PhilO

Bioshock: the chickens coming home to roost

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Those who thought I was exaggerating the negative cultural importance of the popular game Bioshock, which presents a massively distorted version of Atlas Shrugged in a way, should read this:

http://www.gamersmark.com/news/2008/05/1/12144

May 8th, 2008 (11:16pm) - More and more videogames are making their transition to the big screen and with Take-Two Interactive’s Bioshock on the list of upcoming adaptations, fans are likely to be a bit skeptical in believing that the game’s critically acclaimed story and atmosphere could be done justice as a feature-length film. This, of course, all depends on the talent involved in the film’s creation and it’s surely a pleasure to report that Gore Verbinski, the director of the wildly popular "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, is attached to direct and produce "Bioshock" with screenwriter John Logan, known for his work in "The Aviator," planned to work on the screenplay.

"This deal gives Universal the opportunity to have the immersive, addictive universe of Bioshock interpreted by a filmmaker with unrivaled abilities to convey story, action and large-scale, fantastical visuals," said Universal co-chairman David Linde.

The game and movie takes place in a underwater metropolis that is based on the free market principles of Ayn Rand. However, like any good story, things turn awry. Players control a pilot who crash-lands at a secret entrance to the city, called Rapture, and is drawn into a power struggle during which he discovers that his will is not as free as he’d thought.

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Those who thought I was exaggerating the negative cultural importance of the popular game Bioshock, which presents a massively distorted version of Atlas Shrugged in a way, should read this:

http://www.gamersmark.com/news/2008/05/1/12144

I actually played through the game (I bought it out of curiosity) and it’s not exactly anti-Objectivist; but it definitely promotes ideas counter to Objectivism. Let me explain:

The creator has said several times that the game is about, “when good ideas go bad”, or “when ideas are taken too seriously” and that’s more the point of the game. The villains aren’t bad because they are Objectivists, but because they are “fanatics” and “dogmatic.” In fact, there is even a certain admiration for the ideas within the context of the game.

But that shows a basic detachment of ideas from reality. The creator also implied that we can never live up to our ideas, and that tells us something about them.

It doesn’t even criticize objectivism intelligently either; in never addresses ideas. The city, Rapture, and the characters, are distorted caricatures of Objectivism. With heroic statues around, and bars and clubs named “Minds torch” and “New Heights lounge”; it shows the writers know something about Objectivism, and it’s the part of the game I find most insulting; because, rather then open criticism, it comes of as mocking the things I like.

In fact, I don’t know how this game can be seen as criticizing Objectivism, because it never really does. It just shows that it falls apart, but throughout the game it becomes clear that it wasn’t the ideas that made it fall apart, but the people, who are all neurotic or amoral or evil in some way (but again, this compliments the real theme of the game.)

It’s like, if I go out to criticize Communism, and instead of dealing with the ideas, I just portray all communists as vampires. This kind of criticism doesn’t really mean anything.

But the constant misinterpretations, distortions, and mocking are still annoying.

-Ryan

P.S. – I don’t want to imply that the game has bad production values, because it does. The game-play is great, the design is incredible, and the story is actually somewhat interesting (if it wasn’t a constant assault on my values, I would really recommend it.)

P.P.S. – Ultimately, this might help people find Objectivism; I visited a video-game forum once, and there are tons of people saying that Andrew Ryan’s (Ayn Rand's) philosophy really spoke to them.

Ultimately, Ayn Rand’s ideas are stronger then this criticism, this game might be a gateway to them.

P.P.P.S – I think Objectivism can stand the test of time and criticism, because they are good ideas. I don’t remember who said this, but it’s a good quote:

“Only fools and liars fear dissent.”

Of course, this doesn’t mention weather the honest and rational should fear the fools and liars.

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[...]

It doesn’t even criticize objectivism intelligently either; in never addresses ideas. [...]

In fact, I don’t know how this game can be seen as criticizing Objectivism, because it never really does. It just shows that it falls apart, but throughout the game it becomes clear that it wasn’t the ideas that made it fall apart, but the people, who are all neurotic or amoral or evil in some way (but again, this compliments the real theme of the game.)

