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Here's Back It Up as originally suggested for RPGSE by SevenSidedDie

  • Something that happened to you personally, or
  • Something you can back up with a reference.

I feel this is missing something, namely:

  • Something you can back up with careful analysis.

While personal experience is very important for questions relating to story and 'fun', it doesn't work well with mechanics and statistics-based questions. Just because some specific mechanic did work out well at a table doesn't mean it's not problematic, and only analysis can show that. But folks around here seem to often require Back It Up for all kind of questions.

Many rpg.se regulars have played RPGs for a decade or more, and so have experience with a variety of different systems, rulesets and mechanics, house rules and home brew. But often, that is not enough, and only a 'scientific' look at the rules and mechanics can help. Personal experience is not reproducible and not falsifiable, and therefore I propose this extension to Back It Up.

The famous Good Subjective, Bad Subjective post 2 features the xkcd comic about pure and impure science. RPG.se might be an outlier of most StackExchanges that RPGs encompass the full range, from soft/impure story- and experience-only questions over to the other extreme of math/statistics/rule mechanics hard/pure science. Back It Up is applied to all kinds of questions, but it's content currently only applies to soft/impure questions.

With this extension, I hope to build a bridge between the people who prefer soft/impure and those more into hard/pure questions, so that we don't lose out on so many interesting answers just because mods push the soft angle so strongly.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ how would you propose careful analysis of something that is borne out of a social experience, the kind of thing that is often used to help answer questions about problem players for example? \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Jul 17 '16 at 8:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a whole branch of science called psychology that can help with that, as well as lots of economic research into team work and cooperation that shows that analysis is a good approach even for those questions. But this focuses more on questions like the Harry Potter 5e one, where the asker clearly wants help with mechanics, but mods still forced Back It Up into the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 9:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may find it helpful to know that SevenSidedDie was quoting this Stack Exchange blog post which is widely used and gets adjusted to each site's experience-based needs. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jul 17 '16 at 10:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ You'll get better responses if you ask about a specific situation like the HP 5e question, rather than making it a vaguely all-encompassing "stuff isn't happening the way I think it should" complaint. If the event is symptomatic of a wider problem, say so, but we need to have something actionable to look at. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jul 17 '16 at 10:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala It sounds like your real issue is with subjective guidelines being enforced somewhere inappropriate. Might be better off asking about that in a new question. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 12:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, it was me--not a mod--who introduced "Back It Up!" into the conversation on that question. The question was quickly accruing close-votes at the time I made my comment that did so, which the mod thought could use the increased visibility of being in-post. Since then the comment's been upvoted four times and the question hasn't gotten any more close votes. I think it's not quite right to assign the mod individual blame in this case. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Jul 17 '16 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener The two things are linked, yes. However, it should be much easier to extent Back It Up than to find strong limits on what definition of subjective should be used. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 12:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala We're unlikely to stop expecting people to back up their experience in answers that demand experience to separate what's viable from what isn't. No amount of analysis is a substitute for experience. Mxyzplk mentioned the scientific method because it's pretty relevant - we analyse possibilities and then make sure they work based on having tried them out for real. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I don't want to blame anyone, but me and others have voiced our disappointment with applying soft criteria for hard mechanics questions many times already. I feel my suggestion would allow to build a bridge between the two camps. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala I honestly have no idea what kind of context you're thinking of, but I can tell you "here, use these rules I just made up, I'm sure they'll work, based on never having tried them or anything like them ever" is a very poor quality type of answer we don't really care about collecting more of. If we have tried them or something like them, though, suddenly we have experience to assert our mechanical answers will work. And there's plenty of mechanical questions which require no citation of experience aren't GSBS issues, so again, I don't know what you mean really. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 12:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala Again, if you've got issues with the scope to which Back It Up! is applied, you're probably better off talking about that. Also, if you've got a specific incident in mind, I really suggest you take up BESW's advice and just mention it explicitly and ask about that incident. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 13:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ All the background and context you've been talking about in comments--specific questions, general discontent, support for your thesis, the effect you hope your proposal will have for the site--needs to go into the question or responses to your proposal won't be useful because they don't have the whole picture. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jul 17 '16 at 13:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am closing this. It's clear your real question is not about expanding the scope of back it up! in general, but about its applicability in one certain case or class of cases that you are not really bothering to define. Just waving hands about the generalities will continue with epic argument comment threads and no possible meaningful resolution. Ask about the problem you have, instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jul 17 '16 at 14:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala: 'blame' was the wrong word to choose in this comment. My only point is that your characterization that "the mods want to force" some principle on some questions doesn't really seem to apply to the only question you've mentioned. Sorry for introducing that loaded word into things. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Jul 17 '16 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Then clarify it to a real question. The answers here are the only answers to a very vague statement of "hey we should add in analysis." Some kinds of questions do allow for analysis, some don't, and it depends what kind of analysis you're talking about. This question is too broad and unclear as it stands, as these huge argument threads prove. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jul 18 '16 at 1:07
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\$\begingroup\$

Back It Up! applies to subjective questions. It's part of our Good Subjective, Bad Subjective guidelines, and the quote in your answer is from there, word for word. Our GSBS guidelines are about questions and answers that are answered from experience and expertise.

