15

This question seems problematic to me. Not because of it makes the site look immature (though I think it does), but because it seems to be a class of questions that causes some problems.

The basic formula is to think of something that would be "cool" to do in a game, find a game that is very complex and thus has a chance of allowing said action, and then ask whether it is possible. At this point, one of two things happen

  • Someone knows that it is possible, and describes how to do it.
  • Nobody knows how to do it. Even if people are generally convinced that it isn't possible, it's very hard to say that it couldn't exist in some scripted event.

The biggest problem is that in the second case, we can't really prove that it isn't possible, and so the question most likely languishes without a real answer. This seems to be a symptom of the underlying issue - the question isn't actually a problem that needs solving. Its just a curiosity thing.

So I can ask

  • Is it possible to murder someone using a dragon?

or

  • Can I steal food from a bear without being detected?

and so on until I run out of creative situations.

So what, if anything, should we do about this kind of question?

  • 1
    I voted to delete the question you're talking about. I was genuinely curious as Bethesda generally keeps sex out of their games but Skyrim is geared to be more "adult" than the previous ones. It was also a fun topic and generated some hilarious comments. I am one of those people who find the "Can I?" questions incredibly fun but I am fully aware that others don't share that opinion. That said, let's just do away with it. – spugsley Nov 11 '11 at 17:39
  • If this is our ongoing stance on these, there's a repeat: gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/35444/… – Ian Pugsley Nov 12 '11 at 21:30
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    CAN I LIKE, DRIVE A CAR IN SKYRIM? – Nick T Nov 13 '11 at 0:33
  • As I stated in a comment to @badp below, I don't see how these questions are substantially different from "hidden X" questions. They suffer from the same problems; we can neither confirm nor deny any answers because of lack of information. – FAE Nov 13 '11 at 2:40
  • I think one size does not fit all - each question should be individually judged on its merit, not on its category. Note that the question currently leading the Skyrim vs MW3 contest is a Can I Do X question and it looks like a good question with good answers to me: gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/34879/… – au revoir Nov 13 '11 at 23:05
21

"Can I Build a rocket to the moon that's powered only by saltwater in Transit Tycoon?"

Some questions are just flat out stupid. They should be closed, not because they ask whether an action is possible, but because they are stupid. They are so conjectural as to be functionally rhetorical. They are ambiguous, vague, and cannot be answered in their current form. Incidentally, that's a paraphrase of the text of one of our close reasons, Not a Real Question.

The thing is, this isn't a problem of questions asking whether an action is possible - after all, Can I permanently kill important people? is a perfectly good question - I'd go so far as to say it's a downright important question given the nature of the Elder Scrolls games and others in the genre.

Others, like Can I cure the Genophage without losing a Salarian? are asked after coming across a specific situation, and wondering if it's possible to change the outcome. Still others, like Is there any way to break a Protoss Sentry's Force Field? are about overcoming a challenge that seems insurmountable at first glance. In still other cases, asking how to reach a seemingly unreachable object can lead us to discover that the original asker is playing a pirated game!

This is a useful category of questions, that happens to contain some incredibly dumb questions.

We don't need a blanket ruling that they are off topic, we just need to use a little common sense and vote to close the bad ones. If a question is clearly based on actual gameplay experience, and seeking a solution to a real gameplay problem that someone faces, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to answer it. Questions that are based on stupid conjecture should of course be closed. Adding the word 'how' does nothing to improve the question in most cases and can in some cases render them meaningless, as in the case of questions about whether it's possible to accidentally sequence break or screw up quests by acting rashly.

One postscript here: We should be looking out for cases of 'Can I' questions where the asker is asking the wrong question. For example, with Can I secretly kill every guard in a town? the asker was asking how to implement what he thought was the solution to a problem - but it was a poor and unworkable solution when a much better one existed. These aren't bad questions, but they can be made into better questions by trying to get the OP to back up one or two steps to ask for help solving their problem, rather than help with implementing what may or may not be the appropriate solution.

  • 1
    Obviously I wasn't suggesting that we ban every question that included the words "Can I". I was specifically trying to target the class of questions that simply ask whether a certain game ever allows some generic situation. The problem with these questions is that they are unbounded and almost impossible to answer in the negative, because you never know what might be hiding in some corner of the game you haven't encountered yet. – bwarner Apr 8 '12 at 1:57
  • Your examples are mostly about specific situations, and the first one is about a game mechanic, and I agree that all those questions are fine. Anyone that can come up with a better way to categorize the group of questions I was trying to refer to would be much appreciated. – bwarner Apr 8 '12 at 1:58
  • @bwarner perhaps Is X possible? A similar class of questions (although not exactly the same) is my personal pet peeve: Does X really work Y way?; where the asker already knows the general consensus but doesn't believe it and wants people to prove/disprove a negative. I think maybe the connecting tie between the problematic "Can I do X?" questions is that they don't solve real problems and are usually the result of the asker doing thought experiments. Not really sure you can come up with a fool-proof pattern for sussing them out. – user3389 Apr 8 '12 at 6:30
  • @MarkTrapp They don't solve real problems and are usually the result of the asker doing thought experiments. (Or, I'd add, reading too much into over-hyped PR material). But yes, that's the core of it, and my point is that it's not a set of questions you can categorically define as 'off topic'. Sometimes there's no other name for a bad question except to call it a bad question. We don't need neat little boxes for every single kind of bad question, and in this case, my point is that trying to make one will throw out too many good ones. – LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 8 '12 at 7:36
  • As I wrote in this answer, If a question is clearly based on actual gameplay experience or knowledge... it's probably a good question. If it's based on stupid conjecture, it's probably a bad one. I really don't think a more defined rule than that is needed here. – LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 8 '12 at 7:37
  • @LessPop_MoreFizz I think you hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph: Users think they know how some game mechanic work, assume we all believe the same and know what he's talking about, he then asks a question that requires use of said mechanic to do something improbable or stupid. If the game mechanic doesn't turn out to work they expect it, their entire question is pointless, but its often a guessing game for us why on earth he would be trying something like that. If only users explained the why, we could actually teach them something... – Ivo Flipse Apr 8 '12 at 8:19
  • @ivo no, there are times that conjectural questions or questions about possibilities are important: See "Can I permanently kill important people" - the key is that even that is based on actual gameplay experience and an understanding of the mechanics and history of the franchise - it's not just being asked out of the blue. – LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 8 '12 at 14:47
13