It’s like, if I go out to criticize Communism, and instead of dealing with the ideas, I just portray all communists as vampires. This kind of criticism doesn’t really mean anything.

[...]

In fact, I don't know how people can be seen as criticizing capitalism, because they never really do. They just show that the people makes the system fall apart, but throughout life it becomes clear that it wasn't the people who made it fall apart, but the money, which is neurotic or amoral or evil in some way (but again, this complements the real theme of the game, erm, I mean, man being born with an incipient evil nature.

It's like, if I go out to criticize Capitalism, and instead of dealing with the ideas, I just portray all businessmen as evil bloodsuckers that take shirts off the backs of the working poor. This kind of criticism doesn't really mean anything.

P.S. - There is no middle ground for judging someone who uses Ayn Rand’s consciousness and life’s work - and name - for his gain while spitting on it.

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While I was playing the messages spoken by Andrew Ryan (The capitalist who built the city) really seemed to agree with me. Though I can imagine some people cringing at them.

Another thing is, it portrays Rapture as the pure Objectivist city, but it is far from it! Would Galt's Gulch have state operated PA systems that blurt propaganda 24 hours a day? Would there be huge government posters everywhere saying things like "A man chooses - A slave obeys" and "The parasite fears three things, free markets, free will and free men". As true as the messages are, there is no place for government indoctrination in a capitalist society.

Another thing that is disturbing is that Andrew Ryan turns men into "Big Daddies" which protect the genetically modified children (Little Sisters), both of which are state drones that wander around collecting genetic material from corpses. What kind of capitalist government would do that?

It portrays what it claims is an idea in its purest form, but what is actually so far from Objectivism that it becomes unrecognisable.

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Another thing is, it portrays Rapture as the pure Objectivist city, but it is far from it! Would Galt's Gulch have state operated PA systems that blurt propaganda 24 hours a day? Would there be huge government posters everywhere saying things like "A man chooses - A slave obeys" and "The parasite fears three things, free markets, free will and free men". As true as the messages are, there is no place for government indoctrination in a capitalist society.

Another thing that is disturbing is that Andrew Ryan turns men into "Big Daddies" which protect the genetically modified children (Little Sisters), both of which are state drones that wander around collecting genetic material from corpses. What kind of capitalist government would do that?

It portrays what it claims is an idea in its purest form, but what is actually so far from Objectivism that it becomes unrecognisable.

That's exactly the point!!!!!

If one already knows about Objectivism, you can see that. If you're in the majority who *don't*, what impression about the philosophy and its supposed implications will you walk away with, if the claim has been made that the game represents the logical consequences of men acting on the ideas (as most of the reviews I've ever read of that game basically state)?

Anti-capitalist propaganda from the time of the Soviets till the present, of the sort mentioned by Cometmaker, has infiltrated American culture very successfully. Attacks on the rich are ongoing, and far from being smacked down by popular opinion, are supported by it. I still routinely see the phrase "robber barons" thrown around as though it weren't the dumbest catchphrase ever invented. Is it successful because it's true? No. It's worked by the technique of the big lie, it's repeated incessantly for decades until most people take it as axiomatic that selfishness is evil, making money is suspect, and making lots of money is just evil.

To have the only philosophy in history that is the *answer* to that kind (and much more) of nonsense smeared by a popular videogame being made into a big budget movie presenting a horribly twisted vision of the Valley in Atlas Shrugged, that will be released long before the real Atlas Shrugged movie, is nothing to applaud or be happy about.

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My impression of Bioshock was one big long Strawman argument. Presented with beautiful graphics and with great game play. My reasons for thinking this are very similar to those listed above.

What concerned me most wasn't the fact that they had anything coherent to criticise Objectivism with. Is that it would infect the minds of those who didn't know any better against those Objectivist ideas before they even got a chance to be exposed to them.

