This is a bit of a take on the discussion largely brought up by this question of last Fall, but to take a different approach to it. One might also gander at this oldie.

As an upfront note, any instance I use of "native" refers to the original game design, without any modifications.

Game-rec worked the way it did because it had a very specific entity that it embodied - acquiring new games to experience. Whether the goal was play, research, or what else, they all manifested in the same fashion. This is why we were able to really produce a general ruling on the class as a whole - it's straight forward and identifiable, we don't build repositories of games.

I do not believe that mod rec is so simple. I think it is, in fact, ambiguous and encompasses too much to manage in a single class - and making our rules based on this feels confusing and entangled. And this lies a bit in the fact that, as tzenes wisely pointed out, "mod" is itself ambiguous and refers to many classes of elements. The two most notable of which are "Standalone Game Mods" which are mods of a game distinct enough to be their own game (the original DotA, Parallel Worlds for LttP, etc.), and "Modifications to add elements to a game" that are things like, well, what a lot of people be doin' to Skyrim and Minecraft.

"mod rec" as applied to the former is, essentially, Game Rec - the Reckoning, the vile sequel meant to turn our innards to copper. Or, in less inane terminology, it is identical to asking for new games in exactly the same way that asking for new games is asking for new games. Because those mods are standalone games, and trying to build a repository of them falls under the same class we already dealt with. There's almost no questioning that it would be odd to permit these when we have a standing ban on game rec.

In the latter, though, "mod rec" is... actually diverse. Because the inquiries for it are variegated and contain a number of different types. It encompasses a much different problem space, which includes things like "subverting obstacles", "introducing new gameplay elements", "rebalancing the original game", and other such. There are a lot of different kinds of problems, and trying to group them all into one kind of category to apply a wide policy on is detrimental, in my opinion. It's a distraction in the same way that "list question" is a distraction to logical enforcement of the rules.

People should look at the core question, not to be confused with the motivation behind asking a question. "How can I land a successful hit with Real Impact?" is identical in core to "What combos exist that can lead into Real Impact?" - the core problem being how to connect with the attack. This same logic is something to apply when the core problem's solution space may consist partially or entirely of mods to a game.

"How do I Wavedash in Brawl?", "Can I make a functional cannon in Minecraft?", "How do I track when my cooldowns are up?", and many other kinds of core questions like these. They embody very isolated problem spaces, some of which do not exist in the game's native programming at all while others are more effectively done by mods, while yet others just offer a complete alternative option than the inherent options in the game.

Basically, in my eyes, trying to fit everything into one category of "mod rec" for judgment is like a subset of classifying our site as "solution rec", because that's what we do, people ask us for recommendations on how to solve a problem. It's the nature of that problem that defines whether we accept it or not, and there's a lot of different natures out there.

Some of the problem spaces that turn up where the phrase "mod rec" rears its ugly head would be:

  • The aforementioned standalone game mod rec
  • Problems that can entirely be solved natively, but which a mod might make it easier
  • Problems that can entirely be solved natively, but which a mod provides an alternative or more direct approach
  • Problems that can be solved exceptionally awkwardly when in the native game
  • Problems that are not designed with the intention of being solved natively
  • Problems that are designed explicitly that cannot be done (You can't get General Leo into your party)
  • Accessing easter eggs (You might consider seeing John Romero as a better illustration)
  • Wrench Tennis and other elements not intentionally designed in a wieldy way
  • Problems involving the lack of English in Simon's Quest
  • Problems involving altering the experience of gameplay as a whole
  • Problems involving simulating a different game experience than is natively intended, whether or not it is natively possible
  • Problems regarding the apparent design of the game and the means to get around its shortcomings or obstacles

There's a lot more but I hope the diversity can be seen here.

To that end, I ask that we don't think "Do we want to allow people to ask about mods?", but rather start to think about questions on these cores. Do we want to allow questions about problems that the game deliberately doesn't want you to address? Are mod-based problem spaces fundamentally identical to glitch-based problem spaces? Do we want to allow questions about altering the native game experience? Are alternatives to a game's native design appreciated? Those kind of thoughts, I think, are more useful to identifying what we should or should not allow than trying to group it all in one umbrella that not only masks what possible issues and natures are present, but also conflates the entire thing with an ultimately unrelated issue.

