# Why did the automobiles and telephones thread close?

The discussion in Campaign Research Questions suggests that campaign research questions should be allowed.

Why did At what point in the 20th Century did automobiles and telephones become ubiquitous close? It didn't seem to be off-topic. Clearly, people didn't like it, but that's a reason to downvote it, not close it.

In any case, it sets a difficult precedent if we close threads we don't like, whether or not they fit the rules.

What happened?

• It's clear from the answers that we're just making up rules on the fly. If the moderator team won't enforce their own rules, I have little confidence in them. – Graham Nov 13 '10 at 9:46
• @Graham - This site is not "rules" driven, it is "community" driven. That question didn't get mod-closed it got community-closed. Questions on meta try to collect community sentiment for future reference. Clearly the previous attempt on meta (probably because it was early in the site's life) didn't capture community sentiment well, so it's a good time to push folks to it again and try to get guidance that better reflects the group's zeitgeist. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Nov 13 '10 at 15:33
• Graham, take heart. "How much damage does a thrown coin do in 4e?" will always be a legitimate question here. – Jmstar Nov 15 '10 at 0:08
• Yes, it's looking as though that's all this site is good for. It's a shame. It had promise. – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 1:18
• possible duplicate of What do games like Cthulhu require of Campaign Research Questions?. I think we should consolidate all these questions so we're not discussing the same thing on different threads. – anon186 Nov 15 '10 at 16:12
• @mxyzplk "At the high end of this reputation spectrum there is little difference between users with high reputation and ♦ moderators." For the purposes of discussion of close-voting, the community in question is "the community of mods". That said, yeah, there's nothing so cohesive as a "moderator team" either. – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 20:09
• @SevenSidedDie not really relevant to what I was saying. Graham seemed to be raging that his question was closed and "the moderator team won't enforce their own rules." There is a moderator team (me and C.Ross, since Bryant resigned) but my point is that we didn't close the question, the community did, and discussions on meta similarly aren't "rules", they are community consensus guidance. As mods we try to take action as little as possible; the voting nature of the site means the community itself takes care of everything most of the time. But yes, high rep users certainly become modlike. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Nov 16 '10 at 2:15
• @mxyzplk I'm saying you're both building arguments on semantic sand and not backing off from the conflict. You're both going in the wrong direction if you want to see a happy ending to this. – SevenSidedDie Nov 16 '10 at 3:42
• @SevenSidedDie sigh, I wasn't arguing anything any more, but thanks for the advice. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Nov 16 '10 at 3:49
• @mxyzplk In that case I've got no complaints. – SevenSidedDie Nov 16 '10 at 7:59
• (It isn't Graham's question) – Jmstar Nov 16 '10 at 14:44
• As Jason says, it wasn't my question and I haven't been raging. As a moderator, @mxyzplk, I would appreciate it if you would avoid inflammatory comments like that. – Graham Nov 16 '10 at 15:29
• How long do you want to keep trying to provoke a back and forth? I don't plan to respond to you further. Enjoy the site. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Nov 16 '10 at 17:31
• I'm really not trying to provoke you. I'm responding to something you said that was inaccurate. I'm also asking you not to be provocative yourself. – Graham Nov 16 '10 at 18:34
• (Still not Graham's question) – Jmstar Nov 16 '10 at 18:54

## 7 Answers

I wonder why my question Where can I find good ship plans? wasn't summarily closed. That was very productive for me but seems to hit all the "real world trivia" buttons that closed Graham's thread.

If I had to guess, I'd say that it is entirely arbitrary.

• First of all, we are maturing as a community (storming to norming, the purpose of Beta), so what might have been closed or not early on is not the same as today. Second of all I think that question gave a very usable game output. I upvoted (and favorited it and upvoted answers) because I could take it and immediately apply it. This is my definition of a good question and a good answer. – anon186 Nov 15 '10 at 16:39
• I totally don't think it was arbitrary, though it's certainly subjective. See my answer for my personal analysis of what happened. – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 17:31

I think it's a mistake to rule out this kind of question, especially when stated as extremely as here that we can ask questions about the World of Greyhawk, but not about the real world. This seems guaranteed to drive a wedge between one kind of gamer and another, for fear that the site will be plagued by hordes of questions about historical trivia, which I think is unlikely.

Here's a modest proposal. What if all such questions should be rephrased in terms of where the questioner can find useful resources to answer such a question? It would make the answers far more generally useful, and acknowledges that for the real world, the answer is generally 'out there' somewhere?

