugs
    Sep 11, 2015 at 4:06
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz I think the difference here is subtle. The fan theory itself is speculative. However that is not what being asked. He is not asking people to elaborate on fan-based theories. The question boils down to "is that the actual plot?". Sep 11, 2015 at 5:01
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    Point of order: the focus of the related question you linked is regarding difficult or extremely difficult to test gameplay questions. Lore questions are an entirely different and less fun can of worms.
    – Unionhawk Mod
    Sep 11, 2015 at 5:04
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    If a question requires developer knowledge to answer (and that can be an easy call to make, depending on what the question is asking), its off-topic.
    – Frank
    Sep 11, 2015 at 8:06
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz - Well this is the first since the site inception. I think we can handle one every 5 years or so...
    – Robotnik Mod
    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:44
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    @Robotnik short memory. This isn't even close to the first. Sep 11, 2015 at 12:45
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz - Really? Huh, well I learn something every day I guess. What other crazy fan theories have we debunked over the years?
    – Robotnik Mod
    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:46

2 Answers 2


The specific question was as follows when it was closed (edits may occur after I post this):

A popular fan theory states that Super Mario Bros. 3 was in actuality just a performance or stage play, as written about by Cracked and Dorkly among others. Is there any basis to this assertment? Has it been confirmed or denied?

I believe that the question falls foul of the close reasons because of the Has it been confirmed or denied? line.

Without that people can offer in game answers, dissect manuals and so on. As well as the current answer from the OP being useful.

With the line, it reads (to a number of people) what is the official word from the developer?. The answer from the asker is a video of the developer confirming the word.

Also, with that interpretation you are scoping the possible answers to discussions on the developer's intent.

I'm not going to go into whether the site should allow developer intent questions (I don't see a problem with the current allowed questions), but in any case the question would be more useful without that last line. At least it offers more answers/in-game research etc than some quote from a developer's twitter feed or interview.

  • In no case is the current answer a valid answer. If they're asking about the plot, its limited to what's in the game, and related materials. While the video could help a question asking about the story, it by itself is not an answer in any sense.
    – Frank
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:47
  • @frank - I think it is a valid answer to provide, but one of any number of possible answers. Should it get downvoted for not addressing the in game elements of a game? I would put that down to how each person feels about the answer. A better answer would be to address in game elements for sure. Which ever answer gets the most votes/gets accepted is often a popularity contest in any case.
    – user101016
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:54
  • No, its not a valid answer; it addresses nothing of what the story is. It's all developer Meta information, which can help, but without actually addressing the story in-game, does not count as an answer.
    – Frank
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:56
  • @frank - Maybe using the word "valid" is causing confusion. My intent is that if the question was changed as I said, the current answer shouldn't be deleted by a mod because it offers something useful. It shouldn't be the accepted answer/highest scoring in its current state (assuming someone offers an in game explanation). But whether that happens is another story (like I say, it often becomes a popularity contest).
    – user101016
    Sep 11, 2015 at 15:02
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    I don't think using a video of the developer saying something can, by itself, constitute a valid answer. For one, developers can and do say whatever, true or not, and two, we don't consider what they say as authoritive. We take their works as canon. Not them.
    – Frank
    Sep 11, 2015 at 15:09
  • As a side note, I don't think we should be hosting nutty fan theory questions in the first place. They're the very definition of unprovable, and provide no benefit to the site to keep. There is no definitive answer to these questions, not unless the developer answers them, and that's one area we don't allow.
    – Frank
    Sep 11, 2015 at 15:13
  • @frank - I agree with your judgement on both points. Regarding the valid answer - I'm still unsure whether it could be voted for closure. It is (maybe arguably) low quality as it doesn't offer anything but a video link but I don't think low enough to be removed (as it is in context of the question). I would hope for a better answer to the question that addresses anything in-game (there is a curtain, for example!). As for the second point, I don't think there is much in way of fan theories on the site. Even so, despite a question stemming from a fan theory, it could still be useful.
    – user101016
    Sep 11, 2015 at 15:25
  • @Frank good points... Sep 11, 2015 at 16:06
  • @CamelCase good points... Sep 11, 2015 at 16:07
  • Adding a Fan theory clause would probably clear up most of these questions. Fan Theory questions still sound valid under the current rules since their evidence comes from the games themselves. They fit squarely in the middle of "Plot and characters in games" and "Speculative questions about developer intent, with respect to both mechanics and narrative." This one happens to be confirmed by a developer. Others are not. The developers opinion is considered irrelevant most of the time anyway.
    – Reafexus
    Sep 20, 2015 at 12:08
  • "What evidence in game supports this theory?" explicitly avoids asking anything that requires the developer. The question is purely about in game data. But it sounds like you want to close those anyway despite it not fitting under developer intent.
    – Reafexus
    Sep 20, 2015 at 12:21