It's a tricky situation. One can't just throw a blanket rule at it. We must use gasp judgement and common sense. –  user9983 Jan 31 '13 at 19:45
Most of the problem I have with questions about mods is that the problem space can be just as large as game-rec. Sandbox games, especially, like Minecraft, make any question asking for mods incredibly broad. It's a bad threshold to set things at, though, so I'm interested in hearing what others think. –  Frank Jan 31 '13 at 19:50
@OrigamiRobot That's a nice thing to say and it always is true, but we also need rules that we can apply consistently to make sure users/questions are treated fairly. –  murgatroid99 Jan 31 '13 at 20:10
@murgatroid99 Yes, but there is a difference between a go/no go rule and a guidance rule. We need rules that allow us to make good decisions instead of tying our hands. –  user9983 Jan 31 '13 at 20:30
Is there a difference between "Can I do X in Minecraft?" and "Is there a mod that lets me do X in Minecraft?" I don't think the former would ever be closed as off-topic. Should the second be converted to the former, deleted, or kept as is? –  Raven Dreamer Jan 31 '13 at 20:35
@RavenDreamer I would definitely argue that there is no difference, given that while the latter theoretically excludes built-in ways to do X it would certainly be answered with the built-in method regardless! (Unless the question specifically mentioned it wasn't working/meeting the need.) –  Matthew Read Jan 31 '13 at 20:41
@RavenDreamer I think that the latter is identical to the former but that the acceptability of either is based on the nature of X, not on the nature of the latter. The status of X as "Natively possible", "Natively annoying or has shortcomings", "Natively impossible", and everything within this complexagon that is not a simple 1D gradient - I figure that is what we should be focusing on when looking at this issue. –  Grace Note Jan 31 '13 at 20:43
@OrigamiRobot So why is judgement and common sense removed from game-rec, ITG and friends? Why do we accept that those questions are 100% hopeless always? This is my only issue with this parade of unicorns and rainbows and universal love. –  badp Jan 31 '13 at 21:10
@badp I have no idea what you are saying. –  user9983 Jan 31 '13 at 21:13
You propose that it should be obvious that we must use gasp judgement and common sense, when we don't. –  badp Jan 31 '13 at 21:15
@badp Game-rec is an independent and singular problem space. We made our judgment properly on the problem space (properly as in, we judged on the problem space instead of a distraction like "list question"). Mod rec isn't an independent and singular problem space, it contains several (one of which is indeed, the problem space contained wholly within game-rec). As for identification, it can be considered multiple problem spaces, which is precisely why this revisitation happened. –  Grace Note Jan 31 '13 at 21:16
@badp I am saying the problem is that we don't. Declaring something as off-topic is used by some to bypass common sense and judgement. It just leads to people saying HE MENTIONED MODS OFF-TOPIC CLOSE. –  user9983 Jan 31 '13 at 21:17
To go further from @OrigamiRobot's point, on the subject of game rec, incidents of jumping the gun without proper analysis and judgment is why I had you ask this question, so that the problem space we worked on as a whole could be identified easier for people. –  Grace Note Jan 31 '13 at 21:22
Heh. And yet, those ITGs that were (1) detailed, (2) 100% accurate, and (3) quickly answered correctly remain deleted if they didn't have a screenshot. That's because, despite the common-sense notion that those questions had no issues, the class of questions lent itself more to questions with issues than those questions without. Making decisions based on class is easier and clearer, and can actually be used for policy rather than "well, use your judgement I guess" (which is particularly bad given a group of very different people). –  Matthew Read Jan 31 '13 at 22:01
Not to mention what happens when you tell a user "your question is one of the bad ones" rather than "your question is off-topic". –  Matthew Read Jan 31 '13 at 22:02
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3 Answers

I've written extensively on this subject (mostly here and in comments therein). I'll provide my still-too-long tl;dr version:

Closing is our go-to solution for too many things.

"I want to find a way to like this game more" or "what is the most fun total conversion mod for (game)" is a bad problem for our site, just like "I want to find a game I will like." It's game-rec, and it's not constructive, and I think we should close and delete questions like this. Thumbs up, 100%, let's go, close close close.

"I want to do this ridiculous thing in a game and it was clearly not intended for me to do it" can sometimes be a stupid question, and deserving of downvotes. "How do I get a magical pony in black ops 2 multiplayer because I love magical ponies" is a stupid question, and deserves downvotes. If a simple google search or 10 minutes playing the game tells you "no, this isn't possible" - it's a poorly researched, dumb question - downvote it and move on. It may have other issues (it falls into not constructive or NARQ, etc) that cause it to get closed, too, but dumb (in and of itself) is not a close reason. Closing is not punitive so much as downvoting is.

