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Following a discussion playing out on this question, I am a little confused as to where the community consensus sits in regards to plot explanations or 'lore questions', and how this applies to questions where the answer boils down to 'There is no explanation'.

I've read both this meta and this meta, where the community consensus is to Not VTC at all. However as Frank states:

Take a look at [this meta]. The most heavily upvoted answer is, "Don't VTC at all", but that's unworkable. Lore questions have always required domain knowledge to determine if they're on or off topic.

According to Frank, only people with Expert knowledge in this domain should vote to close this.

However I'm not asking who should VTC, I'm asking whether we as a community have decided to close these questions based on the answer being 'There is no explanation'. Is this the case?

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    "Answerability" is a poor metric for quest ion cromulence at best – LessPop_MoreFizz Mar 6 '14 at 2:30
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    @Less - I completely agree there. Which is why I'm so confused. Frank is stating this question shouldn't be VTC'd but that its unworkable, so it should be? I couldn't find any community consensus on that fact. indeed, even the meta he linked about 'not answered through in-universe sources' is (apparently) contrary to his position. – Robotnik Mar 6 '14 at 2:47
  • As said by the previous meta, leaving these types of lore questions alone is unworkable. If you want to keep them around, please propose an alternative that can still provide a control on lore questions. I'm all ears. – Frank Mar 8 '14 at 3:50
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    I'm not sure Frank's takeaway from that meta that "they're unworkable" is in line with the popular community opinion. I was heavily involved in that meta and that wasn't what I got out of it. "Leave them all open" was the most popular answer. The only thing that wasn't "workable" at the time was that the mods (or whoever) were not willing to change the close reason, despite that being the popular community choice. However, if you take a look at the close reasons right now, you'll see that the one being complained about no longer exists. – Sterno Mar 8 '14 at 19:43
  • @Sterno I got my stance out of the reading of Grace's answer about game canon. When applied to plot holes, what comes out is, "Does it matter? Really?". That's exactly what Too Localized was for, and how I understand our stance when it comes to lore. Go ahead and ask, but if it turns out it's a plot hole, then it gets closed, since there's no answer that we can provide. – Frank Mar 9 '14 at 0:12
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    "We allow plot questions because we have canon to address it. We don't accept extracanonical questions because we have no material to use." - Plot holes have no canon, therefore we have nothing to use to address them. Ergo, close. – Frank Mar 9 '14 at 0:14
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    My meta was basically directly arguing with the notion you just described, and had more upvotes than what you described. I'm not saying that makes it right, but I am saying that this is far from a settled issue or having been definitively deemed as unworkable. – Sterno Mar 9 '14 at 2:21
  • As always, this is going to settle nothing at all, and it will just be business as usual. Lore's such a controversial muddle that we won't get anything approaching consensus any time soon. I'd prefer a proper alternative, but leaving them alone is bad in so many ways as to make it unacceptable in my books. – Frank Mar 9 '14 at 6:11
  • First time my question has produced a META discussion.. – Marriott81 Mar 12 '14 at 9:45
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I see no problem with answering these questions with "There is no explanation at this time". After all, you might ask something about the plot in game X which you find cannot be answered yet. Then when X-2 or DLC for X comes out, the answer pops up.

No answer is set in stone. The questions alone can easily show that. If there is no answer at the moment, we can either leave it open to be potentially answered later or we can offer that as an answer and update if more information is later revealed.

