David Cage Refuses To Grow Up, Says Man In His Chair

By John Walker on February 7th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

David Cage has been speaking again. And that means he’s been talking about how games need to grow up, that they’re too focused on shooting and not enough on crying about leaves. “David, honey, would you like a cup of coffee?” “Why don’t they make more games where a child dies?” “Yes David, that’s right dear.”

Describing the games industry as having “Peter Pan Syndrom” during a speech at DICE this year, Cage said the thing he says.

“It’s time to reassess who we are, and what we are doing. Someone who is anxious at the idea of growing up and becoming an adult, and who actually refuses to grow up. And that’s quite a bold statement to make about an entire industry!”

The talk, reported by the heroes at Gamasutra, lambasted the industry’s immaturity, saying it focuses only on a very limited scope of games. He then proved this by saying that the charts are only made up of three genres, “Kids games, Casual games, and violent action games.”

What’s so frustrating here is that while there’s a giant wad of truth to what he’s saying – gaming is a very immature genre when compared to the wider extent of film, literature, etc. And gaming at its most commercial is dominated by familiar shooters and casual output. But it’s so hard to shake the feeling that what he’s really saying is, “Not enough people buy my mad, broken games.” Because the words he uses just aren’t true.

The top selling games just aren’t only made up of kids’ games, casual games and violent action. For crying out loud, sport games! Racing games! They may well still fit into his argument that games repeat the same themes, don’t advance or explore far enough, but it’s horribly undermined when his claims are so obviously problematic. So when he compares Wolfenstein 3D to Modern Warfare 3, on some level he’s correct that there isn’t a massive thematic advancement between the two, beyond technologically. But it’s the wrong argument. If I compare Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand (2013) to Raw Deal (1986) I can claim that both are action movies about small town sheriffs, both have terrible acting and scripts, and both follow similar themes of action movies. But I can’t conclude from this that all of film has failed to advance in the last 27 years.

Just glancing at any best selling games list and you’ll see so much that contradicts his statements. The fourth best selling game on Xbox was Fable, seventh was Knights Of The Old Republic. The fifteenth best selling game on 360 is Minecraft. Nintendo, which for some reason he accepts from his list, obviously wildly contradicts all of his conclusions, and you can include Sonic in most best selling lists too. The sixth best selling game on the PSX was Tomb Raider II. Seventh best on PS3 – MotorStorm, and tenth is LittleBigPlanet. Skyrim appears in every format’s chart. And while PC charts are woefully inaccurate, The Sims dominates by a huge amount, along with StarCraft, Minecraft and Guild Wars.

I’m not claiming that any of the games I’ve mentioned are evidence of an ever-broadening gaming scene – most of them are absolutely derivative of long-established genres. And even though a few are truly original or ground-breaking, what they more importantly demonstrate is the wide range of what is popular in gaming. And that’s not even getting into his peculiar utter dismissal of casual gaming, as if it doesn’t count, when the term more usually means “accessible”.

Even more egregiously ridiculous is Cage’s statement during the talk that, “We need to move away from our traditional market, which is kids, teenagers, young adults.” That’s just utter bullshit, and he has to know it. The average age of a gamer has been in his or her 30s for many, many years, and that’s crept up from 20s in the many years before that. While gaming is certainly a fantastic pursuit of children and teenagers, the majority of people buying the games are much older. And the games are aimed at them too, because they’re the ones with the money. Perpetuating the peculiar myth that gaming is for kids is the purvey of tabloid Glendas and politicians, not games developers. He continues,

“Think about your friends who don’t play. Think about your parents. Do they play console games? Most of the time they don’t play video games.”

Um, okay David, I’m thinking about my dad. And about how every evening I see the Steam alert popping up to say he’s back in Skyrim yet again. And how he raised me with one hand on his gaming keyboard. And I’m thinking about my many friends who are parents who consider gaming to be a main hobby of theirs. And I’m thinking about the many adults who were playing games in the 80s, of whom I would ask for tips, who are now in their 60s and still gaming. And I’m thinking about who I see when I attend gaming shows, or who turned up to Rezzed, and there seemed to be an awful lot of adults amongst them. A majority.

