Some games (and not only games) contain references to popular books, films etc without identifying what they're referring to, probably assuming that it's popular enough for the player to know.

Would it be off topic to ask what a particular reference is about? For example:

In ThisGame, the main character Bob says "It's a bird! Oh no, it's a plane" and Alice laughs and says "Are you sure it's not a humanoid alien?" I think it's probably a reference to something, but I don't know what. What does it refer to?

(The above refers to Superman.)

Addition after some comments:

Would it make a difference if no character reacted to the reference, including the one who said it?

In the example above, if Bob had said "It's a bird! Oh, it's a plane. How strange, for a moment I thought it was a flying man" it would still be a reference to Superman, but nobody in-universe would have recognised it. Now it's not a character making a joke, but the creators.

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    'To what are they referring when they say X', regardless of the answer, sounds like a lore question, which are on-topic. – fredley Jul 28 '14 at 11:57
  • On the contrary, references of that manner aren't lore in any sense; it's a cultural reference. That opens the question WELL beyond what is suitable at Arqade. – Frank Jul 28 '14 at 12:24
  • @Frank The question posed in this post would be fine. The asker doesn't know what the characters are referring to (it could be something in-game, or even something plot-relevant, and anyway, the answer is not something we judge on-topic-ness by). – fredley Jul 28 '14 at 12:59
  • @fredley: Frank may have a point in a slightly different example, I amended the question. – George T Jul 28 '14 at 13:07

This is a tricky area, particularly because the matter of lore questions' on-topicness is something we've hotly debated before.

I don't think we're going to be able to come up with a satisfactory answer to your question as it's currently stated - it's just far too general. It's quite clear that there is some disagreement on the matter just from the example question you posted, and that's not even a real question!

In areas such as this on the slightly murky borderline between off and on-topic, we tend to deal with things on a case-by-case basis. As such, asking us to make decisions in the general case, especially with abstract examples, is only going to cause argument.

If you're not sure if a specific question is on-topic, feel free to ask on meta, or ping us in chat. Or just go ahead and post it. If it is off-topic we'll close it without prejudice!

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  • Thanks for the replies. As this is mainly to satisfy my curiosity and the game in question is quite old and not that famous, I think I'll try (more) other ways to find the answer first. – George T Jul 29 '14 at 9:58

In general: no, it's not a prohibited category or something, it's a lore question, and we allow those.

However: it's very easy to ask a question of this sort which is little more than a vague, undirected fishing expedition. Such questions are often too broad, or ultimately unanswerable, other than by the developers themselves, and will be closed on those grounds, rather than simply because of their subject matter.

Further, the limited utility or poor research work that often accompanies such questions, combined with the general distaste among some users for questions about fluff, lore, and trivia, mean you'll probably get some downvotes.

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