I know Ayn Rand didn't appear to be too fussed about it. I can't remember the quote, but I know Ayn Rand only sought to speak to those who hadn't already betrayed their humanity. But still, it'd be nice if those people weren't led to the slaughter before they knew they were being led to the slaughter. That said, movies and books have been doing it for a long time... it was pretty much only a matter of time before video games got in on the act of betraying their patrons.

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The closest thing I've ever seen to a video game that embodies Objectivist principles is one that is not related in any way to the philosophy, or ever claimed to be (as far as I know). It's Ultima Online, to which I used to subscribe, though it's been over two years since I stopped. This describes the game as of then; I can't speak to any changes that may have occurred since I left.

The game is a fantasy world, where you create characters like fighters and wizards, or, importantly as I mention below, craftsman and merchants. It's not mystical at all - the "magic" is a sort of collectable, developable technology, and even the "religions" are about gaining and improving abilities and nothing else. Unlike many fantasy games, the only "race" available is human - there are no players who were goblins, elves, or the like, but there are NPCs (non-player characters) who are all sorts of creatures. None, however, existed with more than animal-level behavior, thus making humans the only truly sentient entities in the game. There were human "shopkeeper" NPCs in the towns, but they existed only to facilitate the purchase of basic goods with the gold you acquired, so they were basically vending machines.

When I was a subscriber, you could play the game in two primary modes, represented by two "parallel universes" (so to speak - there were names for them but I don't recall what they were). The only difference between the two was that in the first you could attack other players, and in the second you could not. Some might consider that difference unimportant, but the monumental impact it had was that in the world where you couldn't attack other players, it had the exact effect of eliminating the initiation of force against your fellow man. The only way you could advance was by practicing and improving your characters skills, and (and this is the big one) trading values with other players. The result was pure, lassiez-faire capitalism. If you wanted something, you had to obtain it from nature (kill a monster, find and train wild animals, even mine ore) or you had to trade for it with other players. There was no other way to obtain in-game values!

There were minor exceptions to this "limit" on the ability to achieve values, though these really made no difference. For example, occasionally the company running the game would award special gifts, usually for long-time subscribers. Usually these took the form of weapons/armor with special properties, or special objects you could display in your house. If you had a house - land where houses could be built was always in extremely short supply, so you either got lucky and found a patch were someone had left the game, leaving their house to deteriorate and eventually disappear, or you bought one from another player on the rare occasions one was for sale - and as you might expect, the prices were precisely what the market would bear, so you had to be extremely successful (i.e. have LOTS of money) to purchase one. Also, it wasn't possible to advance the technology from within the game - such a cabability would have to have been implemented by the developers. So no new inventions. But as far as the "social system" was concerned, everything was voluntary, and exploitation of natural resources (including creature killing, of course), industry (as far as the programming would allow), and trade were all that were possible, and that on a completely individual level. Certain types of groups were officially recognized by the game (guilds, for example), but none amounted to more than clubs - they didn't have anything that mattered in the way of special privileges or extra capabilities. Other than that, players could cooperate to mutual benefit (many merchant locations were cooperative ventures), but everything was voluntary and up to the individual player.

A couple of the more interesting things you could with your character was become a merchant and/or craftsman. You could turn your house (again, if you could get one :D) into a shop, and place your wares on display for any passer-by to purchase. (Stealing was impossible - see below.) You could also develop skills at such occupations as blacksmith, armorer, clothier, etc. Blacksmiths could even go into the mountains and mine their own ore! Animals could be turned into hides and meat, too, then those could also be sold. Herbs and plants could be collected and sold (primarily as ingredients necessary for magic spells), wild animals could be tamed (and sold), etc.

The fact that stealing and other crimes were impossible could be taken as a limit on free will, but apart from that being a consequence of a game having many more limits than the real world, thus requiring its developers to impose restrictions, I think in this case that is far, far overshadowed by the benefit, philosophically, of observing a "world" where the intiation of force has been eliminated. Yes, elimination of the ability to attack players could also be seen as a limit on free will, but you could "travel" to the other universe where it was possible if you wanted to have that (I never did for more than a few minutes, so I couldn't say what that universe was like). You could just as easily interpret "impossible to initiate force" as "universal acceptance of that as a principle," but, again, what matters was that that universe showed exactly what would happen in such a world. The better you were at adhering to reality, the more successful you would be, and that was a consequence, an "emergent property" of play - the game itself did not implement it.

