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From my initial read of the generic Stack Exchange FAQ, I was under the impression that answers from personal experience are not just encouraged, they are preferred. Right? If so, does it not then follow that one should cite specific expertise experience(s) that might help lend credibility to an answer, on a topic for which little public information is available and no mathematical proof is possible?

The specific example is the question I asked about age suggestions:

How do game designers come up with suggested (or minimum) age requirements for games?

Aramis's answer seemed reasonable, especially after some clarification in the comments. But when he told me that it was based on some experience as a game designer and extensive experience as game tester, the answer improved even more for me as I wasn't sure if it was just a best guess or based on experience. In my mind, this convinced me that I should "accept" this answer (though I haven't quite yet in case a better answer comes along to this fresh question). So I suggested to Aramis in comments that he add the following sentence to his answer:

"Based on a few games I've designed and extensive play-testing where suitability for children was a common designer question, here's what I've learned . . ."

Aramis did not think this was a good line to add to the answer. He stated that, "In fact, that's one of the things that, in my undergrad, we were taught to treat as a fallacy - anyone whose sources must include their bonafides in order to be credible is probably including them solely to be credible at all."

I'm not getting this. While some types of questions have a strictly objective answer based on mathematical proof or have publicly available information to cite, other types of answers may depend on having actual specific experience. This seems like one such instance.

So for this example, and for other questions of this nature, is it a good or bad idea to cite your own question-relevant expertise experience(s)?

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  • I think my initial wording of the question was confusing as I used the words experience and expertise interchangeably. But they really mean different things. So I conformed to the word "experience" which is much closer to what I really meant. Someone with industry experience to know of the standard operating procedures in that industry (in this case how suggested ages are determined) is more important than theoretical or award-bestowed expertise. – Joe Golton Mar 26 '12 at 17:07
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Good or bad idea to cite your own experience? I choose neither. I have no problem with folks citing their experience, or not, as they desire. I also support other people asking what the basis of the answerers knowledge is. We can't force it though.

For me, a great subjective answer must follow the "Back it up" principle in that either the answer:

  • Must be supported by citing specific sources
  • Must be from the answerers personal experience. Either something they did, or witnessed directly.

As I did on another answer to your question I will likely downvote and/or challenge any unsourced answer. Often, as I think it did in this case, the answer will get vastly better.

As an alternative to citing personal experience, consider that StackExchange has our own system of tracking how likely people are to be giving good answers.

Reputation

It is fairly easy to see how trusted a particular user is with the site, and any particular tag.

If you check out aramis you see that he has a significant amount of reputation here and on SciFi, he has a ton of reputation on RPG. That can give you a certain level of good feeling that his answer comes from a base of game knowledge.

Looking a bit farther, he is the #1 user on here on B&CG. Using a little search-fu, you can pull up the answers directly to examine and judge for yourself.

TL;DR I think that Reputation and a little investigation can yield much of the information you are seeking. Newer members may have to be challenged more often to obtain their bona fides but once someone has a few thousand rep, you can generate a pretty good picture of their expertise.

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  • Thanks - I learn something new about SE almost every time you answer a meta Q. In this case, I hadn't know that you could click on a tag to find out which people have lots of rep - that is certainly a helpful indicator that someone has experience. – Joe Golton Apr 1 '12 at 14:57
  • @JoeGolton - Thanks! There is a lot to discover in the SE interface for sure. Seems to always be something new when I go poking around :) – Pat Ludwig Apr 1 '12 at 16:09
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I found two stack exchange sources relevant to this question after extensive searching:

Should Stack Exchange make room for conjecture and/or knowledge based answers?

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective/

The first is only mildly related and emphasizes that citations are not necessary and actual experience is valued:

there's always room for conjecture, knowledge, and experience to fuel your answers. That's why the voting system works, after all. It allows us to vet things with our own experience and testing, our own understanding of material.