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    No. That's not any sort of answer at all. Those are horrible answers. – Frank Mar 7 '14 at 23:09
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    @Frank I disagree. Our goal is to provide answers to questions. If you are dissatisfied because there is no answer, that does not change the fact that the answer is "there is no answer". If I asked "How can i add Dragon Shouts to Bioshock?" the answer could very well be "It is not possible". I may not like that answer, but it does not make it any less of the answer. – Batophobia Mar 7 '14 at 23:23
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    That's a horrible example, and should be closed as a thought experiment. Or as a game development question. Please at least provide a reasonable example. – Frank Mar 7 '14 at 23:25
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    @Frank Well, then: "Can I learn Dragon Shouts in Fallout 3? - I figured, since they're both Bethesda games ..." Perfectly on-topic. Terrible question, answer is "Nope.", but it's also perfectly on-topic. No difference between lore and gameplay, as far as "Nope." answers are concerned. – user98085 Mar 9 '14 at 20:42
  • @FEichinger It's also a thought experiment. Which we do close. The relation is tenuous, at best. We're not here for every inane and crappy question users can ask. We're for specific problems that have specific answers. Thought experiments are not one of them. – Frank Mar 10 '14 at 0:11
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    @Frank Where exactly do we draw the line between "thought experiment" and "valid question"? All I'm seeing here is you, yet again, trying to kill questions "because they're crappy". Which is not what close votes are for. – user98085 Mar 10 '14 at 0:14
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    No. I am trying to kill questions that have no answer. "It's a plot hole" is not an answer. Ever. Full stop. We specifically have speculation ruled as off-topic, and that's exactly what plot hole questions will get. Half baked rumors and speculation. Thought experiments are the same thing; as I linked to in Grace's answer, the whole point of questions is to help future readers. Crappy questions that have no answer do nothing to help, and a whole lot of harm. And with that, I'm done arguing with you. – Frank Mar 10 '14 at 0:16
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    This brings us right back to having to know whether or not there is an answer. And, Grace in another post tells us that that is irrelevant. We leave these questions open, let them attract answers and vote on those answers. There isn't "no answer" just because the answer is "No". – user98085 Mar 10 '14 at 0:19
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    @Frank I think you might be confusing this with questions that are generally bad. Just because we accept that there is currently no answer does not mean every question is now good. Also, you seem to think that we have to answer questions within a set time limit. Some time we simply may not have an answer until more information is given. Take the harbinger question as an example. – Batophobia Mar 10 '14 at 0:50
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    @Frank I feel I need to ask - Why is an answer that says "This is not addressed" speculative? Further to this, why should the question recieve <action> (close/downvote/flag/whatever) over actioning the speculative answer? Note that type of answer that I'm considering speculative is "Maybe he meant X, or possibly Y". I'm in full agreement that those types of answers are terrible answers. Downvote, flag as NAA, whatever you want. But garnering that answer does not a bad question make. – Robotnik Mar 10 '14 at 3:53
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    I originally was under the understanding we VTC plot hole questions, but I like this concept much better. – Ender Mar 13 '14 at 11:59
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Re. 'the community consensus is to Not VTC' - I interpreted that as applying to lore questions in general. Certainly, if there is some in-universe or possibly other associated materials (books, games etc.) that can properly answer lore question, even if its trivia, then it should be allowed.

However, when the question boils down to 'what were the developers thinking?', then it is pure speculation and should be closed imho.

Sure, there will be the 0.0001% chance that its actually explained in a tiny footnote in the manual or when you get to the mountain and find God's message written on it - but in that case we can always reopen the question. I do not consider leaving open numerous speculative questions on the off-chance of an answer to be a good approach.

  • If a question extends past the game series, then a gaming site may not be the best place for it. Example, if I asked about lore in Start Wars: Force Unleashed that requires knowledge from a non-game source, then perhaps it should migrate to the sci-fi/fantasy stack exchange – Batophobia Mar 13 '14 at 14:37
  • @Batophobia: I agree those fall in a grey area, but so long as its directly related to games and can be answered authoritatively, I'd consider them within our ambit & prefer not to VTC – Alok Mar 13 '14 at 16:50
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I just happened across this meta question in the sidebar, and I freely admit that I haven't followed all the past debates on lore questions in detail. With that disclaimer, let me offer my modest proposal for dealing with such questions. Feel free to shoot it down if you think it's a horrible idea:

  1. If the question looks like an invitation for "speculation, rumors and other low-quality answers", edit it so that it becomes objectively answerable.

    Often, this can be done simply by restricting the scope of the question to official sources only. For example, to (selectively) quote the question that sparked this thread,

    "Why does Yuri not mind control the president during the Soviet invasion? Is there any reason why that anyone knows of?"

    is a pretty bad open-ended question, whereas, say,

    "Is there any official / in-game explanation why Yuri does not just mind control the president during the Soviet invasion?"

    is clear and objectively answerable.

  2. Once the question is objectively answerable, answer it (if you can). Even if the answer is simply

    "No, there isn't. This is never explained in the game, or in any official supplementary material."

    Of course, if you happen to know one or more unofficial explanations (particularly ones that have gained notable acceptance among fans, or have been mentioned in third-party material), it's generally OK to supplement your answer by mentioning them. But, for a question calling for an official explanation, an answer consisting solely of unofficial speculation (or adding nothing to earlier answers but such speculation) should not be considered valid or useful.

  3. If the question simply cannot be edited to be objectively answerable, vote to close it (and downvote it, while you're at it).

    Whether or not there is, or should be, a specific closing reason for such questions, I would claim that any question so vague, confusing or so fundamentally speculative that it simply cannot be fixed as described above will almost certainly fall under one or more of the generic close reasons (such as "too broad", "primarily opinion-based" or "unclear what you're asking") anyway. Just pick one that fits and use it.

  • It seems like your first point is adding wording that is already assumed. If the question is here, we should always require answer to be taken from the game/game materials. As for second point, I agree, but most users think Arqade is strictly for gaming; if you want to extend past that (i.e. books) then it is beyond our scope. I can accept this logic since most questions going beyond games would be acceptable on sci-fi or another SE. – Batophobia Mar 18 '14 at 14:54
  • @Batophobia: The reason for including that wording in the question is that, while it may be assumed by you, me and most other regulars here, it's clearly not assumed by those posting the "speculation, rumors and other low-quality answers" that people are saying these questions invite. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 18 '14 at 14:56
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This is one of the reasons I dislike lore questions so intensely. Lore has a incredibly large scope, much of which can be outside our expertise, especially when it takes into account canon in other forms, such as books or movies.