I'm curious to learn if anyone else (not just here on the FORUM, but anywhere) ever noticed this and wrote anything about it. Something to research when I can get to it on my to-do list. :D

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I'm curious to learn if anyone else (not just here on the FORUM, but anywhere) ever noticed this and wrote anything about it. Something to research when I can get to it on my to-do list. :D

I never played Ultima Online but you make an interesting observation.

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Attacks on the rich are ongoing, and far from being smacked down by popular opinion, are supported by it. I still routinely see the phrase "robber barons" thrown around as though it weren't the dumbest catchphrase ever invented. Is it successful because it's true? No. It's worked by the technique of the big lie, it's repeated incessantly for decades until most people take it as axiomatic that selfishness is evil, making money is suspect, and making lots of money is just evil.

I have heard intelligent, prosperous businessmen, including my ex-husband with whom I had a horrible fight, pronounce the Robber Barons as being guilty as charged. Before studying Objectivism, I couldn't understand how they could make such casual, illogical remarks as my childhood hero was Andrew Carnegie. I would just shake my head and wonder, "Who is wrong?" Of course, I never really considered myself to be wrong, but it was more frustrating that I couldn't prove I was right.

Thank you Miss Rand.

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For those unfamiliar, these are the speeches made by the man you set out to kill in the game. The man who is supposed to be Ayn Rand.

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For those unfamiliar, these are the speeches made by the man you set out to kill in the game. The man who is supposed to be Ayn Rand.

That was an excellent one. That doesn't make the game better, it just reinforces how rotten it is.

You have to put this into the sum total of the context of the game, including his *other* remarks throughout the game and especially how Rapture is deliberately presented as the ideal result of what he discusses in his speech. The result is an attempt to show that the ideas are at the least *impractical*, and in reality, *immoral* and wrong.

Regardless of what some here try to state to the contrary, the fact is that the Valley in Atlas captured a lot of imaginations because - in fact - it shows a microcosm of a truly ideal society. One too small to have a formal government, but large enough to actually *be* a working ideal society. What makes it ideal are the rational, non-sacrificial nature of those in the Valley. Now imagine that Ayn Rand had portrayed the Valley as a place that disintegrates into total violence and mass murder. What would that have meant for (1) the novel, (2) the philosophy? The answer is obvious. It would imply that Man in *intrinsically* evil, laden with original sin, unable to rise beyond an inevitable self-destruction, and one must be wary of all "noble ideals" and "deep thinkers" and the best one can do is just "go with the heart" (which is the message conveyed at the completion of the game if you followed the path of not killing the "little sisters".)

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Yes, at the end of the game; if you have saved each little sister (mutated and controlled children who wander around collecting genetic material from corpses. Owned by Andrew Ryan (Ayn Rand)!!) It goes off into a "happily ever after" ending where they return to the surface and live out their lives. It implies a few things

1) The real (altruist) world, for all its failings, is as good as it is going to get.

2) Love is all a man can justly aspire to

3) Happiness is only found through the serving of others (rescuing the mutant children)

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Those who thought I was exaggerating the negative cultural importance of the popular game Bioshock, which presents a massively distorted version of Atlas Shrugged in a way, should read this:

I'm a bit late to this party, having refused to pay $50 for this game. However, it's now being sold at bargain prices, and I was able to get it for $5. Big mistake--even at that amount, I feel like I just contributed money to the demise of the world.

I don't think I can express just how evil this game is. It has absolutely no redeeming features, and playing the game felt like I was perpetrating a crime against Ayn Rand's memory. I got to the second level and just stopped--I couldn't go any further. Some first person shooters make me nauseous (something about poor framerates and rapidly shifting perspectives), and this one did, but with a twist--my discomfort came not just from the video, but from the game's content.

