We have a lot of meta discussion about Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and asking the questions. We also have just as many on answering. But we don't have as many on voting.

It may come down to a personal thing, and that's fine... I just wanted to bring it up.

The specific question that came up was in regards to a game recommendation for good one-on-one play(1). I answered(2) with a system that had great rules that supported not only the answers to the question, but was also a generic system made for adapting existing source material. It also has some background issues that some find objectionable, and someone downvoted for that reason.

It isn't about the objectionable part. It's the fact that a good answer to a question was downvoted only for that reason, and it was stated as such in the comments. The system is pretty much advertised to be able to do one on one play with classic materials. The background information is tacked on for use of the rulebook as a one stop shop.

I thought long and hard about posting this question for two reasons:

  1. The question is subjective. Therefore our opinions inform our voting.
  2. The opinions on the content are perfectly valid to have.

But after consideration, it seems that the opinions on content result in a vote on points unrelated to the question. This seems like one of those points that informs what a community becomes, i.e. is it about our own reactions and opinions on questions? Even when not subjective? Or is it about putting aside any unnecessary opinions in order to answer the questions, and vote appropriately? The first way dangerously comes close to the voting process being a popularity vote, in my opinion, rather than a rationalized process based on how well the content answers the question. And so, I bring this up to get a community consensus on how our votes should be informed.

For reference, my stance on it is such:

I only vote down if the information is incorrect or inappropriate, no matter my feelings on the topic. It keeps the votes and conversation from a personal level. Especially as I might find something offensive that you don't, and vice versa. I keep it on the level of the question asked. But that's just my approach. I might withhold a positive vote based purely on my feelings on the answer. In truth, I think that's wrong also, and hadn't really appreciated it until this moment.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I really appreciate this meta topic. Your introductory post is an excellent springboard for this conversation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Apr 12, 2014 at 17:25

4 Answers 4


All that voting means on SE is:

  • Upvote: This answer is useful (unstated: "to me")
  • Downvote: This answer is not useful

That usefulness/unusefulness is entirely subjective. People can and do vote based on the content of the answer, its grammar, its political correctness, whether they have a hate-on for the author, etc. I understand and validate your sadness at that but in the end, that's the way it is.

How should people vote? Well ideally they would show perfect apprehension of both question and answer, appreciation for every piece of guidance we've given on meta and the SE Way in general, along with a full realization that my ideas are always the best, and thus upvote my answers unremittingly.

Levity aside, in this case I think there is a point to be made on this particular Q&A. Sure, a game might be able to be stripped of questionable content, but is that really the best choice for a starter game? Probably not, and the downvote is possibly representative of the set of people who wouldn't appreciate that in their first game. I wouldn't think Scarlet Heroes, or Poison'd, or other games of the sort are really effective first games, just like Human Centipede probably isn't the best first horror movie for someone just getting into the genre. Frankly I consider pretty much all of the current answers to that question pretty bad, and of the general "I can make one of my fave games hit your super vague requirements" ilk.