I think I’m primarily frustrated because I frequently lament the sense of gaming stunting its own maturity, of the failure to expand its horizons in certain directions on a commercial level. I want to make his argument, and I really want him to stop making it. Because if Cage’s games are any example of his vision for where gaming should be going, he needs to be lassoed and tied to a tree.

And I like David Cage games! Well, within reason. I don’t like The Nomad Soul – I’m not insane. But I found Fahrenheit, while utterly idiotic, enormous fun. And Heavy Rain, as ridiculously flawed as it certainly was, absolutely did deliver a darker, more morose and adult tone. But they were all batshit, and they all had really terrible stories! Fahrenheit, which beings as what appears to be an intriguing conflation of playing as both killer and police investigating the crime, quickly degenerates into the dumbest sci-fi nonsense imaginable, as you chase an AI across the side of a building, watch girls in the shower, and have a character bloody well called “the Oracle”. Heavy Rain, meanwhile, was so enormously derivative of any number of thriller movies or sub-Stephen King novels that it defied belief that it had been heralded as something so brave and original. Original in gaming, perhaps, if you ignore all of adventure games, but hardly a new direction for narrative. Oh, but multiple endings, so that’ll do!

I enjoy playing his games, and I’m genuinely delighted that he’s striving to be different. But he’s trapped by his own limited abilities when it comes to storytelling. The irony that his writing is so dependent upon mimicking incredibly familiar and hackneyed themes from cinema really does seem to be lost on him, as he continues to decry that the rest of gaming isn’t following his trail.

He went on to lay out a ludicrous manifesto for developers, which if followed would stifle creativity more than any publisher demanding a developer make the same game as last year. “Make games for all audiences” he demands, whether the audiences want games or not. “Change our paradigms” he opines, which is gibberish for “don’t include violence”. Yeah, it’s about time there was a single game without violence! “Can we create games that have something to say?” he says, in defiance of all semiotic theory. “Become accessible” the industry is instructed. Accessible like Nomad Soul, you mean? Lord. “Bring other talent on board” he demands, explaining that his unique use of a singer and an actor is the defining difference between his and all other gaming. Actors in games? What madness! There’s something entirely unintelligible about forming new relationships in Hollywood, then moves on to his frequent lament about censorship in gaming, which is a fair point, although hardly the responsibility of developers.

Amazingly he then declares in his eighth demand that the press is divided in two, with one half analysing the industry, and the other half “you’ve got people giving scores. Just scores.” Whu? There’s a version of my job where I can literally just write a number and get paid?! I think somewhere in this rambling he might be complaining about the growth of user-scores and amateur critics, which I don’t quite understand, and can’t quite understand how it’s something developers can “do” when making their games. Ninth we’re reminded that gamers are important, in which he states that buying or not buying a game is “like a political vote”, which it isn’t.

And if we all do all of this, says Mr Cage, then (and I promise this is the quote reported by Gama),

“Finally, we will have a chance to become mass market.”

My brain just fell out.

Does Cage really exist in a universe where gaming is still a struggling niche hobby, failing to gain mass attention because of all the shooters? It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, a hobby pursued by the large majority of adults and young people, precisely because it does mimic itself, churning out populist crap alongside more interesting content. I fear that Cage is trapped in his own Hollywood bubble of other 40-somethings that missed the gaming boat, and has completely failed to notice the reality of the world around him. Cage really is the one who is failing to grow up here.

I’ve always argued that his games’ greatest role is to try stuff out that no one else is mad to give a go, to see what works. Throw enough batshit at the crazywall, see what sticks. I wonder if Rockstar would ever have tried (the equally ridiculously flawed and daft) LA Noire had there not been David Cage games before it. I’m sure there are many glints and elements of games that have been inspired by moments within his explorations. But he is not the Pied Piper gaming should be following, unless we all want to drown in a river of quick-time events and Indigo Children. The solution for any stunted growth in gaming is not adding a split-screen sex scene. Cage’s obsession with cinema, as if it holds all the answers for gaming, is his greatest flaw. He sets gaming up with the destiny of only ever being derivative of another medium, rather than flourishing as its own (which is doing rather well at, thank you very much).