Question class bans are made far too easily sometimes, and they tend to stretch to encompass not only the things they were explicitly designed for, but onto related areas, or even just expanding to cover things that sound similar but aren't really.

On our site, these questions take a form where a mod is generally a solution to a problem. Judge questions by the problem being posed instead of the presupposed answer.

"I want to solve this concrete problem" is a good question for this site, with or without "using a mod" at the end.

Knee-jerking on a question based on language is problematic. "I want to like this game more, but the stage 4 boss is too hard. I saw a youtube video where a guy used a mod to win. Can anyone recommend a mod (or identify the one in the video) to make the stage 4 boss easier?" is a misguided question that uses some misleading language, but the core problem is still okay.

Sure, there might be a "make the stage 4 boss easier mod" out there, but there also might be a game setting (go to easy mode) a console command (boss.kill), a strategy (just use the lazer cannon and he goes down in one shot), level skip cheat, etc. The core problem is "I can't beat this boss, help!" and that's OK. I've answered many questions (and seen others do the same) by patiently explaining why the answer already jumped to in the question is wrong or non-optimal.

Mods, config files, maps, ini files, controller layouts, etc are all solutions to problems. They don't automatically make a question good or bad for being mentioned in it, or for being the only way to solve a given question. Similarly, their mention doesn't make a bad question good. Disconnect the two, and look past the word choices and presupposed answers.

Recommending solutions from a large number of possibilities is the core of a wide swath of questions.

People suggest multiple answers to questions frequently. They vote on this site and others, on a wide variety of answers where there are multiple valid solutions. To me, that's part of the core of the SE network. The asker gets a "super vote" in the form of accept, which says "this is what worked best for me."

For many problems, multiple valid solutions exist, and the community votes to determine which one they feel is "best." Best should be somewhat dictated by the question - good questions should provide an axis for judging a solution - but it's also dictated by the will of the community and whatever they happen to prefer. We might all be mod-happy this week, or console-happy next week.

Independent of the first portion's existence as an answer to the underlying issues we face, I think the importance of that section about identifying "We really do have means to do things besides closing" is something to be considered in any solution we come to for this underlying issue. –  Grace Note Jan 31 '13 at 21:01
"Disconnect the two, and look past the word choices and presupposed answers." Clearly one of us should have the other's babies. –  user9983 Jan 31 '13 at 21:06
After reading this I'm a little unsure as to whether you agree with me. Does "concrete problem" cover any well-defined issue regardless of whether the user thought it up just because? Or is it more like I've said, where the issue should be something pre-existing (boss being hard, feature not working, etc.)? –  Matthew Read Jan 31 '13 at 21:51
+1. Dumb thought experiments that happen to be solvable by an extremely flexible modkit are still dumb thought experiments and should be closed as NARQ, but the key takeaway here is to focus on the problem, and not worry about whether the question presupposes a particular solution. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Feb 1 '13 at 3:28
@MatthewRead I'm not sure that's exactly where I would draw the line, just because I think as a policy I think it's problematic and probably catches a lot of good in with the bad, and is likely to be confusing to people trying to ask questions and not get them closed. I'm not particularly afraid of the unbounded search you mention - I don't know that closing a question because we can't 100% prove an answer is correct is kind of an odd solution. –  agent86 Feb 1 '13 at 3:50
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I agree with fbueckert's comment. "Is there a mod that does X?" can't be answered with "No" unless you're omniscient. Similarly, "How can I do X?" can't be answered with "You can't" if mods are valid answers, given that a mod could theoretically alter the gameplay in any way you think of. Both amount to an unbounded search that may or may not end happily if someone knows of or finds an appropriate mod.

I think the kind of questions we want are the ones where the asker knows that X can be done but there is some issue in doing so. Examples:

Mod X is supposed to let me do Y, but I nothing happens when I try it. What am I doing wrong?

I rebound the key for X to 'Y' and now it doesn't work. How can I use 'Y' for X?

How can I beat this boss?

Answers might recommend or otherwise involve mods, or discuss built-in features, suggest strategies or alternatives, or whatever. At the end of the day you're solving a clear and bounded problem, and not doing someone's shopping for them.