The second is a blog post which discusses best practices for answers that are subjective in the sense of not being provable or something you can cite. This SE blog encourages the community to follow 6 principles developed by the moms4mom group. Here are principals 4 and 5:

4: Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions. Certainly experiences inform opinions, but the best subjective questions unabashedly and unashamedly prioritize sharing actual experiences over random opinions. It’s more useful to share with us what you’ve done than what you think. Everyone has an opinon. It takes zero effort or imagination to have an opinion about anything and everything. But people who have done things, real things in the world, and have the scars and arrows in their back to show for it — now that’s worth sharing. You should be uniquely qualified to have your opinion based on the specific experiences you had. And you should share those experiences, and more specifically what you learned from your experiences, with us!

5: Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references. Opinion isn’t all bad, so long as it’s backed up with something other than “because I’m an expert”, or “because I said so”, or “just because”. Use your specific experiences to back up your opinions, as above, or point to some research you’ve done on the web or elsewhere that provides evidence to support your claims. We like you. We want to believe you. But like wikipedia itself, {{citation needed}}. And good subjective questions make this clear from the outset: back it up!

The key phrase in #5 is "Use your specific experiences to back up your opinions" and the key phrase in #4 is "the best subjective questions unabashedly and unashamedly prioritize sharing actual experiences over random opinions."

If we're to follow the guidelines suggested in this SE blog post, then it does make sense to cite one's experience as related to a question and its answer.

An introduction like "Based on a few games I've designed and extensive play-testing where suitability for children was a common designer question, here's what I've learned . . ." would seem to be in the spirit of describing one's actual experiences that the answer is based on. It may not be the optimal wording (feel free to suggest improvements).

But an introduction like this does help provide the experiential context for the answer, and that makes the answer better for questions of this nature.

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As a professional computer programmer and systems administrator, I have to agree with the basic point that Aramis is making; the facts should speak for themselves, and whether they come from someone "in the know" or not is irrelevant. Prefacing one's own arguments with one's own credentials can just come off as insincere, and the argument itself is rarely if ever any stronger because of it.

I'm not a game designer, but I play one on TV. And nine out of ten actors who play game designers on TV agree that fundamentally, there are three factors to consider when coming up with suggested (or minimum) age requirements for games...

Even if the information presented comes from the very real experience of an actor playing a game designer on TV, or even an actual game designer, that is merely one personal experience out of an industry comprising a lot more than one person. To increase the validity of his position, referencing sources other than himself is the preferred route, rather than tacking on what essentially amounts to "I'm a professional so you should believe me."

If the question asked is one that is actually answerable, which any question on this site should be, then facts are much more valuable than personal anecdotes. Facts remain facts regardless of who presents them. Personal experiences can reinforce a good answer, but they should never replace it.

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  • I understand how your answer applies to coding questions but I'm still wondering about the specific conditions where there is little or no public sources to cite and no theoretical proof possible. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for a particular industry is an example. In this case, there is either an SOP for deciding suggested minimum ages or there is not. If there is, it is not public knowledge (at least not online, as I did Google a bit). Yet, that SOP is a fact, if it exists. Aramis has convinced me (in the comments) that he is enough of an industry insider to know what that SOP is. – Joe Golton Mar 25 '12 at 14:49
  • Can you expand your answer to cover the specific case I'm highlighting with SOP for an industry, or more generally when there are no publicly available info sources and the answer is not amenable to proof? – Joe Golton Mar 25 '12 at 14:50
  • @JoeGolton Whether the info sources are publicly available or not is irrelevant; facts are facts. Credibility in the specific case would better be improved by something along the lines of "Nine out of ten industry professionals agree that..." than it would by "I am an industry professional, and my opinion is that..." – goldPseudo Mar 25 '12 at 15:45
  • @goldPseudo A lot of answers are subjective. I think there is some value in being able to figure out where they come from -- e.g. experience vs. speculation. – Alex P Mar 26 '12 at 14:10

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