# Do we really need a rules tag?

Since I'm not a Magic player, I have that tag ignored. When I called up the site I was met with a huge wall of greyed out questions. It seems a whole bunch of Magic questions where re-tagged with "Rules".

That got me thinking. A large percentage of questions on this site are going to be rules questions. I'd even go so far as to say non-rules questions would probably be in the minority.

Wouldn't that make the "Rules" tag redundant? Couldn't every question be considered a rules question unless tagged otherwise?

Do we really need a "Rules" tag?

• I didn't even notice that 'ignored tags' existed until you mentioned it; Magic's going straight in there! – Johno Jun 18 '12 at 15:03
• I was just about to come here to post the same thing. Rules is a tag that could apply to most of the questions on this site, and it just isn't useful. I encourage looking at Arqade to get an idea of how tags like this will scale as the site grows. – bwarner Jun 18 '12 at 15:41
• ... So are we actually going to go and remove rules, then? – Alex P Jun 18 '12 at 20:33
• @AlexP I hope that we don't just remove the tag. At least, it is useful in magic. Can't we change it to mgt-rules, and remove the tag for all questions that are not tagged magic-the-gathering? – Pablo Jun 18 '12 at 21:21
• @Pablo That seems to be a contradiction of what this discussion is about. The "overuse" issue is most pronounced within MTG questions. – Alex P Jun 18 '12 at 21:26
• @AlexP As far as I can see, the people active in magic are not opposing the existence of the rules tag. If the rest of the forum doesn't want that tag, then fine, but forcing the mtg people to not have that tag too seems excessive. – Pablo Jun 18 '12 at 21:34
• @Pablo We don't exactly have a good sample size to establish that consensus right now. – Alex P Jun 18 '12 at 21:39
• @AlexP With the people participating in this thread, we don't have a sample size large enough to determine that Board and Card Games is in favour of removing the rules tag too :P. – Pablo Jun 18 '12 at 21:48
• I know this is off-topic, but just reading the degree of careful investigation, thought, and analysis you guys put into questions like this is what makes me love this site and Stackexchange in general. :D – Gordon Gustafson Jun 19 '12 at 0:56
• Please note, everyone: mass retags (like other mass actions) are an admin function. So please don't try to manually implement whatever solutions and changes are discussed. – Alex P Jun 19 '12 at 21:25

Given the way the tag is used, I'm gonna say NO.

The excerpt for the tag states,

Objective questions about a game's official rules.

Now, there are two ways you could interpret that...

1. Questions on interpreting or applying specific rules during gameplay.
2. Any question where the rules of a game might have bearing on the answer.

Well, #1 seems like a fine, specific bit of meta-data, describing the question and perfectly appropriate.

Ol' #2 applies to just about any question that could possibly be asked. And #2 is the one that seems to be used in practice.

Let's take a look at How does the double strike mechanic interact with other mechanics like lifelink or trample? (picked at random off the front page of the site). Tagged . Noticeably not tagged or .

Yes, the answer involves the rules of the game. So what? This should be true for most questions, whether implicitly or otherwise. Even questions make the assumption that good answers won't be predicated on ignorance of the rules.

I strongly encourage the use of more specific tags when at all possible. Both for proper categorization, and for the pragmatic reason Alex P notes: if you make a tag or tags so generic that they apply to nearly every question on the site, you lose the bonus of having the most popular tag (inserted into the title) also be the one that most broadly classifies the subject matter.