That's in line with both Online resource for names by culture and Good resources for travel times?, both of which seem to be regarded as acceptable.

• +1 I like your second paragraph. it's a good solution... but the catch is respect for the original poster's question: good editing doesn't change the OP's meaning; only the OP should do that if it changes the direction of the question... so unless the OP does it, I think the close vote still has to happen. – LeguRi Nov 14 '10 at 21:33
• I think that's fair. If I'm reading you right, someone asking "Which way did cabin doors open on the Titanic?" (because they want to set an adventure there) would be asked to change it to something like "Can you direct me to deckplans for the Titanic, the more detailed the better, and preferably online?", because the answer to such a question may actually be useful to others. And if they don't, it may well be closed? If that's right, it seems very reasonable to me. – Dave Hallett Nov 14 '10 at 21:47
• @Dave Hallett - Ya, I think we're on the same page now. Like I was reflecting earlier: it's some sort of weird space between "off topic" and "too localized". So we should (or I should have, as one of the close-voters) encourage(d) the OP to re-phrase accordingly, and give(n) them some time before the close vote. – LeguRi Nov 14 '10 at 23:35
• +1 for your proposal. – Covar Nov 15 '10 at 4:22
• Dave, I appreciate the effort at peacemaking. However, read the automobiles and telephones thread: the answers are valuable, not just because they point to resources, but because of the information they add. Pointing to resources isn't enough. – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 14:03
• @Graham: I think on reflection that I'm proposing this as a safeguard against "trivia" questions that are so specific as to make it unlikely that anyone will come this way looking to answer that question, which seems to be LeguRi's concern. I agree the original question is not in that category: someone else may quite easily have the same concern. I think it could be better phrased so as to make its relevance more obvious, however. Something like "How late in history can I set a campaign without cars and phones being widespread in the Western world?" might be better. – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 14:41
• And it should probably add: "And can someone direct me to some useful resources on this period?" – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 14:42
• I don't think we need safeguards against trivia questions. Who would come to RPG.SE just to ask historical trivia? For the same reason that we don't need "No Elephants" signs, we don't need to be vigilant about history buffs inundating us with trivial historical questions. There's no real problem to address here, just people's concerns that there might be a problem. – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 20:14
• @Seven: While I agree with you in principle, I find that in practice I vote with @Dave's suggestion. Personally, I prefer the "where are the resources?" over the "What is this fact?" questions. Both are fine, but as a personal preference, I vote for resources questions more (i.e. the Ship Plans) and not some of the others. – yhw42 Dec 11 '10 at 19:30

Because, I think, theory discussion in meta is way less important than how things really play out on the real site.

In that meta thread, everyone was trying to be all inclusive and "sure, why not ask that."

Then when on the real site, you're faced with a question that is a miscellaneous trivia question with no specific link to RPGs, everyone closed it because it was obviously off topic.

My conclusion is that "oh sure, ask research questions on any old topic, if you're going to use it in an RPG" was an ill advised decision in that other thread, and the reality of the situation carried the day.

I'll go add a "no" answer to the meta question for completeness. Discussion and voting should really happen there if a wider scope than "what was wrong with this specific question" is desired.

• This. The top answer in the Campaign Research Questions had 4 votes over 1 month when I just checked. The car+phone question was closed in about 7 hours. That requires 5 people (out of 56 currently) to agree that it is out of place. In the 8 hours since then only 1 person has voted to reopen. – Pat Ludwig Nov 13 '10 at 5:47
• It's an extremely relevant question for Cthulhu gaming. If we're not going to stick to our own rules, there is very, very little point in this site. – Graham Nov 13 '10 at 9:41
• @PatLudwig Exactly. Also the top answer in that question has changed drastically recently. Apparently seeing it happened either changed people's minds or cauterized the minds of people who were on the fence. – C. Ross Nov 13 '10 at 15:35
• @Graham - what rules are you referring to? The relatively few people who frequent meta do not control the whole site. Some of our actual "rules" are that it takes 5 votes to close a question. It also takes 5 votes to reopen it. Currently, it's up to 3. It might make it. I expect it would be more difficult to close it a second time. – Pat Ludwig Nov 13 '10 at 16:38
• Until this thread I didn't know you could vote to re-open. – Jmstar Nov 16 '10 at 15:43
• I understand that its an important question not only to your campaign, or Cthulu gaming, but has a wider possible utility, but I think as important as it might be for those cases it's not tied strongly enough to RPG gaming to warrant being a question on this site. There is history.stackexchange.com which could field this question (probably more accurately due to the nature of their site). Maybe what's needed is a general history research question with a solidified answer linking to history.SE – Joshua Aslan Smith Oct 11 '12 at 16:09

One thing that I think a lot of the detractors are missing here, is a sense of scale. This isn't a "small" question, that could easily be hand-waved in a campaign setting.