Perhaps it's my Minecraft "background", but I see nothing wrong with "Can I" questions. In fact, we have plenty of them, and they mostly got excellent non speculatory answers.

I certainly do see the issue with asking that on an unreleased game, but that's a whole different can of worms.

  • 7
    "How do I" / "How can I" is very different from "Can I". – Raven Dreamer Nov 11 '11 at 13:59
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    @Raven er, how? Just because you think something must be possible, it doesn't mean it is. A positive answer to "Can I" will also explain how. The answer to "How can I" can easily be "You can't." – badp Nov 11 '11 at 14:03
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    @RavenDreamer They are essentially identical questions, at least based on the kinds of answers they will produce. – Invader Skoodge Nov 11 '11 at 15:02
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    @Badp Except that "You can't" can actually be really hard, because nobody knows for certain that you can't. Unless they are the developer, or can say for certain that they have experienced the entire game. – bwarner Nov 11 '11 at 15:03
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    @bwarner It's a bit hard to generalize this to be completely honest. No one will blame you for saying "you can't" when the correct answer is "yes, you can, just shoot at him with this amazing gun for 5 years." OTOH, "can I kill Herobrine" has an easy "you can't" answer, just like "Can you beat You Have To Burn The Rope without burning the rope?" – badp Nov 11 '11 at 15:07
  • I agree with the points brought up in this answer. – GnomeSlice Nov 13 '11 at 0:10
  • @badp I'm curious as to how you view these questions as substantially different from hidden X questions, where you clearly have the opposite stance. I view these "can I do X" questions as analogous because they have the same problems; we can neither confirm nor deny the possibilities because of lack of information. The arguments I see against "can I do X" questions seem to me to be the same as were emphasized against "hidden areas of X" questions. – FAE Nov 13 '11 at 2:38
  • @FallenAngelEyes What kind of question can't be phrased as "[How] can I do X"? I think the whole premise of this discussion is flawed. – badp Nov 13 '11 at 2:40
  • @Badp I think there is a difference between "I'm experiencing a problem, how do I solve it?" and "I'm curious whether scenario X exists in a game". – bwarner Nov 13 '11 at 17:59
  • @bwarner "I'm experiencing a problem, I can't seem to kill this NPC who's important for the plot story. How do I solve it?" "I'm experiencing a problem, no matter how many times I press USE on the prostitute, she won't have sex with me. How do I solve it?" etc. – badp Nov 13 '11 at 18:08
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    @badp But even those are much easier to answer. They have clear "You can't" answers, because they refer to a specific situation. Where it gets hard to answer is when it becomes "Is there EVER a point in the game where I can press USE on a prostitute?" – bwarner Nov 13 '11 at 19:31
5

I agree in general, but in that question in particular he asks

can I sleep with them, and if so, where can I find them as soon as possible?

So he's asking how, not just a "can I" with a yes/no answer.
Doing it could have an impact on the game, and so on.

So, as long as an answer can have more content than a simple yes or no, I think it's ok

  • It wasn't the Yes/No aspect I was worried about, I think there is an implied how regardless. I'm worried about the inability to ever give a conclusive no. – bwarner Nov 11 '11 at 15:04
  • What do you mean? If it can't be done it can't be done – juan Nov 11 '11 at 15:08
  • But how do I know that for certain? I haven't played every quest in Skyrim. Maybe there is one that lets me murder someone with a dragon. – bwarner Nov 11 '11 at 15:09
  • @bwarner Am I missing something? If you can murder with a dragon, the answer is Yes, if you cannot the answer is No. I'm probably missing your point. – juan Nov 11 '11 at 15:55
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    I think bwarner's point is that if you can you can, but if you can't, no one knows for sure that you can't because it might be possible in some remote part of the game no one knows about. – John the Green Nov 11 '11 at 21:14
3

It's probably clear, but my opinion is that this type of question should be closed as "Not a real question". It is different if someone already knows conclusively that something is possible, and just wants to know how to do it, but speculating as to what might be possible seems to be more problematic than it is worth.

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