• Have you ever been in a magic the gathering site before, like a forum? I assure you that rules is not a meaningless distinction. Anybody who has some experience in mtg knows that. – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 9:32
• I think the rules tag on this site is pretty consistent. It's full of questions asking for rulings like you would get from a judge/referee. Logically, it's a pretty narrow scope; it's just that such questions are objective, detail-oriented, and often show-stoppers for people who run into them in play, so they're quite likely to be asked on the B&CG.SE. – Alex P Jun 17 '12 at 12:30
• @Pablo. This site isn't exclusively for MTG. If MTG has a specific need for a rules category, maybe a MTG-Rules tag would be better. I just don't see any other game where the tag would be all that helpful. – CaulynDarr Jun 17 '12 at 14:56
• @Pablo: none of which is actually reflected by usage (the rules tag is NOT limited to MTG questions, as Caulyn notes) or noted in the excerpt. Stop and think about this for a minute: even if it applied to every single MTG question it still wouldn't be the most popular tag on the site. But it is. You're shooting yourself in the foot here. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 16:35
• @Alex: either you need to explain that in the tag excerpt ("rules == rulings") and remove it from all of the questions where that's not the goal, or you need a different tag to reflect this. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 16:37
• @CaulynDarr any other collectible card game, like L5R, yu-gi-oh, etc. would have similar requirements for rules questions like magic. Perhaps a generic rules tag shouldn't exist, and only specific ones for games, but Shog9 was arguing that it was a meaningless tag because it could apply to all the questions, and I was answering to that. – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 16:55
• @Shog9 I don't know much about most other games, like you don't know much about magic, and thus I can't say if the rules tags make sense for most of them. Still, stop and think about this for a minute: perhaps the rules tag makes sense for other games in the same way that it makes sense for magic, and that's the reason why it's the most popular tag. – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 17:03
• @Shog9 Could you give us some example of some question that have the tag rules but don't follow the criterion of "rules==rulings". At first glance, I don't find any problem. – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 17:08
• @Pablo: read my answer here - if it "makes sense" for all games in the broad sense of, "applies to any question where an answer references rules", then it's a fairly useless tag. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 17:31
• @Pablo: the distinction I'm trying to draw here is between "questions on a rule" vs. "which rules apply to this scenario". So: the most recent question in the tag is clearly about the former, while the example I gave previously is the latter. A MTG example of the former might be something like this (although curiously the answer assumes the asker is looking for a ruling on the example he gave rather than a general understanding of the rules). Gonna ping someone else to have a look. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 17:42
• Applied the way it's actually being used right now, the tag isn't being attached to questions that aren't primarily about understanding the direct written rules of a game. If you retagged rules to mechanics, what would be gained? – Alex P Jun 17 '12 at 17:49
• @Shog9 but is that distinction meaningless? You need somebody who know the rules well for both. They attract the same type of people to answer them. – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 19:06
• @Pablo: that's my point! If you're gonna slap a "rules" tag on every question that requires an answer from someone who knows the rules... Well, that's all of the questions. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 19:41
• @Alex: I'm arguing that there's an inherent difference between "how/when/where does Rule X apply?" and "Which rules/practices/traditions apply in scenario Y?" - in particular, the latter will almost never be phrased just like that, while the former should always be clearly targeted at understanding a specific rule (and thus fairly easy to tag). IMHO, the fact that folks have had to go back and re-tag so many of these questions with the rules tag indicates pretty clearly that its purpose is not obvious. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 21:32
• @Alex: this goes back to interpretation #2 in my answer - yes, most questions will involve the rules of a game in some fashion, as the game is largely defined by its rules. That doesn't make every question a question about the rules. Note that if this distinction is too fine to make in practice, that alone is a good argument for ditching the tag entirely. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 21:34

My view is that the tag is a meta tag and is mostly unnecessary.

Here is the "official" stance on meta tags, straight from the horse's mouth.

## Is it useful?

I can empathize with the people who propose that it's useful to have MTG questions tagged with so that it helps them categorize the question mentally at first glance. But how useful is it?

My view is that since we encourage users to ask questions in natural grammar (not search engine grammar), it's easy to understand that a question is about the rules of a game if a user reads the question carefully. If a user didn't read the question, then perhaps the topic is irrelevant to begin with and a tag would be equally irrelevant.

Also, the Follower-to-Question ratio of is 0.0102. It has 5 followers despite being the most popular tag for questions. That suggests that most users don't find it useful.

It'd also be interesting to see (but I can't) how many users have ignored the tag.

## How do I use it?

If I were to follow the tag, wouldn't that suggest that I'm either 1) interested in learning about any rules from any game, or 2) knowledgable about any rules from any game?

I think either scenario is rare. A question tagged would ideally be only about rules, independent of any game.

I can also see the usefulness of a tag in that situation, even if it's rarely used, because it won't be used as a meta tag. But the current use of is mostly generating noise.

• Is following the only use case for a tag?? – Alex P Jul 2 '12 at 17:54
• @AlexP I believe it's the intended use, along with filtering searches. – Atav32 Jul 2 '12 at 18:40

The main downside of an overarching "generic" tag is the way tags appear in titles (and, IIRC, digests?). It seems to just pick the most commonly-used tag. That means that, if the rules tag is most questions on most games, you end up seeing "rules - Interactions of multiple Parallel Lives" rather "magic the gathering - Interactions of multiple Parallel Lives" (which is what's happening now, and it's less than ideal).

That said, I think tags like rules and strategy are useful. They provide at-a-glance information about the nature of a question. I think the rules tag represents a conceptually sound, irreducible category: direct questions about how to interpret the game rules in play. These questions may take the form of "How do I apply this rule correctly in this situation?" or "Which rules apply in this situation?" but I think those are both, fundamentally, the same kind of question.

I think the tag's ridiculous popularity has more to do with the strengths of our site than with any kind of vagueness associated with the tag itself. In particular, BC&G.SE is one of the best resources for Magic rules questions on the Internet. Our format is great for rules questions and our user base is very good at answering them with detailed, timely, and accurate responses. In contrast, BC&G.SE is pretty middle-of-the-road for other Magic content, such as deck-building and strategy. It stands to reason that we'd attract more MTG rules questions than other stuff.