This question isn't covering a minor detail which will be relevant for less than an adventure (if it's relevant at all), like the brand of a fragment of duct tape on a piece of pipe.

It also isn't covering a one-time loot issue, that any good GM will balance out anyway like how many magic hats drop from a specific legendary beast, or an easily Google-able value.

It isn't covering something that players will neither know, nor care about like the weather their grandparents saw on a specific date.

The existence of reliable cars and/or ubiquitous telephones fundamentally changes a campaign setting. It changes the stories you can tell, and how you have to stage them. It is fundamentally important to how the world works, and is something that you must know in order to use the game world effectively.

As an example, watch a few horror movies set in the present day and pay attention to the cell phones. Almost every movie will explicitly deal with the phones in some way: They get forgotten, jammed, are out of service, are confiscated, get lost, etc. The stories that the horror movies are attempting to tell are fundamentally incompatible with the existence of commodity cell phones, so they need to be excluded.

Cars and phones fall into the same camp. And while it's easy to exclude a technology for a single movie, it's much harder to exclude it from an ongoing RPG campaign, which is often intended to cover weeks or months of in-game time and offers the protagonists much greater freedom.

There may be a line to be drawn for questions about the real world. This question is well above it. The real world is, effectively, an open source shared campaign setting for a broad variety of games. Why should a game like Call of Cthulu or 7th Sea get less benefit out of this site than any other?

Ultimately, the only problem I had with that particular question was that it should have been two. The advent of cars and telephones don't really have a lot to do with each other in an RPG context.

• Even things that have happened in our own life time can be game changes. I ran a game set in the early 90's. There was no internet, cell phones were very unusual. Even the early 2000's, things were different, having reliable portable internet was no where near as ubiquitous as it is today. These are important things, that can easily be forgotten in a RPG, where players are used to saying: "I'll jump online and see if there is any unsecured webcam footage of the area." – Lyndon White Dec 16 '13 at 10:14

Why I voted to close it

I voted to close that thread. My feeling is that questions here have to pertain specifically to RPG material. That can be game rules, game history, game design, game organization, game research, and so on.

But we also have to draw a line. Some stuff is off-topic, right? In fact, most questions one could ask are off-topic. Just because someone needs an answer for their game doesn't make it a game-related question.

For example, I might be interested in teflon tape recommendations when wrapping pipe threads for my Apocalypse World game, but RPG SE isn't the best place to get that answered.

Furthermore, @jmstar's Where Can I Find Good Ship Plans? question was asked 10 weeks ago, whereas @Jadasc's At what point in the 20th Century did automobiles and telephones become ubiquitous? question is new. I think this SE site is finding its way and a lot has changed in ten weeks.

Relevancy

So my rules for determining a question's relevancy:

1. Does the question pertain primarily to RPGs?
2. Do the majority of people reading this question care about the answer?
3. Does RPG StackExchange likely have the best expertise to answer the question?
4. Are RPG SE members interested in the question and answers?

None of these has a simple, cut-and-dried answer and there will always be judgment calls and corner cases.

For #2, I think tons of gamers will find lists of ship plans useful. I think far fewer gamers need to know precisely when certain technology became commonplace. Still, that's a terribly slippery slope.

For #3, gamers don't have any special expertise for answering history questions (Jadasc's or Jason's, for that matter). Really, both questions should probably be closed.

For #4, Jason's question got some traction: 6 upvotes and 6-7 answers (one with 6 upvotes). Jadasc's question got 1 upvote and two answers (with 3 and 2 upvotes). And no one voted to close Jason's.

I think, as gamers, we'd really like some firm rules here, but we're better off letting the community find its way.