Reading perversions and corruptions of Objectivism is one thing. Actually experiencing them, as one does in an admittedly very well-executed video game, is another entirely. Short of completely immersive virtual reality, this is probably the medium that most directly engages not only all of the senses, but that puts one into an entirely different sense of life as well--for want of a better formulation. And this game is as bad a misrepresentation of Objectivism as I've ever come across.

Phil, you cannot possibly overstate this game's negative impact on the culture and on Objectivism. Given that video games are played predominantly by the young, the impact is even more disturbing.

I am simply appalled, and needless to say will be uninstalling that game from my system immediately.

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Phil, you cannot possibly overstate this game's negative impact on the culture and on Objectivism. Given that video games are played predominantly by the young, the impact is even more disturbing.

University intellectuals have snubbed Objectivism for over half a century now. Their answer, rather than argue against it, was to pretend it didn't exist. Wasn't Atlas Shrugged listed as the second most influential book in America, next to the Bible? Yet the philosophy is not even read in most schools. So while I can understand your disgust for the game because it misrepresents Miss Rand's ideas, we've seen the alternative in this culture. I want people talking about it, even if they're wrong, because that can be corrected. The honest ones will go to the source and judge for themselves; the dishonest ones don't matter.

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Phil, you cannot possibly overstate this game's negative impact on the culture and on Objectivism. Given that video games are played predominantly by the young, the impact is even more disturbing.

University intellectuals have snubbed Objectivism for over half a century now. Their answer, rather than argue against it, was to pretend it didn't exist. Wasn't Atlas Shrugged listed as the second most influential book in America, next to the Bible? Yet the philosophy is not even read in most schools. So while I can understand your disgust for the game because it misrepresents Miss Rand's ideas, we've seen the alternative in this culture. I want people talking about it, even if they're wrong, because that can be corrected. The honest ones will go to the source and judge for themselves; the dishonest ones don't matter.

I don't think I can agree with you. In spite of the cliche, there is such a thing as bad publicity, and I think that essentially honest people can write something off and never return to it if their initial impression is bad enough. I know that had I personally first learned of Objectivism through playing this game, I would have been left with such a bad taste that I would have actively avoided any other exposure to the philosophy. Certainly, I don't have time in my life to hunt down more information on things I find inherently distasteful--and why would I? Indeed, it's the game's impact on honest people that most concerns me.

And, after playing the game for even a little while, I had to conclude that actually playing out such vile ideas was vastly worst than merely reading them or watching them in a movie. I think the impact on a young mind must be terrible.

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I'm a bit late to this party, having refused to pay $50 for this game. However, it's now being sold at bargain prices, and I was able to get it for $5.

In case anyone is wondering how I was able to purchase the game for only $5, check out www.steampowered.com. It's an entirely legitimate (indeed, the premier) online purveyor of downloadable software. They often have very nice specials, and carry many of the most popular and recent games.

Highly recommended.

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I want people talking about it, even if they're wrong, because that can be corrected. The honest ones will go to the source and judge for themselves; the dishonest ones don't matter

In good news, I've been approached by several people who played it and were curious. Not to advocate the means justifying the ends, but there's definitely a positive effect on the ground so far. I certainly enjoy talking to people about reason and liberty, so it's quite nice for me as a club leader. :)

P.S. – I don’t want to imply that the game has bad production values, because it does. The game-play is great, the design is incredible, and the story is actually somewhat interesting

Indeed, the game is technically incredible. I played with full DX10 graphics on a computer that can shrug off the footprint of Vista. The NPCs and weapons are nicely balanced and varied, the maps are novel and visually rewarding, and there are plenty of places to explore outside the main story. There's engaging backstory. It's a great first-person shooter, but a bit lacking in the RPG elements. The interface is clumsy and seems dumbed-down for console players, as the lack of a keyboard creates some control issues for in-depth games.