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223 Comments »

  1. targaryen26 says:

    Gaming is immature. And film as an audio visual medium is excellent inspiration. I find this to be blatantly obvious as are most of the things Cage has said now and in the past. An overwhelming majority of developers have absolutely no interest in expressing anything meaningful about the world. Year after year we see nothing but teenage power fantasies and brainless repetitive grinds. As they are today most games do little more than burn time. Filmmakers by comparison have always aspired for more even in the commercial environment of Hollywood. The first 40 years of cinema gave us Eisenstein, DW Griffith, Chaplin, Keaton, Abel Gance, Fritz Lang and countless others who despite the dismissive attitude of society at the time and the commercial pressures of their employers fought for the right to express themselves and be creative. There is no such fight going on in the gaming industry today. Developers have long abandoned such aspirations and those among them who dare to espouse such views are ostracized by the community. Cage may not be the best proponent of such views but I applaud his courage to utter these unpleasant realities out loud. Gaming is no longer an isolated hobby, the concern of geeks and computer nerds. It is a billion dollar industry and its products have found their way into a majority of our homes. What is the impact on our society and culture? I grew up with film noir, silent era comedies, disney animated films, Spielberg, Star Wars, Kurosawa, Polanski, Coppola, Woody Allen, etc. My thinking and worldview has been shaped by these films and their creators. I cringe to think of what worldview one can develop from grinding like a moron in an MMO or shooting people in the face for hours on end in CoD. John Walker, I resent your article and its tone and I resent even more the rabble of this comment section defending his views. You can all go to hell together with the developers and publishers who turn out this shit every year. I grew up playing games, I love games, and I hate to look around me and to see not a single game worthwhile playing. If you are my age and are not angry with this situation and you are sitting there playing CoD and other shit games, you need to grow the fuck up.

    • Kadayi says:

      Agree wholeheartedly. I must admit I find it frankly quite baffling that Walker has decided to take personal umbrage at David Cage over his talk, given Walker rallies against the industry and the generally dismal nature of games story lines with alarming regularity. Sure occasionally there’s the odd well written game, but they are few and far between, Where as with books, films and TV shows there’s there’s always plenty of meaningful and well rounded experiences to be had. Bizarre tbh.

  2. WJonathan says:

    This reminds me of a hilarious piece of condescension American McGee wrote for Game Informer a few years back. He simply accused the whole world of failing to meet his heavenly artistic requirements. And then went on to make a number of awful games like Bad Day LA.

    Truly great artists lead by example, the creatively bankrupt ones like Cage waste their energy whining.

  3. Kadayi says:

    I wonder if John will produce a similarly angry post about Warren Spector next,. given Spector says much the same stuff as Cage in his keynote at DICE: -

    No doubt Spector’s just bitter about no one buying Epic Mickey II though.

    • novevite says:

      When I listen to David Cage talking, I know he’s a frustrated movie writer/director.
      When I listen to Warren Spector talking, I know he’s an old player/game developer.

      It’s not hard to understand why someone would be pissed off at the first one and not at the second one, considering the first one doesn’t like, or respect, the medium he chose, while the second one loves it.

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        Here’s what Warren Spector had to say about Cage’s talk:

        “By the way, I need to apologize to David Cage who gave half of my talk yesterday [..] I agree with everything you said and disagree with every solution you proposed.”

        The real difference between these two men and you or John Walker, is that they respect each other as peers and commit their lives to this medium. They expose themselves to a wider audience both through their games and their ideas. And they know the pressure this puts on them.

        I have no doubt in my mind at this point that this article was a missed opportunity. Had it been written in a respectful and thoughtful manner, the type of comments it would have invited would have been completely different. And we would have had a great discussion on the game industry and its market. Because it was instead a whole load of angry vitriol adorned with an offensive title and picture, we got exactly the nonsense of your and many other posts.

