Let experts make expert decisions.
This is the essential premise of Stack Exchange. People come here because they expect experts to be equipped to solve their problem - and they are right. We have an active community of RPG experts engaging with questions to provide expert guidance for solving a broad range of RPG problems. Our experts do not need a rigid policy to govern their decision making.
We should not artificially obstruct the problem solving process.
Our primary focus and objective is to provide our expertise for solving the problems presented to us. Using the site and learning how to most clearly communicate questions should be a secondary, or even tertiary, objective of ours. By saying "we cannot answer your question until you learn how to use tags, even though everyone knows what system you're playing", we are putting problem solving in the back seat and setting site mechanics as our primary objective for new users. We should never tell a new user that our problem with their lack of tags or explicit forthrightness about the system is more important than the problem they bring to the table. But that is exactly what we are doing when we know what they are talking about but artificially hold up the problem solving process because they didn't explicitly state what system they are playing.
We can teach users how best to ask questions without artificially obstructing our primary objective.
We can teach users how to use the site and ask better questions without putting problem solving on hold. This should be obvious. When we know what a user is asking about, based on our expertise, we can both answer their question and teach them about the site. That is part of what comments are for. This keeps our objectives properly aligned. We focus on answering their question and secondarily engage with them on how to ask better questions and use site mechanics.
We are equipped to handle situations where the question really is unclear, or we incorrectly identify the system.
Site mechanics are already designed to handle these situations - we don't need a policy to prevent them.
Community curation is equipped to manage unclear questions.
The present application of the "Don't Guess the System" policy is to close questions where the system is not clear. This will continue to be standard praxis without the policy. This is what we should and will continue to do anyway. When a question is unclear, a system unidentified, our experts will recognize this and vote to close the question until we have sufficient clarity.
Readers decide if answers provide valuable information.
The small portion of times someone is wrong about their system guess will be sorted out by readers' votes. Even when it is unclear in a question what system is being played, answers can be made sufficiently clear to still be useful. If a question says "I'm playing 5e" and it could be D&D or Shadowrun, answers can easily state which game the answer pertains to. If OP never clarifies, both answers provide valuable information to future readers, and community voting will reflect the value provided by these answers. To be clear, we should still close this totally hypothetical question that is equally likely to be two entirely different games for “needs details or clarity”, but if we do get answers before it is closed, we can salvage the usefulness of the answers by appropriately pointing out the answer’s attendant game system.
Community curation is equipped to handle obsolete answers.
Now, suppose we do get the system wrong. If OP does come back to clarify, the answer for the wrong system will be downvoted or deleted. This is just the site functioning as intended. When an answer is given, but the question's author clarifies that they are playing a different system, we simply flag that answer NAA, leave a comment to the effect of "OP has clarified which system they are using, so this answer does not answer the question being asked", and remove the answer. This is just fine, and for the answer's author, this is just the cost of doing business with an unclear question.
Policy exceptions have already eroded away some of the contentious applications of the existing policy.
The most contentious use of the policy is in closing questions where the system is abundantly obvious, but the name of the system isn't actually stated explicitly. We often see objections taking the form of "Well it's not a guess". To remedy this less-than-intuitive application of the policy, the community has already carved out exceptions to the policy to make room for these common sense edits:
This first bullet in particular carves out a large exception space to the existing policy that was the source of the most discord in my experience. Closing questions with direct quotes and citations of system specific materials but without an explicit system statement in the question body was the most contentious application of the policy, but we've gotten rid of it already.
The space that remains for applying the policy is mostly the same space where questions would be closed anyway without needing a policy. The policy remains in effect for those truly grey areas, and I have already explained that we are equipped to handle those with existing tools, without needing the policy to motivate us. I say “mostly the same space” because there is still some space for questions that are abundantly obvious, that just don’t fit into our exception spaces yet. But if community direction tells us anything, it is that if there is a way to codify such a question into an exception, we will and the community will support it. We don’t need a policy to motivate our curation anymore. Let’s let our experts make expert decisions about content and curation.
Let’s further equip our experts with some community crafted guidance.
If I haven’t made it clear yet, let me reemphasize: wild guesses and stabs in the dark should be avoided. The current state of the policy prevents this, but it does so with a heavy hand by treating wild guesses and well informed decisions as the same thing, when the question’s context is underspecified. Understandably, this is the primary source of contention with the policy. So in the event of a removal of the policy, we can and should craft some guidance to nudge users in the right direction when approaching untagged or under-specified questions. Some of our exception metas can serve as a good starting point for that guidance, as these metas exist because they carve out exceptions to the current policy for situations where we can be exceedingly confident of the system being used. More guidance is needed, but this post isn’t the place to explore that in detail. Should this proposal succeed, we should work together to construct an FAQ-style meta Q&A with some guidance for handling underspecified questions.
To be transparent, the problem I really want to solve here is the counterintuitive closure of questions where the system is obvious, but not explicit. To this end, I think the proposal outlined above will serve two purposes:
- It will eliminate counterintuitive question closures.
- It will mostly preserve the favorable outcomes of having the policy.
I really believe that repealing the policy, establishing some concrete guidance, and letting the community handle question curation will yield a state of affairs not dissimilar to what we have now, but without counterintuitive closures. Under the policy, ambiguous questions get closed. Under this proposal to repeal the policy, ambiguous questions will still get closed.
I would like to thank KorvinStarmast and doppelgreener for their contributions and improvements to this answer.