• The Automobiles and Telephones thread was not my question. Could you edit your answer to correct this, please? – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 17:32
• That aside: the thread is back open now. If we're trusting the crowd, we presumably should trust that judgement, too. – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 17:43
• 3 is factually incorrect. Most experienced Cthulhu GMs have amassed quite a lot of information regarding their favourite periods, because they need it to run the game. I would imagine the same applies to GMs of other games in historical settings. – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 19:02
• I don't think "trusting the crowd" is the way to go, or what we're doing. We're "storming" still, trying to find our way; we're not "norming" yet. We're going to see more chaos during storming than during "forming" of the site. I think we're trying to find good standards and principles. Those may emerge from just observing the crowd, but we might not like the results. Marginalising less-known games and the questions relevant to them will eventually shape this site more like a D&D Stack Exchange, not an RPG Stack Exchange. – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 19:16
• @Graham Sorry about that! I fixed the answer. – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 19:54
• I removed "Trust the Crowd" from my answer as it it was not at all central to my arguments. – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 19:56
• @Graham I'm not at all upset that the question was reopened! But I'm also still dubious that it makes a great RPG SE question for the reasons I stated above. By re-writing the question, it certain focuses the answers on Call of Cthulhu a little better, but it's still basically just non-gaming trivia. – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 19:58
• Trust the crowd, Adam. Clearly, it's not trivial. – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 21:43
• @Graham I think with the re-write, it'll get better traction with folks! I also think that people (okay, me for sure!) who voted to close it are unclear what the procedure and etiquette are for voting to re-close it. I'd rather hash out the issue here in Meta than in a voting war. – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 23:52
• We can certainly agree on that. – Graham Nov 16 '10 at 0:08

A request for a tag.

My opinion on the matter largely coincides with @AdamDray so I won't bore you with repeating his fine arguments. Also, like him, I am not upset that the question is reopened.

However, I am asking for the question and any like it to be tagged with a game. Or at least agree on a general purpose tag. Something that I can use to easily ignore such questions.

The current 3 tags on it are all general purpose

• campaign-development - I'm definitely interested in this.
• settings - This tag doesn't mean much to me, but it appears to cover a wide variety of questions, some that I don't wish to miss.
• history - This tag clearly means different things to different people. It's covering a wide variety of topics. Some I am very interested in.
• Could you provide an example of the sort of tag you'd be looking for? – AceCalhoon Nov 15 '10 at 21:34
• That's completely reasonable. I like that. – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 21:45
• What do you think about [history-research] or [historical-research]? – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 22:01
• @Ace - I was hoping a game name would be used. I think @Graham hit it with call-of-cthulu so that is very cool. – Pat Ludwig Nov 15 '10 at 22:17
• @PatLudwig Unfortunately, that seems problematic. The post's author noted that CoC was the game furthest from his mind in posing the question. Are we proposing that all questions about the early twentieth century be tagged Call of Cthulu? – AceCalhoon Nov 15 '10 at 22:19
• @Seven - [history-research] doesn't sound right to me. [historical-research] is better. I don't really have a dog in this race though. Whatever makes sense to the people who play that (or those) games is fine with me as long the tag(s) define those games/questions without much overlap to other games. LOL, that didn't come out short and understandable at all. I'll try harder later on tonight, gotta run just now. – Pat Ludwig Nov 15 '10 at 22:20
• @Ace - yech, no - I'm not proposing that. Was he thinking about any game? – Pat Ludwig Nov 15 '10 at 22:22
• @Pat I don't think he has a specific game in mind, so much as a genre... Which might make a good choice for the tag (fantasy, sci-fi, noir, etc.), although I don't necessarily know what the best known name for the genre would be. – AceCalhoon Nov 15 '10 at 22:28
• @Ace - a genre specific tag sounds most excellent. Hopefully the folks more familiar with the genre can suggest something appropriate. – Pat Ludwig Nov 15 '10 at 22:30
• I'm not yet clear about the purpose of tags on this site. If one purpose is to help people find relevant questions, then it would be reasonable in that sense to tag such questions as relevant to Call of Cthulhu, because they probably are (relevant). I can see that might annoy the OP, however. I'm not sure how this is supposed to work. Is it worth starting a separate meta question over the use of tags? – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 23:22
• @Dave Tags are meta-data on a question, much like the Artist or Album info on a song. They should reflect the question directly. – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 23:28
• @Dave another issue is that there are a limited number of tags per question (five, I think). That makes things tricky for questions that apply to a large number of games (which questions like this probably will). – AceCalhoon Nov 16 '10 at 14:20
• Thanks both for the clarifications. That helps. – Dave Hallett Nov 16 '10 at 16:58

Personally, I didn't not like the question; that is to say I liked it. If I'd not liked it, I'd have down voted, which I did not.

My point is you down vote what you don't like; you close that which is out of place.

