So there's a ton of questions about how to present a frame challenge, or how not to frame challenge, and I've had people mention it on the comments on questions of mine in response to others' comments...and I have no idea what it means. I did a quick spin through meta but couldn't find a direct answer.

From context I'm getting it means something like "structuring the question / answer to assume certain guidelines are met" but that doesn't seem to apply in all scenarios. Am I missing something?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ See also my answer on English.SE which explains the complex question fallacy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 6:18

1 Answer 1


A frame challenge is where an author answers a question in a wholly different way the querent never asked for, or potentially expressly forbade, but in a way the author feels will actually solve the problem. (Or otherwise improve the querent's life quality or prevent them from making some terrible mistake.) This is as opposed to answers which answer the question at face value.

The “frame” being challenged here is specifically the way the question was framed — the way they put it forward, the parameters they offered, the kinds of answers they're driving for.

“Frame challenge” is Stack Exchange jargon. You might know this by some other more common phrases such as challenging the assumptions of a question, or questioning its premise.

Frame challenges are risky; sometimes they're a good idea and sometimes you just cop a whole lot of downvotes. We advise you also answer the question at face value, though you may prefer not to do so (and sometimes, it's a very good idea to not do so).

Some examples:

  • Q: My wizard needs to get from the Undead Asylum to Blighttown by sundown. What's the fastest steed for riding there?

    • Regular answer: Ask for a bronze steed down the hill. It's very quick, but the earliest you can make it there is past midnight.
    • Frame challenge answer: Don't use a steed to get there at all. There's a crow nearby who'll fly you there in minutes.
  • Q: This other player killed my character. I'm furious, and I want to harass him and give him hell until he cries and leaves the group never to return. How can I do that?

    • Regular answer: Start by slipping poison into his character's drinks, and...
    • Frame challenge answer: Don't do this at all, you'd be terrible for doing it and you'd bring the game down. Talk to the dude and with your GM to resolve this.
  • Q: How can I teach my warlock foo? I refuse to do (thing), it's bad because reasons, so don't answer with that.

    • Regular answer: You can't. Sorry.
    • Frame challenge answer (sort of): (thing) is the only way to do it. It's actually a good idea, so you should do this. Plus I think you're mistaken about those reasons, let me explain...
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    \$\begingroup\$ Framing in this context means limiting how people view a topic; challenging the frame means breaking out of those limits to look at the problem from a different perspective. Challenging the frame is usually appropriate when the asker has the XY problem (when you have problem X, and identify potential solution Y, and ask for help implementing Y instead of just asking for help with X). \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage Mod
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 3:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood I'm not clear on what that comment refers to exactly. Is there anything you suggest I do with the post or that we do? If that's a comment on the choice of name for calling them "frame challenge", I'm not keen on it either and I'm inclined to regard it as internal technical jargon. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood Do you mean as in, this definition shouldn't be what a frame challenge is, or this whole thing shouldn't be called a frame challenge, or something else? I'm still not entirely clear on your objection or what we should do differently, but I'm interested to find out. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Defining the phrase "frame challenge" as such is not English. The English definition of combining the two terms would be questioning or challenging structure. Applying it to an answer in the ways as this answer (while perhaps accurate in usage) adds meaning you don't get from the words being used, like begging the question and puts this usage in domain-speak and thus is ambiguous. While certainly not unprecedented, as in other gobbledygook like "buff" or "crunch" or "fluff" or "munchkin", it is also not proper use of English like the sensible "metagaming" or "derived statistic". \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course, with English, eventually it will be. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood I rather agree it's not actually a good phrase to use. Prompted by your comments I took to English.SE earlier to ask what they think about it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 22:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Even tangential is much more understandable. With a physics background, frame challenge is like challenging the structure of the answer or the frame of reference (which this sometimes is, but it's also much more). Having said that, it's probably been used enough it now has a domain-specific definition. Certainly from other domains, looking for an answer should not preclude ones that skirt the issue, or find a clever way around it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood The challenge is to the structure of the question, not the structure of an answer. I think doppel has provided a decent "domain specific definition" for this usage. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood I've brought a question up on our meta to ask if there's other terms we could/should use. You may be interested in contributing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 12:45

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