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The FAQ says:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

It could be me, but lately there seem to be more people quoting this phrase to gain close-vote support on this or that class of question, such as historical ones, or those about memes. Some of these sorts of questions seem fine, others less so. The "research effort" rationale on the upvote/downvote arrows seems to be what makes them good or bad.

In any case, how literally are we taking that "actual problem" quote? Are we demanding that the only things that are "actual problems" are gameplay issues? Why do we need to mince the issue and close these edge-case, but decidedly game-related questions with definitive answers? A bad question (or five) does not mean it is categorically bad, use the downvote button. Trivial trivia questions that could be answered with a 3-second Google search are bad (referring back to the "research effort" bit), but that doesn't mean trivia questions on the whole are.

What is the position of those that quote that line? Go all the way; ban all trivia questions, such as these fairly popular ones:

Or other recent ones:

I'm tempted to move to strike "based on actual problems that you face" from the FAQ, but this seems fraught with peril. Can we be more pragmatic?

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    The irony is readily apparent, but I'm not quite sure what you're asking here. Have I missed some discussion about question validity? I think all 7 of the questions you list are fine. A better example would be a question that you think got closed unfairly due to invoking this phrase. – Raven Dreamer Apr 10 '12 at 21:32
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It's really, really important to read the FAQ as a set of guidelines that presume the reader uses common sense when reading it. If you try to read any line in the FAQ as something that must apply 100% to every single question in the same way (and if it doesn't, it's invalid), you're going to have a bad time.

Break down the line into its component parts:

You should only ask practical...

Stack Exchange is for questions that have some utility and are grounded in reality, not for dreaming up scenarios and counterfactuals. Take your first example, "Where is the impossible space in Portal 2?" is practical, "What would happen if Portal 2 had impossible spaces?" is not.

Which leads into

...answerable questions...

A question that's answerable is one that can be verified in principle. "Where is the impossible space in Portal 2?" can be answered. "Why do video game framerates need to be so much higher than TV and cinema framerates?" can be answered. Heck, even "What's Gaben thinking of right now?" can be answered. They can be verified, with varying levels of difficulty, by testing or asking people in the know.

A question that isn't answerable is one that comes down to personal preference, or is rhetorical, or is based on a worldview or reality structure that's not compatible with the one we live in. These are not answerable questions:

  • Who's better: Mario or Luigi? (personal preference)
  • Team Fortress 2 sucks, am I right? (rhetorical)
  • Why did Gaben make it so it takes 25 hours to unlock all the options in the Paradigm system of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? (what is this I don't even confusion between three different things)

...that you actually face.

This is what I refer to as the "who cares?" clause. A question can be practical and answerable, yet nevertheless is either uninteresting or so contrived nobody would ever be in a situation where the answer actually matters. A good example are the broad comparison questions that lack any focus or context, but they generally have the hallmarks of thought experimenting rather than actually playing the game:

  • What are all the differences between Final Fantasy 3 and Sonic the Hedgehog?
  • Do I need to beat Super Mario World 3 to understand the plot to Half Life?
  • What are all the instances of the number nine in Skyrim?

One thing should be obvious from all parts of the line, though; its aim is to prevent questions that are essentially stuff you'd ask when you don't really have a question you need help with, but want to ask a question anyway.

And that's not to say that we shouldn't sometimes seed the site or to say something silly like self-answering is prohibited by that line, but that a general, common-sense approach to asking questions should be: "am I asking this question because I want someone to explain something to me, or am I asking this question to provoke a discussion or to stump the audience?" If it's the former, you're probably (not unassailably) okay. If it's the latter, you're probably (not unequivocally) in the wrong place.

But I'm not saying anything new: if you keep reading on in that section, the line is explained in more detail:

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK.

This is all to say that every example question you mentioned would count as a practical, answerable problem that someone actually faced and is really in no danger of being closed by an application of the line in question.

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    I'm curious to hear from the person down-voted this. What Mark said made a whole lot of sense to me and if there's an opposing viewpoint I'd like to hear it too. – Sterno Apr 11 '12 at 0:21
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I think you're missing the second half of that statement:

Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

The FAQ is adapted from sites that solve technical, real world problems. Here on gaming we could argue what "practical" is all day long, (by the SO definition, this entire site is probably impractical) but the intent is that you shouldn't ask things that can't reasonably be answered. The rest of that FAQ section attempts to define what can "reasonably be answered."

In the context of gaming, we've forbidden certain sub-topics as being unanswerable, but for the most part we've allowed things that are gaming or gaming related. Canonical story questions and questions about the why and how of game mechanics are on topic.

There are only two categories of question that I've noted to-date that are special cases and we close on the grounds of not practical/answerable questions:

The individual justifications can be found on those pages.

To extend this onto a much wider swath of questions would require significant further debate and justification.

  • You make a good point, but I'm not seeing how your presentation relates to Mark's with your comment of, "I think you're missing the second half of that statement" – Ender Apr 23 '12 at 8:58
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    @Ender, this isn't a response to Mark, it's a response to Nick. – agent86 Apr 26 '12 at 18:29
  • Ahh. That would indeed, make much more sense. – Ender Apr 26 '12 at 19:41

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