This is a Meta discussion being opened for the following question, as it does classify a general sort of question.

Why didn't Aperture Science invent perpetual motion?

Now, we have very firmly established that video game backstories and plot questions are on-topic for this site. If it's about the canon of a story, it's something we can generally field.

But sometimes you have the "speculative" sort of plot question that tries to ask about how something would work inside the canon. I'm putting speculative in quotation marks here because, as the example question shows, it's the kind of thing you can just ask "does the canon address this scenario?", which isn't speculation in nature.

There's some opposition and support for this question, so rather than let things drag out in comments, I'm opening this Meta discussion to see what people think. I will be providing my own perspective in an answer.

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4 Answers 4

The main issue to me about this, is the degree of permitting questions whose only tie to the game is a mere "Is this confirmed or addressed at all in the canon?". If it fits within the logical or canonical context of the story or its setting, it can be a very sensible question.

But there has to be a limit, some kind of threshold, to what kind of tie it must have. Take the following question.

"Why does Aperture Science use storage cubes instead of hexagonal prisms?"

It sounds quite silly, doesn't it? It's sufficiently outside the realm and context of the story that it's not reasonably answerable by gamers.

If we instead take it as...

"Does the canon of Portal address why Aperture Science doesn't use storage hexagons?"

...then does it sound any less silly as a question?

We allow plot questions because we have canon to address it. We don't accept extracanonical questions because we have no material to use. We accept questions that ask about things that may not be touched on by the story directly, generally under the assumption that there is a very reasonable tie between the material of the question and the material of the canon.

I'm personally not familiar with Portal canon, so the following is based only on how I know bits and pieces of it. From what I know, the applications of energy consumption are never discussed, nor are some of the other uses of portals. For example, terminal velocity could be abused to develop high-velocity weaponry. Or, attaching a portal to a remotely controlled surface as a dual-purpose espionage/infiltration system. There's a lot of possible applications of Portals, that's one of the wonderful things. But nigh all of them are ever in the context of the backstory. As such, to me, the question is barely tied to the context, and only beats the hexagon question in terms of not being quite as silly.

I was once discussing with another moderator of another site about a theoretical "No one cares" close reason. I didn't really support it, on the bounds that Not A Real Question generally covers it, as does the new and improved Too Localized:

This question is unlikely to ever help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.

As such, I feel that the ties to the context of the story or game figure heavily into the scope of who actually is interested in such plot questions. I am willing to be corrected about the ties of this particular question to the context of Portal, and will support its reopening in that scenario. But I feel that more importantly, we shouldn't simply allow a question and disregard the context just because we can answer it.

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+1, but only barely, because it can be deducted from your answer that you have not played either of the Portals. I'm not sure if I should be upvoting someone who has played neither. –  Oak May 24 '11 at 14:24
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@Oak I don't think it's called deduction if I explicitly state that I haven't any experience with it. ♪ Which is why I made my viewpoint less about the specific question and more about the class of questions, and why I have not participated on voting on the question. Nevertheless, only upvote if you agree it's helpful. –  Grace Note May 24 '11 at 14:26
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The question under consideration sounds immensely less silly than the bit about storage hexagons :P –  Matthew Read May 24 '11 at 14:26
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I suspect you missed my point. I'm not hesitating to upvote because you are unfamiliar with Portal and the question is about Portal; I'm hesitating to upvote because you are unfamiliar with Portal, period, and I'm not sure that's a behaviour I'd like to encourage by upvoting / helping / providing shelter in case of a zombie apocalypse / etc. –  Oak May 24 '11 at 14:28
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@Oak Haha, I see. Well, I suppose I could mention that I watched my brother play the whole of it (and helped him find radios!), but I imagine I'm too far off the deep end to save myself now. –  Grace Note May 24 '11 at 14:30
    
The ultimate irony of this very good answer (which I agree with) is that there IS a canonical answer for why they never tried creating something practical like a perpetual motion machine. The answer: Aperture's CEO is terrible at marketing ideas, and would much rather sell the highly deadly frictionless fluid as a dietary suppliment. –  Zibbobz Feb 26 at 15:08
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As Matthew said:

If Portal did have a clearly established reason why Aperture did or did not consider/pursue perpetual motion, the question would be fine and would be answered with the details.