If your answer's a subjective answer, you're expected to back it up with experience to differentiate armchair conjecture from actual demonstrated results.

If the question can be answered purely by analysis, it's probably not a subjective question and GSBS and Back It Up! don't apply.

If it needs both analysis and experience, by all means provide analysis, but back up the experience.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems the 'subjective' part is assumed to be everything not answerable by 'rule x on page y', even if the question is for mechanics-only house rule suggestions. Or to say it differently: as long as the current extremely wide definition of subjective is used, an extension to back it up with analysis can only improve the quality of answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1 armchair conjecture from actual demonstrated results. I don't know why you feel like you need to disparage mathematical and statistical analysis of game rules as 'armchair conjecture'. Statistical analysis of game rules is an important tool for many game designers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 13:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 This is my thought exactly: "if the question can be answered purely by analysis, it's probably not a subjective question...." \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Jul 17 '16 at 13:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala Mathematical and statistical analysis of games rules is, as you say, a useful tool. For questions about how well something works in game, it is a useful tool but not a sufficient tool. The reason: practical application of theory often reveals things we didn't think about and didn't analyse (or can't analyse, like how something “feels” in play). Hence it's a tool, but not always the correct tool for every question. Sometimes, it's the easy guesswork tool. We want good answers, not guesses. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie But in the same way, experience is also just 'a tool' - only experience is not enough either. That's the basic reason I feel Back It Up should be extended, since at the moment, it only encompasses experience, not analysis, when it should have an entry for both (or neither). \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala No, you can't downgrade proof by actually doing it successfully by asserting it's merely a tool. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie That's twisting my words. Experience alone, without analysis is of the same value as analysis alone, without experience. If you allow one (and current Back It Up does), then you should allow the other, too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala They are not of the same value for the purpose of answering subjective questions. Asserting it doesn't make it true. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala Back It Up doesn't apply to analysis because it's not relevant to analysis. We're not asking you to do Back It Up! on analysis. It's your experience-based issues that need to be backed up, and they need to be backed up by experience. Your analysis can go right there in the answer, doesn't need anything to do with Back It Up. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie That's, like, totally your opinion, man (to paraphrase a famous movie). ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener It doesn't right now, that's why I propose to extend it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala I think we're confusing each other at this point. There's two issues: (a) Analysis is never asked to follow the Back It Up! principle that applies to subjective experience-based matters (which does not include analysis). (b) Subjective experience-based matters are expected to Back It Up!, and analysis doesn't count for that. // To (b) Your initial proposal that subjective experience-based matters can be backed up purely by theoretical analysis is not going to fly, because analysis isn't sufficient, it's why Back It Up! got introduced. To (a) Back It Up! for analysis makes no sense. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Then why is a pure mechanics question such as the Harry Potter one mentioned put into the subjective category? Experience is of no value for a purely mechanics-based question such as that one. People decided that one was subjective, so it seems logical that there should be a path within subjective that allows analysis instead of experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala So this is about the Harry Potter thing? You suggested some rules for achieving a result. We have basic expectations people playtest their rules to make sure they work, the same way you probably expect (or ought to expect) people tested out the rules you're using for your gaem to make sure they were any good. If you've got comparable experience, you can cite it to demonstrate what you're doing will work well. People tend to ask for this when it's dubious whether the answer will work. If you've tested it, you know whether it will or won't, after all. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ "If your answer's a subjective answer, you're expected to back it up with experience to differentiate armchair conjecture from actual demonstrated results." pretty much nailed it. There's no real way to tell how much thought any given poster has put into an answer, whether or not it's a 10 second brainstorm or a carefully analyzed solution. To combat this, we require experience with said suggestions or references to actual facts (like what a rule says about something). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 19:46
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\$\begingroup\$

It is excluded for a reason. One man's analysis is another man's random opinion. Note that the scientific method, for example, is not "analyze, done." While analysis can be part of formulating a theory or understanding the results of trying out that theory, if it's not tried then it stays a theory.