        • Mario Figueiredo says:

          Oh, and let me say something else because I need to get it off my system (yes, I’m angry too at the spectacle I’ve seen here. It’s not just John Walker who’s angry).

          This is what john walker had to say about Heavy Rain:

          “But I found Fahrenheit, while utterly idiotic, enormous fun. And Heavy Rain, as ridiculously flawed as it certainly was, absolutely did deliver a darker, more morose and adult tone. But they were all batshit, and they all had really terrible stories!”

          Warren Spector had only two games he considered that were special to him in the past two years. He only mentioned two games. Guess what one of them was… Heavy Rain. Clearly John Walker needs a little growing up himself to fully understand and appreciate what these two people are talking about. ‘Nough said.

          • eclipse mattaru says:

            Heavy Rain is a prime example of the adolescent writing gaming needs to grow out of, and there’s no way around that.

            And Warren Spector hasn’t made a game worth talking about in over 10 years, so I don’t even know why he’s still considered relevant in any way.

          • Arglebargle says:

            Have you played both of Spector’s recent games?

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            He must be relevant enough to make a keynote speech at DICE 2013, shouldering the top developers of the year. And who are you? Since you so readily question his qualifications, you must be high up there in the gaming industry… I suspect I should stop listening to what George Lucas has to say about movies because I don’t consider he directed a movie worth talking about in 12 years. Is that your brilliant reasoning?

            As for Heavy Rain, seems you are alone. Even John Walker considers it a mature game, as did the press as a whole. Of course you don’t know this because you really didn’t play it, did you?

          • jrodman says:

            While I don’t agree with the argument “X hasn’t delivered a good Y in N years, so they’re not relevant” I do agree with putting what Lucas says in the garbage bin. He’s had PLENTY of opportunity to deliver something interesting, in fact much more opportunity than when he delivered interesting things. This inverse relationship kind of suggests that his contribution is in fact incompetence and it was only when there were other creative heads running the show that the movies were any good.

            And if that sounds too speculative (it probably should) there’s any amount of easily accessed research and cataloguse of the bumbling fool he’s become. For an entertaining start, there’s always Red Letter Media.

          • ffordesoon says:

            @Mario:

            Oh, please.

            Yeah, John Walker needs to grow up and realize Heavy Rain was actually amazing!

            Or he could just respectfully disagree with Warren Spector. I certainly do, on a whole host of issues, but I respect the man. I don’t respect David Cage, because he’s done nothing worth respecting. And with The Walking Dead out there, he’s got no excuse anymore. It’s like Heavy Rain if Heavy Rain weren’t a fourth-rate straight-to-video thriller with some vaguely interesting but badly implemented gameplay mechanics.

            I want David Cage to succeed. I really do. I’d love to play his ideas. Unfortunately, all we have are his games, and they’re kind of stupid.

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            I thought I made it obvious that the issue is not whether the game is amazing or not. That’s entirely inconsequential. The point is whether the game is relevant to an older audience or not.

            That Warren Spector, on his late 50s, on a talk about the need to target older audiences, speaks of Heavy Rain as being one of the only two games that inspired him in the past two years is indicative of that fact. That John Walker, at the age of 35, thinks the game is “batshit” (sic) is not indicative of anything. He’s trying to define the game in a context for which he is not qualified. So, he needs to grow up.

            Admittedly, I use “grow up” in a venomous way. The real meaning is “get older”. But I couldn’t let pass an opportunity to give him a taste of his own remedy.

          • eclipse mattaru says:

            Since you so readily question his qualifications, you must be high up there in the gaming industry

            Oh, yes, what better invitation to a mature debate than the “I don’t see YOU making a better game” card. You are certainly something.

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            Oh, you are absolutely right. There’s no mature debate with you.

          • Kadayi says:

            @ffordesoon

            “Or he could just respectfully disagree with Warren Spector. I certainly do, on a whole host of issues, but I respect the man. I don’t respect David Cage, because he’s done nothing worth respecting.”

            I must admit I do find this constant weighing of the man, rather than the weight of his words angle frankly hilarious.

            @Mario Figueiredo

            As an aside, you might find the RPS forums more conducive Vs the comments if you’re looking for more reasoned posters.

