A question recently was asked, Racing Game in Arcade where you can save your game. Based on the information the asker was able to provide, this was flagged as off-topic, as there was only criteria he provided from recollection.

I had an idea about the game the user might be referring to, but didn't want to add an answer, since I knew it was off-topic and would be put on hold/closed. I contemplated adding a comment with the game I had in mind to try to help the asker out and maybe point him in the right direction, but wasn't sure if that was appropriate either. Another user added a comment with a possible game, so I ended up adding mine as well.

My question, then... Was adding my comment with a possible solution appropriate for this off-topic question? I did want to help potentially point the asker in the right direction. But, on the other hand, I don't want that asker (or any others) to get the idea that even though they asked an off-topic question, they still got an answer via comments, so asking these types of questions again in the future (knowing they are off-topic) is fine.

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    While answering it is an awesome thing to do, it will cause that/other people to ask more off-topic questions. – Ave Jan 6 '16 at 17:10
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    Rather than enabling by answering in a comment, you may want to try redirecting users to somewhere that might be able to help. eg: reddit.com/r/tipofmyjoystick – psyk0 Jan 6 '16 at 17:23
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    @psyk0 I don't see how one precludes the other in this case. Pointing to another community can always still help them if the comment-answers are wrong. Something along the lines of "These questions are off-topic here, but I think you might be thinking of X. If not, or for future reference, Y specializes in these sort of questions." Friendly, helpful, but still clear about the rules. – MrLemon Jan 7 '16 at 12:53
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    @MrLemon Fair point indeed - I suppose my concern is that I don't want to encourage extended to-and-fro in comments on a question that'll be closed. Your proposed wording handles that quite nicely though. :) – psyk0 Jan 7 '16 at 15:37
up vote 22 down vote accepted

All you're going to get is some general opinions from the people who frequent meta on this. There is no definite site policy against it... just a few vocal users who are against it.

The argument against answering them in the comments (before the question is inevitably closed and deleted) is "If you give them an answer in the comments, you're just encouraging more questions like this!".

Sure, maybe. But in my opinion, we're not getting such an overwhelming number of questions like this that it's a problem. And I'd love to see the people claiming this back it up with some data... do we have even one case of a user asking this sort of question a second time after the first one was closed?

On the flip side, a lot of these questions come from new users (since established users tend to already understand these questions are off-topic). If they come here and find that they get an answer in the comments (even though their question is in the process of being closed as off-topic), it might make them say "Wow, what a friendly and helpful community! I'm going to stick around here!" Cool! Win for us!

We would do well to remember that the reason we close questions as off-topic and delete them isn't because we want to deny the user an answer, but simply because this isn't the appropriate place to store that bit of knowledge. That's still happening regardless. The questions are being closed and deleted. We're not clogging up the site with useless information. Answering in the comments doesn't stop this. It's simply being helpful while doing so.

At that point, it comes down to a question of whether or not our community is having to spend too much time in the review queue dealing with these kinds of questions (and it requires the assumption that refusing to answer in the comments will impact the number of questions like this we get). I definitely haven't observed this to be a problem. So I say be helpful. If you think you know the answer, go ahead and tell them. And for bonus points, do as @psyk0 suggested in the comments above and point them at some other sites that can help them get their answer.

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    I guess the one thing I'd add is that if we did get a user who kept asking questions like this over and over hoping to get an answer, even though he/she knew the questions were off-topic, it would be a good policy to not answer that particular user. And to give them a short ban for purposefully being annoying. But we could deal with that if it ever actually happened. – Sterno Jan 6 '16 at 17:39
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    This pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter, probably more eloquently than I ever could :) – Ash Jan 6 '16 at 18:41
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    @Sterno - It'll only happen once, maybe twice, before the sum of downvotes and closures triggers the system into giving the user trying to abuse this 'answer in the comments' mechanic a question ban. – Robotnik Jan 8 '16 at 4:29

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