The close reason that a new user sees for an off-topic question is:

Questions on Gaming - Stack Exchange are expected to generally relate to gaming, within the scope defined in the faq.

Why isn't not constructive used?

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

My guess that is in all the debates over this or that being on/off-topic, most of the time that was really short-hand for "this class of questions (is/is not) constructive for the site". Can I jump this train of "*-rec = offtopic-kill-with-fire" for the sake of the children new users?

To reiterate, I believe that the "off-topic" close reason is a bit obtuse if they're not well versed in past GSE politics. New users (presumably, because they haven't been smacked down if they're asking such a question) would be better served by using the proper, "not constructive: ...opinion, debate..." reason.

3 Answers 3


No, we should use off-topic instead for two very pragmatic reasons:

  1. We only have control on the "topic" part of the FAQ. If we want to have a bit in the FAQ that explicitly excludes the topic wholesale from the website that's where we must do it. It becomes thus natural to close as off-topic.
  2. It's the option that generates the least amount of discussion per question. Using "not constructive" we'd need to explain to every asker why is not a good fit for the site ("but why! you could just do it like this!") and why it wouldn't entice facts ("but games are fact! there's no speculation here!") or specific expertise ("there's an expertise in playing a lot of games!")... and so on and so forth for every other word in that close reason.
    When we say it's off-topic, it's that: off-topic, period. We just don't do them. There's little room for discussion.

If we use "not constructive" we give the message that if the asker should try and rephrase and improve the post so that it does become constructive. But that's not how we handle s. We handle s by the very sophisticated thought process that they can't ever stand a chance on our site.

That's why I for one will continue closing game recommendation questions as off-topic.

  • +1 Excellent point.
    – Wipqozn Mod
    Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 12:56
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    +1 for 'Not Constructive' means 'fix it', 'Off Topic' means 'don't bother.' Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 13:02
  • I feel like something is getting lost here. It used to be "Off Topic," but then we decided that was ambiguous (because it's about games which are on topic), so we changed it to "Not Constructive." Now, we're saying "Not Constructive" is ambiguous because it sounds like it can be improved? If "Not Constructive" is garnering that behavior, then why is it a "Close" reason? Reading the text "this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion" sounds right on the money for game-rec...
    – tzenes
    Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 14:34
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    @tzenes No one who has made even a little effort to learn anything about the site would think that our topic is "anything to do with games and gaming". It's a proper subset of that, and that subset is outlined by the FAQ. The FAQ sets hard lines and defines our topic very clearly; you can't successfully argue that game recs are on-topic. You can easily disagree with game recs being not constructive, however. The word "likely" is key in the NC description -- it's a judgment call. Closing a game rec is not a judgment call, we close all of them point blank, no argument. Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 16:51
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    @tzenes Nevermind I missed the memo about that change. "Not constructive" questions can arguably be salvaged to become constructive "what do you like to do when doing X?" → "How can I do X?"; game-rec's can't. "This question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion" is really not a problem with e.g. game catalogues; they're still game-rec but poisonous in entirely different ways. "Off-topic" is just easier for everybody involved.
    – badp
    Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 17:43
  • @badp is that true, are "Not constructive" questions more salvageable than "Off Topic?" is NC more of a "judgement call" than "Off Topic?" My understanding was that the close reason is not an indicator of revival. Is there some document where this is laid out or is this all semantics and supposition?
    – tzenes
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 0:40
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    @tzenes A question being closed in general doesn't mean the question doesn't stand any chance ever to be reopened. Reopening isn't just for questions that shouldn't have been closed in the first place, it's also for questions that were correctly closed back then and then successfully salvaged. It's, well, much harder to do this for OT questions. It's not a hard limit, it's just that we don't handle with the core of your question and fixing this problem is hard.
    – badp
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 8:47
  • @badp you're reasserting the very thing I questioned: "My understanding was that the close reason is not an indicator of revival." vs "It's, well, much harder to do this for OT questions." My question is: is this true? I understand you think it's true, but I don't find an opinion a compelling argument.
    – tzenes
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 12:32
  • @tzenes The topic of something off-topic needs to be changed in order for it to be on-topic. In other words, it would end up a different question and should really be posted as such. Whereas the constructiveness of a post can often be improved without altering the topic or even sometimes the intent. If you want numbers on whether OT questions are re-opened less often, maybe play with the Data Explorer? Note that that would ignore NC questions that are directly edited into their better form rather than being closed. Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 4:16
  • @Matt you're arguing semantics again. If you think Not Constructive is semantically inviting change that's certainly your opinion. Reading through the reasons for Not Constructive, I don't agree.
    – tzenes
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 4:37
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    @tzenes I didn't say it invites change, I said things that are on-topic can be rewritten without affecting their topic. I'm a little confused as to how we could argue anything other than semantics -- we're talking about close reasons, their interpretation, and their application (which are all subjective). Apart from arguing about the stats, which due to the caveat I noted would also not have a clear objective interpretation. I have no idea what you're looking for here. "Is this true?" is not an answerable question without defining the frame of reference and assumptions, which you haven't. Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 17:51
  • @Matt let me make this really simple for you then: Is it true that " 'not constructive' [gives] the message that if the asker should try and rephrase and improve the post" more so than off topic? I don't mean your singular interpretation, I mean from a user interface perspective. Will changing from NC to OT: "generate[s] the least amount of discussion per question." These are the fundamental assertions badp made and you seem to back. They lack any evidence, and my personal interpretation is very different.
    – tzenes
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 4:16
  • @tzenes So now you want us to run a user study before we're allowed to disagree with you? Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 4:19
  • @tzenes All I know is the OT close reason leaves less space for 'arguing semantics' than NC does by virtue of being shorter, simpler and more objective.
    – badp
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 6:13
  • @Matt, badp made two assertions in this post, both of which I disagreed with. Now we can argue in circles about what we each think, or what impression we each get, but ultimately all that will show is that we are different people. If I am being asked to change my behavior, to go from an established practice to a new one, then I'd like to be convinced with evidence. I think if you want to change policy, the onus should be on you to prove the change in an improvement in some way.
    – tzenes
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 14:09