  4. Sunjammer says:

    I don’t think there’s any other one person in the games industry that manages to consistently irk me the way David Cage does. He’s crossed over from the place of people I just disagree with or have no interest in, to people I want to stop. If we worked in the same workplace, I’d have to reconsider my job.

    Until he delivers a game that isn’t a fucking joke at worst and a carefully qualified pleasure at best, and he manages to put together a game demo or concept that isn’t “Hey look at how much closer we are to emulating Hollywood and hiring REAL actors” (failing to note that pretty much every decent budgeted modern game with a story like, say, Far Cry 3, are already outdoing his stuff in terms of facial mimicry and performance capture, OOPS) , he needs to close his filthy, babbling mouth.

    Shut the fuck up and make a good game, Cage. Jesus Christ.

  5. czerro says:

    I think people are taking Cage’s comments the wrong way. Cage is saying that the gaming industry isn’t taking advantage of the medium. Every medium has it’s pulp, it’s trite pandering, it’s hardcore pandering, actual intellectual musing, pseudo-intellectual musing. Gaming is the only one that is constricted to being either THIS or THAT. I dunno that Cage is the guy to do it, but I get what he is trying to do. 20-30 years from now people will be talking about the book vs the game vs the movie vs the viral film. At the end of the day all these media sources are converging. While people fight it, there really isn’t a logical reason to do so. Cage wants to tell an interactive story or an interaction story. Japan has been doing a lesser version of this for years.

  6. Parrot says:

    Interesting read. More the comments, I admit, than the article itself.
    I’ve been exposed to the Cage [pronounced Kaaj, mind you ;-)] phenomena, since some time, as a couple of my friends work for him… It’s quite funny that his quasi self-proclaimed role as the prophet of video-games is taken so seriously – in my opinion he’s more the L. Ron Hubbard/Tarantino equivalent. Interactive movies (David Cage’s personal wish) is just not the way to go.
    Needless to say that the upcoming planned 2 games will not mark a revolution in the games medium, because stripping down what makes it unique, it’s interactivity and non-linearity, just doesn’t make any sense at all.
    It’s probably useless to underline that the vast majority of investors/publishers will not take risks in financing games that diverge from proven recipes. If shooting zombies/nazis/aliens/[insert your favorite enemy] in the head sells well, there’s no need to venture elsewhere.
    And, yes – the games medium is NOT taken seriously by the world outside the bubble. Why should it be? Have you experienced any meaningful intellectual impetus provided by a video-game in the last 30 years?
    Sure it’s entertaining – but so is watching two squirrels quarrel over a hazelnut.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      “Have you experienced any meaningful intellectual impetus provided by a video-game in the last 30 years?”

      I remember getting To The Moon on GOG all excited. The hype promised me exactly that. I was really looking forward to it (**). As it turns out, To The Moon was a complete disappointment. Both in the narrative as in the forced ending. The game is a horrible mixture of misplaced comic relief, asinine dialog, and the ending one of the worse examples of deus ex machina I’ve seen in a very long while. My jaw was literally dropping at how could this game be so highly rated in terms of narrative. Had everyone gone insane?

      The intended demographics of the game aside, the real matter is that the game lacked a professional writer. And this is really the problem of many games. Of course Freebird Games is a small indie outfit and it’s really not my intention to diminish them. That’s what they had to work with and that’s fine. But one of the things that I find greatly lacking in this industry among its heavy weights is the hiring of professional good quality writers that can create good compelling game scripts and even gain control over game design decisions. Most of the game stories, plots, narratives are actually created by the development team. Other times a professional writer may be hired, but it’s either of questionable quality or not given decision-making power over the game.

      There may come a time when the industry starts investing heavily on writing. A time even an actual Screenwriting line on the game credits (or Gamewriting, if you will) becomes a standard. Even a time when a game that bases its story on a literary work is a common sight. Until then, I very much doubt there will be a yes to your question.

