8

Yesterday I edited a question and its accompanying answer to change players from A, B, and C to Alice, Bob, and Carol, common placeholder names. The edit was rolled back by another user, before being reapplied by the OP.

Since at least one other user agreed with the rollback, I thought I'd take it to meta to discuss this, since I've done edits like these occasionally and would like to keep doing them, since I think they improve readability.

Searching for Alice yields a bit over a hundred results; searching for questions only (Alice is:q) yields about fifty.

I see three options, which users should feel free to add here as answers to vote on. I will provide the option I like the best as an answer.

  1. Yes, we encourage usage of names of letters, actively editing questions to replace letters with names.
  2. We don't care either way and don't go out of our way to change it.
  3. We actively discourage it.
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Leave it up to the asker how people are represented in their question - be that with names, numbers, or game specific terms (AP/NAP for MtG; BB, LB, BTN, etc for poker) - If anything I would personally discourage the use of proper names and encourage game specific terms or generic terms where these don't exist.

Using names doesn't really add to the question or answer - it makes things easier to read for some people, but harder for others who may start to associate the names with people. It can also detract from objectivity and draw prejudice into a question by giving the characters an identity (sexism from gendered names, racism from ethnic names like Andrew vs. Aaliyah) we may not want to think about this kind of bias, and may not recognize it, but using names in the question can introduce implicit bias into the reader and answerers.

As long as players are clearly identified we should not try to force a specific identification system on people, and I would have also rolled back a revision myself where the only edit was changing a valid system used by the asker (in this case player A, B, C) with one that the editor prefers (Alice, Bob, Carol).

I'd also like to point out that this edit was made and there are comments on the question referring to A, B and C - the answer also was rolled back and not re-edited. This change creates a disconnect between the edited question, the comments (that now cannot be edited) and the answers (unless all also edited to match) and that can cause even further confusion in readers. This example is not as severe as it could be, since the original identifiers were the same initials, but the change from numbered players to names would be more jarring.

2
  • All Magic: the Gathering judge exams and practice tests use proper names beginning with "A" or "N" rather than "AP" and "NAP". They also always clarify who the active player is. This improves reading comprehension without leaving any room for assumptions. With that in mind, I would not blanket discourage the use of proper names in favor of AP and NAP even though that may be your personal preference. – Rainbolt Jan 22 at 18:35
  • @Rainbolt I've taken those tests, and yes they do use A and N names, but those tests have a single, definitive answer known to the asker, and with that in mind using names may also help push potential judges away from biases - SE questions are different, there's no passing grade, there's no direct reward, and there is no definitive answer at all sometimes, and when there is the asker doesn't usually know the answer ahead of time. – Andrew Jan 22 at 21:44
9

As long as the post is clear about which player does what, it should be fine, and does not warrant an edit. This can be achieved by naming the players A, B, C, D; or Timmy, John, and Keith; or Red, Blue and Green, depending on what the author chooses. Of course, A, B, C, D implies player order, so is useful in case that matters. Then again, naming players Mary, Mario, and Manny might be confusing, and should not be recommended.

I don't think the particular names Alice, Bob, Carol etc. are that common names in games as they are in cryptography. The rulebooks of many games use other names, use player colors, name the players by their nation/faction/other such, or are indeed written so that they don't refer to players by any name at all. (That last group appeared surprisingly common in the games on my shelf.)

Therefore, there is no reason to enforce the use of any particular set of names.

6

I'd leave it to the writer's preference. If the writer uses letters, let the letters remain. If the writer uses names (Alice, Bob, ... or Ahi, Boris, ..., Player A, Player B, ... or whatever) then let those stand.

None of those is incorrect or in need of editing.

6

I largely agree with @Andrew. Many games have names that would be more appropriate than the names of the players.

In particular, in games with named factions, you should use the names of the factions (such as country names in Diplomacy, house names in Game of Thrones, etc.)

If the game does not have named factions, this is a stylistic choice. Using actual names has a readability advantage but implicit biases as a disadvantage.

One thing I would advocate for if using "A", "B", and "C" as player names is to refer to them using the full "Player A", "Player B", and "Player C". Otherwise, there is ambiguity in the sentences starting with the word "A" as it is not immediately clear whether it is the article "a" or the player "A" (it is usually clear from context, but may require people to reread a sentence).

For example, the sentence: "A playing technique would complicate the situation." Does this mean "Player A playing [the card] Technique" or "An arbitrary player using a particular technique of game play"? Hard to tell.

2

I don't think it matters as readers can still understand the question if is says Players A, B, C or Alice, Bob, Carol. If a question choses to use them it is okay and if a question choses not to use them it is okay.

What I do think matters is editing a question for the sole purpose of changing the the names of players in either way. If there is nothing else wrong with the post to edit it just causes the question to unnecessarily get bump to the top of the question list.

If you are making other edits to the question and want to change the names I don't see an issue with that.

2
  • 2
    I definitely agree with the overall conclusion that names and letters are both generally fine, but I actually think this means the last sentence isn't the best guidance. If two choices are both okay, and the OP has picked one of those choices, then editing to fix other things is not sufficient justification to override the OP's choice. (The general scenario in which one edit permits another is when there's a minor but definite improvement that wouldn't be worth editing for on its own.) – Cascabel Jan 25 at 20:06
  • @Cascabel After seeing other answers I agree with your statement but I felt it was best to just leave my original advice as other answers have put it much better than I have. – Joe W Jan 25 at 20:33
-8

Yes, I think we should encourage using placeholder names instead of letters. They make the question read more natural, which improves readability.

There's a large number of names we can use for this purpose, the first six of which are usually Alice, Bob, Carol, Dave, Erin, and Frank.

Other names are equally valid of course, but where questions use terms like first player, second player, or just plain letters, we should edit to use names instead for improved clarity.

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  • 2
    I think other answers have covered things pretty well, but just in case this helps you think about editing in general: when you find yourself saying something like "read more naturally", that's a very good sign that you're talking about style, and so even if you have a preferred style (which is thus easier for you to read), that doesn't make it a universally better or more readable style. – Cascabel Jan 25 at 20:07

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