Analysis can therefore be part of an answer, but an answer based on nothing but is a poor answer.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ One man's experience is no less random than one man's analysis. A scientific proof in a hard-science field does not require real-life usage; a mathematical proof on a paper can be perfectly valid. It's the same with an analysis of specific mechanics. Doesn't need to have x hours table experience at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala Actually, a scientific proof in a hard-science field absolutely requires real-life usage. Why do you think we're still doing super-expensive experiments to prove a proof written in over a hundred years ago (by a super-genius who we keep proving right, Einstein)? Meanwhile, yes, pure math needs only analysis. Roleplaying games, by comparison, are a social science at best, so if even advanced physics needs to be tested outside of a proof on paper, all the more reason RPG analysis needs practical testing. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie RPGs are both, therefore, we should be able to use both where appropriate. It seems you want to push for one over the other :( \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 16:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala Yes, both where appropriate. Analysis by itself is never appropriate for a subjective question, hence why it has to be supported by experience showing that the analysis is a) correct b) relevant c) complete. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Experience alone is never appropriate for a subjective questions, hence why it has to be supported by analysis showing that the experience is a) reproducible b) relevant c) statistically/mathematically/mechanically sound. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mala You keep making false equivalences to try to overturn the Stack Exchange's tried-and-true policy which was developed out of sweat, blood, and tears to figure out how to make subjective questions answerable within a vote-driven Q&A system, in a way that actually floats the best answers to the top. You're not going to overturn 7 years of daily proof just by saying “no no no”. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I did not say 'no no no'. I tried to show you that there is more than just an experience based approach (which you seem to agree with), but you just place your favourite on top. Many mechanics questions with lots of votes and good answers would not be the same if they were posed today instead of earlier when Back It Up wasn't applied so harshly and widely. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala You keep saying I am pushing for something, or that it's my favourite. You appear to just not understand that this is SE policy, and it was developed for very good reasons that are still true. That we're better at applying it today is because of growing experience with what works and what doesn't. The simple fact is that your proposal was tried—and it failed. Asking nicely, or yelling at us, or pleading, or accusing us of personal bias, is not going to make an iota of difference to the SE policy. If you don't understand why the policy is in place—try listening and learning. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala OH. Suddenly your objections make much more sense. I didn't write it! It was written by the mods of the first subjective SE (a parenting site), and adopted network-wide by the SE company for all subjective-topic sites. See the two articles I link to in the post of mine you're talking about. Further, you're not dumb—you're just showing a gap in site and SE policy knowledge. My post, which you're talking about, is ridiculous today—we didn't know any better then, but of course Good Subjective/Bad Subjective and Back It Up! apply to RPG.se. RPG.se wouldn't work/exist today otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 17:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala Well, part of the problem is that you're assuming BIT and GS/BS are applied to every single question on the site. They're not. They only apply to answers that are being answered with subjective experience. We have lots of questions that are about straight mechanics and there isn't a single mention of experience in the answers. Those exist—they're fine. So your question appears to be objecting to something that isn't even happening. BIT doesn't need to be expanded, because it doesn't apply to the kinds of answers you're saying need to be covered by it. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala If you have a specific instance of a question being mishandled, please ask about it directly. A question like “Why was this question [link] closed?” would probably work way, way better than what's happening here. Jumping to the assumption that a) it was closed for bad reasons, b) those reasons are caused by bad policy, c) the policy involved is X, d) you know how to fix X, is a great way to not get a satisfactory response to your meta question. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala You can't fix something you don't understand. You're insisting you know how to fix a bedrock part of the site, but in doing so you keep saying things that demonstrate a deep lack of understanding of what you're wanting to change. You already have a good grasp of what you see as the problem, but that is insufficient—you know very well that you need both deep understanding of a problem and of the system that it is part of. Ironically, you're failing to do an analysis to understand the system you want to change, before insisting that everyone use your hack. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala The policy has a long, long history that you seem to be unaware of in general, and in specific you've made a number of outright errors about its nature. I have called that “not understanding” it. I'm sorry if that is insulting, but it appears to be a straightforward fact of this discussion and needs to be said somehow. If you want people to engage fruitfully with your proposals, you will have to go and do some learning about what you want to discuss, at least to the point where you can discuss it somewhat knowledgeably. Declaring feeling insulted is no replacement. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 18:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala You're right that there's no possibility of fruitful discussion. The problem is that you keep thinking that this is a matter of opinion, and that your “opponents”are ideologically motivated. We're not. You're lacking basic grounding in the subject you want to discuss. You've also failed to actually describe the problem your change is supposed to fix. Both are automatic grounds for rejection in every science, as you well know. Please, I urge you to ask a question about your problem instead of asking everyone to accept your solution on faith. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 '16 at 18:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Really, your assertions about my oh so many deficiencies are not productive. No, I don't think the things you accuse me of with regards to opinion and ideology. I am not sure why you need to turn discussion partners into opponents. No, I'm not lacking basic grounding in the subject. No matter how much you repeat your attacks, it doesn't make them true. Please desist from attacking me in further comments if you don't have any actual, factual contributions to bring to the discussion. It's unseemly that you as a mod treat people this way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Jul 17 '16 at 21:19

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