I don't see a way forward that involves deprecating rules because:

• There is no clear separation of rules into distinct smaller concepts. (If you disagree with me, that's excellent! I challenge you to find one.)
• Simply retiring the tag and saying that all questions are rules "by default" is a clunky workaround to what's practically a non-problem.
• Perhaps we could create specific rules tags for each game? Instead of rules, we could have mtg-rules, dominion-rules, settlers-of-catan-rules, etc. – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 14:35
• @Pablo.I think that kind of tagging is going to be hyper-redundant for general purpose use. If the MTG players think a MTG-Rules tag is necessary though, I'm all for that. – CaulynDarr Jun 17 '12 at 15:00
• @Pablo: the way you're applying rules right now, a mtg-rules tag would be redundant: it would mean the same thing as magic-the-gathering. You need to come up with a clear definition for when the tag is to be used first - if it is truly a subset of mtg questions and completely different from the ordinary usage, a prefixed tag might be appropriate. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 16:43
• @Shog9 Not at all, there are several magic-the-gathering questions that don't have the tag rules. I have been applying the same definition that mtg forums use. Between the 50 most recent magic questions, 19 don't and shouldn't have the rules tag. – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 17:11
• @pablo can you link a couple of those questions in your answer? – Atav32 Jul 2 '12 at 18:29

I think the current tag is just too general to be useful. It doesn't really tell you anything about the question it's attached to except that the rules are somehow involved, which doesn't really help anyone.

Right now, and are synonyms. To me, would be the perfect tag to use for questions such as:

The important thing to note about the above questions is that the question is about an actual rule, which would (read: should) be referenced in the question itself. Good answers to such questions would mostly be about precisely defining terms, parsing text, and explaining things in a simple manner. "Clarifying", as it were.

On the other hand, a lot of the existing questions tend not to be about a specific rule; rather they are about a specific situation. For example:

The thing that these above questions all have in common is that, rather than asking for clarifications on an existing rule, they're asking for someone who knows the rules to make a ruling. These types of questions tend to require an answer either quoting the rulebook or digging up an errata/faq/guywhowrotethegame to give an authoritative answer.

The types of answers (and thus answerers) you'd want to attract with and the types of answers you'd want to attract with (say) are distinct enough that lumping them together is just doing a disservice to the site itself.

• Really? For your definition of clarification, you need somebody who knows well the rules to answer. For your definition of rules, you need somebody who knows well the rules to answer. How would they attract different answerers, then? – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 19:04
• The difference isn't about knowledge so much as skillset. The ability (and willingness) to parse complex rules and explain them is not the same as the ability to judge a complex situation and apply (and possibly research) rules. There is overlap, yes, but they are not the same thing at all. – goldPseudo Jun 17 '12 at 19:26
• In theory, there is a difference. In practice, is that really true? At least in magic, people who knows about rules is interested in both kind of questions. Magic is probably the game with the most complex rules, so it should be the game where the difference is most obvious. If the difference is not clear in magic, it's probably not clear for any game. – Pablo Jun 17 '12 at 20:08
• The difference is actually more pronounced in games with simpler rules, such as most board games, where anyone can pick up the rules in a manner of minutes. In such cases, the basic attractor to a question shouldn't be "knows the rules" since the bar is so low; attracting people who can "understand and explain the rules" (i.e., a teacher) vs those who can "apply the rules to this novel situation" (i.e., a judge) becomes far more useful. – goldPseudo Jun 17 '12 at 20:24
• I think your third examples for "clarifications" and "rulings" are the same question. – Alex P Jun 17 '12 at 20:27
• I suspect (and I'm waiting on clarification from someone who knows better than I how this game is played) that a lot of the problems here arise from the fact that Magic has both a large ruleset, and a heavily specified canon of interpretation - in other words, it's not hard to find a rule that applies in any given scenario and only that scenario. This greatly tips the balance of questions from those that might be answered from a strategy or common-practice scenario toward those based (at least in part) on published rules or interpretations. Unfortunately, tagging cannot follow from this. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 21:10
• @AlexP, not quite the same, but the vagueness of the questions didn't really emphasize the difference. I have added concrete examples which (should) make the distinction more clear. – goldPseudo Jun 17 '12 at 21:19
• Do you see ruling and clarification being used consistently if we establish a separation? I feel like it's hard to know which is which when you're the person asking the question -- especially, in the case of Magic, if you're an average casual player asking a question that isn't directly covered by the "learn to play" resources but is addressed directly by comp rules. Tags that can only be applied correctly retroactively rub me the wrong way. – Alex P Jun 17 '12 at 21:23
• Sorry, I can't imagine people following the clarification tag anymore than people follow the rules tag. It's also a meta tag and doesn't give more information than a well-worded question. – Atav32 Jul 2 '12 at 14:53

Yes, it is necessary. Tags are not only used to organize questions in categories. They have the role of improving searchs, too.

• But if searching for "Rules" and another tag returns 95% of a tag's questions, was it really helpful? – CaulynDarr Jun 16 '12 at 23:53
• @CaulynDarr If rules are a mayority of the questions, then it is not very useful when you search using this site search. But it is still useful for SEO purposes (that is, to improve rating in search engines like google). And that would in turn help attracting more people to Board and Card Games. – Pablo Jun 16 '12 at 23:55
• @CaulynDarr Searching for [rules] plus another term could be useful, though. Especially for cards that tend to get mentioned repeatedly in strategy discussions (e.g. Day of Judgment). – Alex P Jun 17 '12 at 15:17
• @Pablo: forget about SEO. If tags are hurting your SEO, you have bad tags and bad titles - work on fixing the obvious stuff first. – Shog9 Jun 17 '12 at 16:40