I agree, though, that having to know if the question is answerable is a horrible metric. I don't see any way around it, though; there is no other control we have on lore questions at all. Without that, any and all lore questions are fair game, no matter how inane or absurd.

But I will expand on my understanding of how we handle lore questions. They are a rather controversial topic, and what I understand our current stance as being is a muddle of compromise between those that want lore questions, and those that want them burned on sight (of which I most certainly am one of).

So, here's how I understand it: Someone asks a lore question. It could be a valid question, or it could be absurd, or whatever. If it's not actually answered in the lore, it's what we commonly refer to as, "Poke the plot hole". Face it; writers make mistakes, and don't always explain everything that happens. Diablo 3 is a mess of them. The point of this control is for those of us who have played the game can go, "Yep, that's not explained at all in the story. Plot hole." We close these questions because they inherently garner speculation, rumors, and other low quality answers, and cannot be definitively answered by playing the game. It's a defense mechanism to keep the site clean, and prevent attempting to prove a negative. The same reasons as we close developer intent questions. Is it ideal? No way. But it's what we got.

What I meant by domain knowledge is that it takes expertise in the game itself to determine if that question is or is not answered by the game. Which is why those that haven't played the game shouldn't vote to close (or reopen), since they don't have the necessary expertise in the domain. For the question being discussed, I am all for closing it. Based on the comments, what's being asked is a plot hole in every sense of the meaning. And I will wholeheartedly endorse it being closed. If there are other Red Alert players, I encourage them to make their own judgement as to the answerability of that question, and vote accordingly. For the record, I haven't voted one way or the other on it.

Lore's a controversial topic; I don't like our current compromise any more than those that want lore questions do. I'd be fine in trusting in the long tail, and allowing Community to delete them if they stick around unanswered, but to my knowledge, Community doesn't delete upvoted questions. So, keeping around questions that can't be answered is just accumulating speculation, rumors, and requires more work on our end to keep the site clean.


TL;DR: If you've played the game, and the question isn't answerable, VTC. If you haven't, leave it alone.

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    I think we need a more precise definition of 'not answerable'. If an 'expert' comes along and says "I've been through each storyline and whilst X says Y and A clearly means B, this isn't addressed anywhere", I fail to see how that's a low quality or speculative answer, or how this expert should VTC instead of writing that answer. Bad answers are bad answers, deal with them appropriately. If we're going to VTC questions based on the amount of low quality answers I suggest we start with the [minecraft] tag. – Robotnik Mar 8 '14 at 1:09
  • @Robotnik Therein lies the problem with plot hole questions. They are binary solution sets; either they have an answer, and we can provide it, or it doesn't, and the best we can do is guess. There's nothing in between. The whole reason why we don't allow questions about unreleased games, or developer intent, is speculation. Unanswerable lore questions fall exactly into that same category. "This isn't addressed" is trying to prove a negative. – Frank Mar 8 '14 at 1:20
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    Again, we seem to disagree on what constitutes an answer. We also answer and allow [technical-issues] questions, where the best we can do is provide advice based on previous experience (one of the definitions of expert). Not every question needs to be answered with clear cut 'here's a summary and here are the resources I pulled from', otherwise we may as well just link to the relevant wikis or forum communities and call it a day. – Robotnik Mar 8 '14 at 1:36
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    As for 'proving a negative', that's where Stack Exchange shines. So the answer is currently 'this isn't addressed'. Whats to stop someone answering 6 months down the track, when a new game in the series has come out with more lore that addresses this inconsistency? How is this any different to when minecraft would release a patch fixing an exploit, making previous hacks and workarounds obsolete? – Robotnik Mar 8 '14 at 1:39
  • The difference is speculation, as I have already said. We specifically do not allow questions that speculate on answers. The SE network thrives on authoritive and definitive answers. "Not addressed by the plot" is none of those. – Frank Mar 8 '14 at 3:48
  • I just re-read the arguments on the previous meta, and I'm not seeing anything different happening here. We'll argue the same things, agree to disagree, and it'll be business as usual. If we want things to change, we need to come up with a metric for these questions. Leave all lore questions open isn't acceptable, and burn all lore questions also isn't acceptable. Our current compromise pretty much sucks, as we hash this out again and again and again. I'd be open for other suggestions as to how to handle these. – Frank Mar 8 '14 at 4:54
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    The main problem I have with closing is that it allows the process to repeat. If we close the question because we cannot find the answer, then another user confess to ask the same thing not knowing we already agreed that there is no answer. – Batophobia Mar 9 '14 at 23:06

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