In that specific question, we're talking about Super Mario Brothers 3. For those unfamiliar with Mario games, they're not very plot focused. There are a few elements that point to the "theory", but they're small enough to just be a visual theme. Nobody could say for sure that the game was "all a play" until the developer himself gave a word of god answer.

I think that's the key point: if it's something that you can tell from the game, definitively, then it's an okay question. If the question can't be answered without word of god (i.e., there is no in-game answer), then it's not something we should handle, even if there is a word of god answer for it.

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    This logic would require us to make a judgement call based on whether the answer to the question is addressed in canon or not, which we would only know if we already knew the answer. "No, this isn't addressed in game and is just a theory" is a valid answer, as is "There are small clues of this and visuals that point to it but nothing conclusive". Note how neither of those rely on whether the developer answered it or not.
    – Robotnik Mod
    Sep 11, 2015 at 4:32
  • That's a valid criticism. However, I don't think the linked meta really resolves this issue either - saying "We don't know currently" isn't a helpful answer, and it does little to guard against the endless fan theories present. For example, someone might be convinced SMB1 is the drug-induced coma of a homeless man. We can't prove it, and no evidence supports it, but we can't disprove it. Since video games exist as closed systems, I don't think assuming we know the answer is unreasonable.
    – two bugs
    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:21
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    I never said "We don't know" is an answer, I said "No, this isn't addressed" or "There is no evidence to support this claim" are valid answers. We don't need to prove or disprove anything, we present facts. If there are no facts to support a theory, then we state that "there are no facts to support this theory". As for needing to know the answer in order to close: it has been stated many times on meta discussions (including the one linked above) that "answerability" is a bad criterion by which to judge a question, because again, you need to know the answer to know to VTC.
    – Robotnik Mod
    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:35
  • I didn't mean to imply you were saying that, I was referring to the linked meta discussion. My argument is that neither of those answers give us a clear course of action in the case of inane fan theories. If we're willing to cover that with a different rule, that's fine - it's possible I'm trying to do too much with a single rule. As for answerability, I'm viewing it more as a "is there a definitive answer that can be determined". If a question doesn't have a definitive answer, I don't think it's a good question. That's just my view, though, and this is what meta is for.
    – two bugs
    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:38
  • Tell me if I am taking this out of context, but "If a question doesn't have a definitive answer, I don't think it's a good question" is a pretty bad statement. That would require every question on the site to only have 1 answer otherwise the question is bad. One of the strengths of the site is that alternatives can be offered. How else would you answer a strategy question, for example?
    – user101016
    Sep 11, 2015 at 13:56
  • That's also a fair point. I guess what I'm getting at is a question should be answerable. If you can't answer a question (I'm not considering "We don't know" as an answer, since it opens the can of worms), then I think that question itself is fundamentally flawed. There may be questions we can't answer yet because there hasn't been enough testing done (i.e., how does this specific mechanic work), but there is an answer to that. I do agree that restricting questions to one definitive answer would be getting rid of one of the stronger points of the SO network. I've got some thinking to do.
    – two bugs
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:02
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    I'd have to find an example, but I believe questions can be good (useful, offers plenty of research etc) if the only/highest scoring/accepted answer is "there is no evidence of this". Sometimes you are disproving a common myth through "hard facts".
    – user101016
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:27
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    Part of the reason we don't allow developer intent questions is because they are a mind reading engagement. Another, more prevalent argument, is that asking about design choices is kind of a useless question; they can't be changed, so asking why something was designed the way it was has no bearing on improving or helping with your gameplay. Even lore can help immersion. Design questions can't even do that.
    – Frank
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:50
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    @Robotnik As a side note, our current lore policy expects us to do exactly that; we're supposed to have enough expertise in the game being asked about before voting to close unanswerable lore questions. While I personally think that stance is problematic to the extreme, badp has no issues with it. We're just supposed to leave wild arsed plot questions alone if we haven't played the game, which puts a massive sent in curation efforts, if you ask me.
    – Frank
    Sep 11, 2015 at 15:07

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