So though while ideally people will vote on answers based on their suitability to the criteria and how well they answer the questions, there are a lot of factors - some more valid, some more spurious - they actually use. And, besides the other safeguards (edits, delete votes, comments, etc.) - that's the way the system works, and the way the system should work. The SE metaphor is of lightly cultivated crowdsourcing, and if you want to use the site, you have to understand that vision won't change; there are many other sources of information if you want more or less cultivated content.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a very good answer- if there was no system behind the voting. But there is. There's something that happens on the site; these aren't merely votes. I guess that's why this bothers me more than it probably should. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Apr 12, 2014 at 17:39
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 The voting system is actually way smarter than you give it credit. Not only does it handle people voting for weird and subjective reasons, but it actively uses that to make it work. That's why everyone gets only one vote on a post: the system averages out the weirdness to find the best "objective" rating of a post possible. People voting according to personal standards is the system working as intended. There's a reason why—on a site with so much guidance about everything else—the only how-to-vote guidance that exists is the vague and subjective "This is (not) useful" tooltip. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 12, 2014 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie - But is that intentional or incidental? I do see the ruling of the masses, but the masses are notable in that they don't really have a collective opinion. Take VTC- the masses close a question, but their opinions differ. It's just the end result that's the same. I guess that's what bothers me. Now it seems that the incidental aim has become somewhat codified by the response to the question, and all is right with the world. The whole of the site, even dealing with RAW, is subjective, and that agreement I can deal with. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Apr 12, 2014 at 23:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle How that came to be is a little immaterial; it's reached an end result like this either way. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 13, 2014 at 2:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs - I'm assuming that comment was for me since wax eagle isn't in this comment stream. It's very much material. Intent gives better results than a lack of it in most cases. Just because something comes out ok in the end every once in a while doesn't make that a preferred method. Look at the game-rec question, or pretty much any of the ones that have been codified vs those that haven't. Much easier to explain and defend to people that weren't involved in the conversation than 'it's just this way'. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Apr 14, 2014 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whoops, yes, I meant you sorry! And for what it's worth, I think the behaviour was emergent rather than articulated. I'm not sure what we can do to justify it, but it is the case that votes get negated. I'm not sure what more we can ask for. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14, 2014 at 14:32

As mxyzplk points out the criteria for voting is extremely simple, is the answer useful or not. However I think we can put some criteria around when you should vote.

Strong indicators that you should upvote are:

  • The answer directly addresses all of the question's criteria.
  • The answer is factually correct.
  • The answer is comprehensive in it's treatment of the issues (i.e. Pro's and cons)
  • The answer is something you have experienced being effective in solving the question's problem.

Strong indicators that you should downvote are:

  • The answer is factually incorrect.
  • The answer doesn't address any part of the question besides the title.
  • The answer is myopic, and ignores obvious problems with their suggestion.
  • The answer is something you have experienced not being effective in solving the question's problem or detrimental in some way.

Beyond that it's largely a matter of preference. Each person addresses grammar, style, tone, and popularity differently.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I can see this. And it's a very good answer. But I guess the point that really bothers me about this is the fact that they aren't just votes. There's a system behind the votes, i.e. upvotes drive an answer to the top, and downvotes drive it down, no matter the suitability of the answer to the question. I don't have a preference one way or the other, truthfully, just what I do. Which is what this answer advocates. But it just feels wrong to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Apr 12, 2014 at 17:37
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other ones. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Apr 12, 2014 at 18:14
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 The system relies on the people voting having some level of expertise and experience, and that they will apply that to their votes. If an expert votes down, I hope that means the answer is not suitable to the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – C. Ross
    Apr 12, 2014 at 19:50

Recommendations imply suitability

I think that "objective vs. subjective" is a bit of a red herring.

Game recommendations come with an implicit endorsement of suitability for use at the table. That's why they're recommendations, not database queries.

It's true that to write a good answer, you need to put the OP's goals and preferences above your own, but the best game-rec answers are going to be the ones that provide wisdom rather than just information.

→ Imagine you know a game that meets some question's pretty specific requirements (a roll-under system about undersea dragons with dream-magic powers, maybe), but that game has serious structural problems. Should you recommend that game?

  • Maybe you go ahead and recommend it, but equivocally.
  • Maybe you recommend it with a guide to how to deal with the negatives.
  • Maybe you recommend it straight-up because you don't think it's a problem.
  • Maybe you don't recommend the game at all, despite it meeting the literal requirements, because you know about it but you wouldn't actually, you know, recommend it.

It's a big judgement call, but that's part and parcel of the "expert" Q&A concept of the site. You're supposed to take your built-up wisdom and exercise it for someone else's benefit, and on their behalf.

I think this applies to voting, too. Of course game-rec votes shouldn't be a straight-up popularity contest. You should, however, do your best to use the systems provided to add your own knowledge to the pool, which can include downvoting answers that feature judgement calls you disagree with.