(Personally, I never see any reason to down vote a question, only answers, but that's another discussion entirely.)

It wasn't on topic. It's just off-topic trivia. The heart of the question:

How late in the 20th Century in the U.S. did telephones and automobiles become ubiquitous?

... is off topic, even if you prefix it with an RPG-related explanation. If it was on-topic, then one can argue that this is also on-topic:

My players have killed the Cretan Bull and now want to wear its stomachs as hats! How many stomachs do bulls have? Will there be enough stomachs for all of them?

... or:

As part of my game the Pythagoreans have found magical secrets in the digits of irrational numbers! What's the 100th digit of pi?

... or:

The player's have traveled back in time to Smarch 32nd 1963! What was the weather like on that day?

I'm sorry, but the intro doesn't make these questions on-topic: they're still just trivia which are not related to RPG.

## How to make it on topic

• The question could have asked for settings and source books which catered to the player's needs
• The question could have described the setting the GM envisioned, and how it could be tweaked to accommodate that player's needs
• The question could have asked how to deal with such a demanding player
• The question could have asked how to include cars and phones in a game while preserving... whatever the player misses

etc.

• It's a fair answer, but we've discussed this and (apparently) decided that such questions are on topic. They're not trivia. – Graham Nov 13 '10 at 10:01
• They are, in fact, extremely useful for the sort of gaming I play. If questions like this get closed by a bunch of D&D gamers who don't understand their use, this site becomes much less useful for Cthulhu gaming. – Graham Nov 13 '10 at 10:02
• @Graham - ... well, in my opinion, the question discussed in the Campaign Research Questions thread - What should I read for information about the 1930s United States - is on-topic. Perhaps what I'm missing in my justification is that the cars/telephones questions was not only 'off-topic' but 'too localized' - perhaps if it was not so localized it would seem less off-topic... ?? – LeguRi Nov 13 '10 at 14:39
• As the OP, the heart of the question lies somewhere between your second and fourth options. I really enjoy, and consider myself best at running, modern settings — often with a decent amount of real-world backing. What I was seeking was, I think, "how close to the modern era can I come and still justify the absence of those elements?" – Jadasc Nov 14 '10 at 0:50
• I don't agree at all that this is a fair answer. Why would someone have problems developing a particular campaign setting unless you knew the 100th digit of pi? – Dave Hallett Nov 14 '10 at 16:56
• Further, the suggestions on how to make it on-topic are all missing the point. The questioner (and lots of other GMs) wants to run a setting that is more or less historically accurate. "Tweaking the setting" is not an option, nor would be asking about a "sourcebook" for modern-day America without cars and telephones. They want to know what historical period best suits their player's tastes. Why is that off topic? – Dave Hallett Nov 14 '10 at 16:59
• @Dave Hallett - Because the question is exclusively about history; fine, the need of which the question is born is about RPG, but the question - which is what we're discussing - is about history, and we're a community of RPG experts, not history experts; check out the history proposal for people who are better qualified to answer that question... but I firmly believe it doesn't belong on rpg.stackexchange – LeguRi Nov 14 '10 at 17:36
• And [Online resource for names by culture] is exclusively about names, although I think the relevance to RPGs is obvious. Come to that [Good resources for travel times?] is being answered entirely from a historical perspective. Is that then bad? Sorry, attempts to add links failed! – Dave Hallett Nov 14 '10 at 20:27
• @Dave Hallett - I find the difference between the two you link to and the one which was closed is scope: of the three, which is the only one which would be a question card in Trivial Pursuit? I think the phone/cars one, and the keyword in Trivial Pursuit is 'Trivia' ;) Also, those questions ask for resources which are external to rpg.stackexchange (although the answers don't respect that) acknowledging that we're not the experts on those subjects, but sometimes we need that info. Imma think some more and then start commenting on your answer ;) – LeguRi Nov 14 '10 at 21:28
• @Dave Hallett - To add links in comments: [LINK TEXT](http://www.google.com) LINK TEXT – LeguRi Nov 14 '10 at 21:29
• @Dave Hallett - And feel free to vote me down - judging by your position on the matter, you should, and on meta, you shouldn't lose any rep. – LeguRi Nov 14 '10 at 21:31
• @ LeguRi Thanks for the links hint, noted! – Dave Hallett Nov 14 '10 at 21:41
• @ LeguRi And I'm not quite at 125 yet, so I can't vote you down! :D – Dave Hallett Nov 14 '10 at 21:52