And I agree, except that the whole concept of perpetual motion machines itself isn't mentioned in the canon. The difference is subtle but important.

"In game X, Y happens; is there an official reason why?

is different from

"In game X, it seems logical to me Y will be mentioned, but it wasn't; is there an official reason why?"

In the second question, the canon doesn't mention Y at all, and the question is about Y. It's basically not asking about the plot but about things the asker perceives to be plot holes, which are bound to appear in any game with engaging plot.

I'm not necessarily saying these questions should not be allowed, but I definitely don't like them.

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One of these days, I'll learn that I don't have to post answers because one of 6 people (or Jeff) will always just post roughly my viewpoint in far, far fewer words. –  Grace Note May 24 '11 at 14:22
    
I agree that the second version is bad. But the question's asking why Aperture didn't consider it, not why Valve didn't address it. –  Matthew Read May 24 '11 at 14:24
    
@Matthew I don't think that should be considered differently, unless Valve would have explicitly mentioned they have thought about it when writing the story, but that Aperture would not have done it. –  Oak May 24 '11 at 14:31
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I would have a serious problem with a flat ban saying that questions like these are not allowed - if so, a person couldn't ask good-faith questions unless they already knew that the answer was contained in canon; defeating the point of asking. –  Steve V. May 25 '11 at 3:01
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I'm selfishly reviving this because I just had a question of this type closed. It is the only question of this type that happens in a world with such extensive lore, concerning only things actually visible in the game, that I have seen closed. The assumption seems to be that it's unanswerable, but that assumption was made very fast and presumably with no Fallout lore experts ever getting to even see it.

As I said in the comment there, almost the entire tag is guilty of this kind of violation. And a blanket statement like

Speculation beyond the immediate scope of the game is considered non-constructive

Feels far too restrictive to me - there are lots of questions about lore in e.g. Diablo that are only answerable via novels or other out-of-game material. It is also a difficult standard to enforce for games like Skyrim or Fallout, where the in-game lore amounts to novels worth of text to go through.

My primary request is for consistency. This similar question about Final Fantasy has been on the (/ my) front page all day, as has this question about Gravity Rush.

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Unfortunately, I don't believe that either of those two linked questions give much evidence for your cause. The Final Fantasy question is about the franchise, and the Gravity Rush question is objectively answerable (yes/no). –  Raven Dreamer Jul 9 '12 at 0:13
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I contest your claim that no fallout experts saw your question before it was closed. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Jul 9 '12 at 2:45
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If discussing about canon stories is on-topic, I see no reason why discussing about plot-holes in those stories should be off-topic instead.

Of course they may not be mentioned in the story, they are plot-holes... still, they may be very strongly related to the story itself.

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But the plot has facts; questions can be answered. Plot holes don't have facts beyond the fact that they exist. –  Matthew Read May 25 '11 at 1:59
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"A plot hole, is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story's plot, or constitutes a blatant omission of relevant information regarding the plot." (Wikipedia, with my emphasis). Questions about valid plot-holes I can see being acceptable, but this question wasn't one of them. –  DMA57361 May 25 '11 at 8:04
    
You're all mad, I don't know what to say. –  Lohoris May 25 '11 at 9:19
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Now, I'm willing to listen to some counterpoints against having some level of threshold on plot hole questions, but I don't think simply calling everyone mad (again, as it were) is really going to win anyone over to your side. –  Grace Note May 25 '11 at 12:19
    
@Grace: I know but I'm simply speechless, sorry. I've no idea what @DMA is talking about, since he simply states what a plot-holes is and then he just says that mine isn't good enough. That's not even a counterpoint, what am I supposed to do with that? –  Lohoris May 25 '11 at 15:18
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I'd suggest by going: " @DMA I don't understand what you're talking about. Why don't you consider my question a valid plot-hole? ". Optionally, add your reasoning as to why you believe yours is a valid plot hole. Important thing is to defend and discuss the argument points, not the people behind them. –  Grace Note May 25 '11 at 15:22
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@Looris - my point was your question isn't a plot hole because it matches neither of the highlighted elements of the definition - the issue in hand doesn't contradict any other plot elements, and isn't relevant to any other plot element. A plot hole is something that is actually wrong with the plot, not something that is simply missing and irrelevant. –  DMA57361 May 25 '11 at 15:39
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