I didn't actually pick up much on the "they're picking on Ayn Rand" theme much. There are a great deal of little things like the names of stores and the propaganda throughout the world, but I found the game much more questioning a few common themes than all of the nominal correlations to Objectivism. It had a few simple, poignant themes. Is it morally acceptable to harm another to help oneself? What does it mean to be free? How are we to pursue an ideal?

The first is pretty obvious with the choice of killing the little girls to help yourself along or curing their modification but denying yourself their Adam (value in game).

You the player were designed/created with the express goal of killing Andrew Ryan and be obedient to Atlas/Fontaine thereafter. There's a few nice mind control scenes built into the game, but needless to bore you, when Atlas/Fontaine says "Would you kindly?", you have no choice but to follow his instructions. Imagine a human SHODAN with a copy of Atlas Shrugged - which would explain the “spiritual successor to System Shock” bit. (credit) The dialogue has changed, but not the character itself. I half expected to hear Fontaine say "When the history of my glory is written, your species shall only be a footnote to my magnificence."

Out of the intense desire to be ideal in every way, the genetic modifications were used well into excess by most citizens and they became stark mad. You can see this desire and madness throughout the world as you explore it - the advertisements, the plastic surgeon and his patients, the artist, the men and women who depended on Fontaine's homeless shelters/kitchens.

"With genetic modifications, beauty is no longer a goal, or even a virtue. It is a moral obligation. Do we force the healthy to live with the contagious? Do we mix the criminal with the law-abiding? Then why are the plain allowed to mingle with the fair?" Dr. Steinman, the plastic surgeon

There was a point in the game where Fontaine told you about how the people who came to Rapture had dreams of becoming great captains of industry and when it didn't happen, they realized someone had to clean the toilets as well. He elaborated into how when you gave them a dime's worth of soup a day, they gave you their life. Fontaine imported things against Ryan's will, such as booze, Bibles, and high-value items. (It's creepy to hear a splicer sing “Jesus loves me” as you're trying to leave a dark room in one piece.) He created an army out of people who were easily manipulated by a simple desire taken irrationally.

"We all come down here, figured we'd all be part of Ryan's Great Chain. Turns out Ryan's chain is made of gold, and ours are the sort with the big iron ball around your ankle. He's up in Fort Frolic banging fashion models...We're down in this dump yanking guts out of fish. Fontaine's promising somethin' better; he's like one of us, 'ya know? Like he's worked a day in his life. He says to meet him at his fish-packing joint at eleven. I'll go, bring a couple of guys...Hey, it's not like things can get a lot worse!" Peach Wilkins, dock worker

Andrew Ryan went absolutely insane with power and paranoia over Fontaine. So much so he killed several of his mistresses, crucified/burned/hung/otherwise killed a bunch of people, and manipulated the crazy splicers with pheromones. With his crazy reactions (killing people was just the end of it), the people had enough and justly went into rebellion. He lost control of the city and himself.

"Ryan nationalized Fontaine Futuristics - he owns it now, lock, stock and barrel. For the good of the city, he says. He'll break it up in due time, he says. I've resigned from the council and lodged me letter of protest, but that's just pissing in the wind. It'll be war, I say... unless somebody stops Ryan and right fast." Bill McDonagh, general contractor and friend of Ryan

The bad guys are bad because they hurt people (and both Ryan and Fontaine are bad), and you the player are good or bad depending solely on whether or not you harm the little girls. It was a fun game, but the story didn't live up to the hype. Maybe I'm a bit sour, but I heard of the game several years before release date and it was going to be the next System Shock or Deus Ex - which it isn't. I know there were some thinking it might be a truly Objectivist game with high production values and large audience. Through the pre-release hype, it looked to be that from time to time. The end product is nothing of the sort.

While I understand being upset over the use of Objectivism in a video game, I found the usage to be pretty petty. The usage of "Objectivism" (it isn't in a recognizable form) is a superficial touch to a common theme (founding a community based in ideals, separate from the rest of the world) to convey a few things the player may think about if they're perceptive enough to pick up on it. The core plot values aren't specifically pro- or anti- Objectivist, nor do they say anything about Objectivism.

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