Back when questions were decided to be closed, we didn't actually have the not constructive close reason available yet. In this meta-topic it was decided that we would close them as off-topic since at the time this was the reason used for closing shopping recommendation questions.

Now that we have a not constructive close reason, which, IMO, covers the domain of shopping recommendations, I agree that we should probably begin using this instead of off-topic as the close reason for recommendation questions.

  • 1
    I concur with Mana. Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 2:46
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    I, for one, welcome our new moderator overlords
    – juan
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 4:11
  • 3
    Anything categorically disallowed by the FAQ is off-topic. I don't think the difference is important in any way, just splitting hairs; it fits both reasons perfectly. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 19:56
  • @MatthewRead one reason is seemingly because of an arbitrary line item on /faq which most people don't bother to read, the other is core to how a sustainable QA site works; applicable network-wide, not just here.
    – Nick T
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 20:05
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    @NickT If the things we put in the FAQ are arbitrary then there's a bigger problem. There are SE sites that handle recommendations, like Literature, so no it is not applicable network-wide. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 20:56

Closing something as off-topic isn't obtuse: the close reason for off-topic questions says (emphasis mine):

Questions on Gaming - Stack Exchange are expected to generally relate to gaming, within the scope defined in the faq. See the FAQ.

The only way one could be confused about it being off topic is if they read the close reason and lost the ability to read/see after coming to "relate to gaming".

Closing something as not constructive is weaker than closing it as off-topic: it implies that the topic of the question is good, it's just asked in a way that'll invite discussion or argument. It's more subtle than closing something as off-topic, and—speaking as a moderator on the progenitor of the "not constructive" close reason—opens the door for debate on whether the question was asked in a constructive manner.

Because if my game recommendation question is asked in a way that meets all the requirements of constructiveness (outlined in "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective"), it should be opened since it's no longer inviting "opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion."

Ah, but an astute Gaming.SE user will say, "but we decided that all gaming recommendation questions, no matter how they're worded, are going to solicit those things so we actually made it explicit in the FAQ that these are off-topic here." And we're back to using the off-topic reason and the user having to be clued into the debate you don't think they have to know about.

To give an example:

What should I be looking for in an open-world RPG?

I recently purchased Skyrim, and I've really enjoyed it. The open-world nature of the game, where I can avoid the main quest line and focus primarily on side quests and other objectives, is something that I can see myself playing for a hundred hours or more.

I'd like to find other games like Skyrim that I can play after I'm done with it. How can I identify open-world games like Skyrim? Are they marketed in a specific way, or are there certain developers who focus on such games? What has been your experience in finding open-world RPGs?

This question is constructive: it hits all the points in "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective". However, it's still a game recommendation question, and it's still off-topic.

On the other hand, the "off-topic" close reason is meant to be concrete: you shouldn't be asking the question because the FAQ specifically says they're not welcome here. It's why questions that are closed as off-topic are docked one point: the person asking it didn't even bother to check the FAQ.

So the rule of thumb is: if it's explicitly off-topic in the FAQ, close it as off-topic. If the question is on-topic, but worded in a way that'll solicit debate, discussion, and/or argument, close it as not constructive. Game recommendations are explicitly off-topic in the FAQ, so they should be closed as such.

  • 1
    Very well put :) Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 20:57

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