I don't think we should host questions about every potential feature that someone has dreamt up and now wants. Questions should be about things that exist. To me, this follows directly from the "What kind of questions should I not ask here?" section of the FAQ:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face


[A]void asking subjective questions where ... we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”

This might be a good read. - questions that are based on pure conjecture or which are essentially thought experiments ("Can I use gun's in Skyrim?" et al), are bad questions for a host of other reasons - not because an answer of 'no' isn't possible without an omniscent all-knowing Modfather of some sort. Sometimes, a question going unanswered is just as indicative of the 'answer' as any actual written answer is going to be. And, given how often it happens (i.e. very infrequently), that's probably okay. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Feb 1 '13 at 3:33
@LessPop_MoreFizz +1 for the phrase "all-knowing Modfather" –  EBongo Feb 1 '13 at 13:05
@LessPop_MoreFizz I think for the most part we are all agreed here, and it's just particular phrasings that are getting in the way :P –  Matthew Read Feb 1 '13 at 16:54
How can we differentiate between good questions with a long tail and bad questions with unbounded search spaces? –  SevenSidedDie Feb 2 '13 at 0:12
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Very well then. Let's ignore for a second the implied argument that you can't just take the same slicing and dicing Grace used on mod-rec and use it on game-rec. Let's instead review the list of issues that got us to our game-rec ban and see what still applies to mod-rec, shall we?

Main issues with game-rec, see here for the full story:

  • Motivation for Quality. Game recommendation questions ask for repositories, a.k.a. curated lists of things. We have shown to do a terrible job at this. We only reply with those things that are hot and popular here and now and we don't go back and update them when newer things come out.
    • Deduplication. Game recommendation questions, just like identify this X questions, are heavily focused on what the asker wants. This makes handling duplicates quite difficult.
    • Accepted answer. What does it mean for an answer to be accepted in a game-rec question? Not much, really.
  • Values dissonance. Voting on these posts isn't based on the quality of an answer towards the goal of the asker, but on the popularity of a given item.
    • Items vs answers. If voting on a single items is based on popularity, should you answer with a list instead? Do we want list of repository questions?

Let's now see how Grace's suggested categorization works against those core issues, and just how much of the "game-rec" issues (that we have accepted to be absolutely incompatible with the rest of the engine - deal breakers, if you will) also extend to them.

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(Ignore the "why did they do it this way" category, that's actually a whole different can of worms.)

Columns map rather obviously to the entries above, excluding for an additional column I named 'Is actually a "mod-rec"'. I don't believe we've actually ever called some of these problem types mod-rec questions to begin with. This might just be me being confused with Grace's taxonomy, however. Hopefully this column will shed light on the fact.

So, at any rate, I think we can neatly bunch these questions up in three nice groups:

  1. "You can, natively."
  2. "You can, natively. You can alternatively use mods." (The line with the kinda's)
  3. "You can't, natively. You must use mods."

When you can do something directly, natively, properly, the fact that you can also use mods is rather incidental and you would be actually rather hard pressed for bringing out a mod as a "solution" to begin with. This is why I didn't mark them as "actually a mod-rec."

When you can't do something natively, then there either are some mods that address this or there aren't. There's typically more than one mod per problem, some of those are more fashionable than others, some of those are maintained better than others, some of those don't have one "homepage" and the "thread link" will change at every new game release, you don't know if you should put all the mods you know about in one list (because real questions have answers, not items) or one per answer (to avoid having multiple answers with partially overlapping lists).

These questions are those we've been calling "mod-rec." They share the same problems with game-rec, regardless of whether or not there is a practical problem behind these questions; a goal towards with we can sort the answers in metrics of fitness. We should treat these questions just like we treat game-rec, and for the purpose of this post we've already accepted that this means "unsalvageable: always close".

Finally there's the mixed animal that's #2. You can do it ingame, or you can do it through mods. Think "How to mine stone most efficiently in Minecraft?". You can craft a diamond pick and enchant it, or you abuse the hell out of Equivalent Exchange or build quarries or, well, not mine it at all and use either explosives or creative mode/give cheats if you only care about removing stone or having a bunch of cobblestone for building.

This is both a repository (because there's going to be many mods that allow you to mine in Minecraft) and not a repository (because there's only so many in-game native ways and those aren't quite as subject to maintenance).

One possible, simple solution is to always answer with the native methods and always comment with the mod solutions. If there is no native way to do something, say so and make that your answer. There is value in saying that something cannot be done, and there is politeness and/or in suggesting one popular mod that you can use today to work around the issue. As GLaDOS would say, killing you and giving you good advice aren't mutually exclusive.