The intent of my specific downvote

Note how this meta topic was prompted by the downvote plus its explanatory comment. That's why I made the comment: to draw attention. (In a sense, I'm actually using a downvote to draw attention to the comment.)

I raised the specific issue because "problematic" content (like sexist tropes or cultural bigotry) can make the entire experience hostile and alienating. Gamers often feel uncomfortable actually discussing problems like these, but they can be a total deal-breaker, sometimes in ways that promote lingering personal discomfort with a group or the hobby as a whole.

Note that a black mark against the game doesn't have to be a black mark against the answer itself. A great game-rec answer actually enhances a game text with useful advice about how to utilize it, including guidance on dealing with its weakest or ugliest parts.

In this particular case:

  • I used a comment instead of an edit because I didn't feel comfortable editing my opinion right into the answer: it would be putting too many words into someone else's mouth. This way, the OP is free to choose:

    1. They can edit the question to address my criticism, at which point I can delete my comment and rescind the downvote.

    2. They can leave it out if they disagree, at which point the comment might stay there, but it's minor and marginal compared to the full text of the answer.

  • I used a downvote because I think this landmine is a particularly big deal, so not having it mentioned at all actively detracts from an otherwise strong answer.

This was the best way I could see to use the SE system to raise a concern I considered important without stepping on the (thoughtful and useful) contributions of other users.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I 100% agree. I'm regretting my original comment at the beginning of this; I temporarily forgot the site principle that people are supposed to vote for whatever personal reasons they like. Game-rec being a weird special case in some ways can make us forget that it's not special in other ways; it doesn't come with how-to-vote rules. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 12, 2014 at 17:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ The reason it wasn't mentioned? It's was incidental. The system is aces for one-on-one. In all truth, though I've played it, I've not played the background. And that's what I was basing it on. It's excellent for playing your forgotten dark eberron world adventures one on one, and giving them new light. But that's subjective, and my opinion, and that's OK. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Apr 12, 2014 at 23:38

It feels like a double standard. On one hand, a moderator will appear and downright delete the post people wrote if it does not include personal experience... yet when people post personal experience, anyone can come along and downvote it. To say "you are wrong" does not seem to need personal experience. I think if the original answer must be based on personal experience, a downvote should be based on personal experience as well. If someone says "I tried what you described worked for you and we failed. How did you handle $problem? We could not.", that speaks of personal experience. And that is helpful. I do not understand the requirements on posts if the votes are not enforced to be helpful.

The way it is right now, this site tries to enforce standards, but at the same time leaves those enforced posts up to random favoritism. While the post-police is way overboard compared to other sites, voting seems to be based on personal likes, not the professional "hey, good answer" attitude of the other SE sites I know.

Over at StackOverflow, people only downvote if something is not helpful. That means if it's factually wrong or not an answer to the question. It's a professional community. This site is the only one I know that votes based on "likes".

  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm afraid your opinion of StackOverflow is a bit too rosy. I've seen people downvote answers because they felt the code sample offered wasn't elegant enough, or maybe it worked but contained tangential flaws that weren't actually what the OP asked. This is similar to the situation here, and is handled, I think, similarly - upvotes mean "I want to see more of this". Downvotes mean the opposite. That's it. \$\endgroup\$
    – lisardggY
    Apr 12, 2014 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lisardggY Maybe our experiences differ. I have not been downvoted on SO other than for factual errors and once or twice as a revenge downvoting spree that was corrected by the automatic system. Here, I was downvoted because obviously someone thinks my opinion about something I already did is somehow wrong. Every time I post something, I regret having spent the time because of the negative feedback of this site. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Apr 12, 2014 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, rpg.se feels like a meta site. People click up/downvote because they like or dislike the content. That's not the point of those up/down arrows. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Apr 12, 2014 at 21:53
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I have downvoted this meta answer because it feels like an attempt to air a tangential grievance instead of engaging with the issue at hand. My downvote doesn't reflect agreeing or disagreeing with your grievance, just that it's off topic / unproductive on this question. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 13, 2014 at 2:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .