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Full Version: Introduction to Alternate History and 'What Ifs'
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You may notice that some forums have threads with the 'What If?' thread prefix, which is used to denote threads concerning hypothetical scenarios. In particular, the 'History and Tourism' has a lot of alternate history threads, such as this one:

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So, first of all: what is "alternate history"? Basically, it's a genre of fiction consisting of stories in which some historical event happens differently from how it happened in the real world (for example, the winner of a war is changed; the war occurs earlier or later; or the war doesn't take place at all). Similar to alternate history is "counterfactual history", which also deals with these same "what-if" questions, but uses them as a subject of debate rather than as a literary device. These kinds of reasoned discussions also belong within this forum, alongside the "alternate history" timelines and stories. 

Now, here's an overview of some of the terms and abbreviations which are likely to occur frequently within alternate history threads: 

  • Our Timeline (OTL): The events of real-world history, in the world in which we actually live. (Typically used when contrasting an alternate timeline's events with those of the real world; in this context, the alternate history being discussed would be referred to as the "Alternate Timeline", or "ATL"). 

  • Point of Divergence (POD): The first event in an alternate timeline which differs from OTL (see above).

  • Alien Space Bats (ASB): Used pejoratively, to describe a POD which is considered highly implausible (e.g. "couldn't happen without the intervention of Alien Space Bats").

  • Plausibility Check (PC): A discussion of whether or not a particular POD is plausible. Someone might have an idea in mind for an alternate timeline, but choose to create one of these before starting work on the timeline itself, so that their work doesn't end up being consigned to ASB territory from the beginning.

  • Alternate History Challenge (AHC): One user challenges others to create a plausible alternate timeline in which a specific event happens. Often, there will be constraints on when the POD can take place; for example, "with a (non-ASB) POD no earlier than 1930, prevent World War II from happening".

  • Double-blind What If (DBWI): Essentially, an alternate history within an alternate history. The author outlines an alternate universe in which a certain event goes differently from reality - and then, a character living in this universe wonders what might have happened had that event gone as it did in OTL. For example, an alternate history might be set in a universe where the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 succeeded in establishing democracy in China - and a character living in this democratic China might wonder, from their alternate-universe perspective, what might have happened had those protests failed (as they did in OTL).

So, that should give you a good overview of the kinds of discussions that can go on in here: all of the above could be posted with a "What If?" prefix :P . The last thing to note is that this part of the board is, first and foremost, a history forum - so, I'd like to avoid current politics in this part of the board if at all possible. However, the subject of what does and doesn't constitute 'current politics' is a difficult one which is deserving of its own thread - so, I've started one over here to clarify that :) .

If you've got any questions, then feel free to ask them here. Otherwise, enjoy speculating :) !
I've re-written the final paragraph, following the break-up of the "What If?" section, and the narrowing of the scope of this sub-forum. It's now only for historical what-if questions: those about sport now belong in Sport, and those about gaming now belong in Gaming, for example.
[Removed: These rules are no longer in effect]
Removed the section on what constitutes 'current politics'. That's been revised, and now has its own thread :P .