In addition, close questions that are obviously looking for repositories of mods, or what we've been calling mod-rec. If you can change it into a question looking for a native answer, good, but then we can't go around and make a mod repository anyway. That's just asking askers to jump through a meaningless hoop; it's basically insulting their intelligence.

It's always bothered me a lot when answers have ignored native solutions and only provided mod-based solutions. I think we should primarily focus on native solutions and give mods as alternatives at best. –  StrixVaria Feb 1 '13 at 0:54
I'm not sure all of the criteria you've used in your spreadsheet don't also apply to many other classes of "good" questions on the site. For instance, popularity. Isn't all voting, at its core, about popularity? If multiple orthogonal and correct solutions are presented, isn't the 'most popular' one going to rise, regardless of the subject matter? Doesn't that then invalidate the "accept" flag, as you've said? The more I start to pull on these threads, the more I see vast swaths of SE getting caught in them. –  agent86 Feb 1 '13 at 3:54
@agent If we do vote for everything based on popularity rather than correctness... Game over, man, game over. As it turns out, the amount of wrong answers that gets upvoted to the top in "regular questions" is abismal. When is the last time you saw a flag requesting a wrong answer be deleted because it got 30 upvotes and now it's stuck to the top? –  badp Feb 1 '13 at 7:49
The problem with voting on game-rec is a bad axis for determining correctness - the correctness axis for game-rec is "how much will I like this game." I think you've over-applied that bad axis to several of the other "mod-rec" types. If no native solution exists to a problem, that makes the solutions depend solely on the asker's preferences? I have to disagree there. –  agent86 Feb 1 '13 at 13:52
I also don't know how you draw a line between "solutions that require mods" and "solutions that don't require mods" and bin one and save the other. If a mod is a solution, but it's also a thing that must be listed, what's so special about mods that puts them into this bucket? Aren't all questions asking for curated/updated list of potential solutions? Isn't link rot and out of date content a problem for any game? –  agent86 Feb 1 '13 at 14:00
@agent86 When you have a native solution, the native solution is part of the game, and changes with it. Changes to game mechanics in a game are rather rare, and Minecraft is the only game where this sort of things actually happens. Mods on the other hand are massively more "in flux" than that. –  badp Feb 1 '13 at 14:42
As for "why can't we vote on mods based on fitness instead of popularity", I redirect you to the answer of "why can't we vote on games based on fitness rather than popularity?", whatever that is. :) –  badp Feb 1 '13 at 14:43
Pretty sure I wrote a whole section in that post you linked directly addressing "Why can't we vote on games based on fitness rather than popularity?" - demonstration of what actually happened is a stronger indication of what will happen, than theory behind how things should happen. Our voting system is imperfect, there is indeed a popularity aspect and some things will get voted for reasons other than their solution presented. But the magnitude of this is demonstrably different between a list of items and a list of solutions. –  Grace Note Feb 1 '13 at 15:02
Here's a thought experiment to paint this in a different light: should SO disallow programming questions where the only solution is an external library? A library is a "language mod," right? "How do I read JPEGs in Python?" - is that a bad question? Python doesn't support JPEGs natively, y'know. Won't people vote on the most "popular" library? Is this a list of libraries sorted by sheer popularity? Is the only solution to the question a list of all libraries that support JPEGs? What happens when the library or language rev changes? –  agent86 Feb 1 '13 at 15:35
@agent86 Easy: SO doesn't want these questions to begin with –  badp Feb 1 '13 at 15:37
Those are "bad axis" questions. You've lumped all questions that can't be answered without a mod/library into this category, regardless of the problem statement or success goals. –  agent86 Feb 1 '13 at 15:37
@agent86 You made a specific example - "How do I read JPEGs in Python?" - and I replied to that. –  badp Feb 1 '13 at 15:40
So this and this and this are all bad questions that slipped through the cracks? All of them request "how do I do X in python" where X is not something natively supported in python. –  agent86 Feb 1 '13 at 15:44
@agent86 First and third example predate the MSO post I linked; second example offers first the native method as I suggest. –  badp Feb 1 '13 at 15:50
I apparently picked an unpopular example. I could go and pick some more (jQuery comes to mind as the go-to solution library for javascript) but I doubt I'll change your mind. Can we skip to the part where we still don't agree? :P –  agent86 Feb 2 '13 at 2:01
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