      (**) David Cage games never really stroke a chord with me, despite what may appear from my position on this article comments. It’s not so much their stories. It’s the execution. I’m not big (yet?) on his interactive film approach to gaming. I partially enjoyed Heavy Rain and I didn’t enjoy anything else. My problem with Heavy Rain was simply that I couldn’t connect with the gameplay. I didn’t want to play his “game without a system” approach. I like gaming systems.

      • jrodman says:

        I don’t think your experience with To the Moon is the final one.

        I agree that the comedic elements did not mesh well with the main tone, but within the confines of the story concept, the narrative and plot flowed logically and reasonably from the premise. there was no tricky bait-and-switch or deus ex machina from where I sit. The whole flavor of the flow was being telegraphed from the start, and didn’t require any crazy leaps.

        I think you could accurately accuse it of being cheesy or even schmaltzy, but for what the medium has been able to achieve in terms of writing it stands among the best, for me.

        I’ll readily agree it’s not at the level of a modern classic like Midnight’s Children or The God of Small things, etc, but it’s an open question in my mind whether that kind of construction even works in an interactive medium.

        • Mario Figueiredo says:

          Well, I don’t want to ruin it for someone else. So *here be spoilers*.

          Towards the end of the game when Dr. Rosalene goes off to do her thing leaving you in control of Dr. Neil, while you try to follow her and she puts all manner of obstacles to your progression (btw, it’s pretty obvious even before you reach the end of that excruciating bit of gameplay that you are never going to win) it’s an example of deus ex machina if I ever saw one. You have no idea what to do when the plot seemingly reaches a deadlock. After some talking that is inconsequential to what follows next, she suddenly just snaps “I know what to do!”, takes off and starts doing things you never saw being done or even thought were possible to be done and you have no control over it. The power she wields is immense and you are left merely as a spectator incapable of influencing any aspect of it and not even understanding what she’s on about. Next thing, they are both at NASA. River went from being an autistic to being an astronaut.

          Another big flaw on the plot, btw, is the hidden twin twist. A classical misuse of anagnorisis. You shall never introduce an hidden twin in the middle or end of the story. You are not going to further the plot. You are going to destroy everything you created so far.

          But I do agree To The Moon went places where few did. There’s a certain element of frustration to my ramblings about it. I won’t be playing it for a good while. But when I do, I’ll remember your words and see if anything changes about my perception of it.

          • jrodman says:

            You seem confused on the definition of deus ex machina.

            The term refers to a plot resolution which comes about by some mechanism which has no connection to anything which has gone before. The powers of the gods come out and solve the problems for the characters. The derivation comes from greek plays in which actors were literally added and removed from the stage via a crane to represent ascending or descending re: the heavens.

            You’re talking about *railroading* which yeah, the game has plenty of, but that’s more of a problem with the gameplay than the story/plot.

          • jrodman says:

            Meanwhile, while I don’t think the twin really speaks to any sort of brilliant writing, it very much *did* add to the plot in this game, and clarified unclarified things without being so much fantasy pap like “evil cloud”. So this seems to either disprove that rule or be the exception to it.

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            No, I’m using the term “deus ex machina” in context. I’m fully aware of my choice or words.

            If you don’t mind, I’m going to quote Wikipedia on it (if you have any objections as to this source, please let me know):

            “A deus ex machina [...] is a plot device whereby a seemingly insoluble problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved, with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. Depending on how it’s done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted himself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, or to bring a happy ending into the tale.”

            This is how the game furthers the plot towards the end as Dr. Rosalene vanishes, gaining new surprising powers whilst removing all from you. This after both protagonists (and the player) having reached the conclusion they couldn’t solve the problem.

            “Railroading” isn’t any literary device I’m aware of. But I take it for you to mean the game forcing us down a predetermined path. I actually don’t fault the game for it. The game is clearly meant to tell us one story and one story only. Not the story us players will make, but the story the author wants to tells us. And I think that is a valid game device. I used that thought only when accentuating the presence of a deus ex machina. It’s not meant as a separate thought.

          • jrodman says:

            It’s not sufficient for it to be a surprise, despite what wikipedia may quote. Meanwhile the actions are quite expectable and reasonable whithin the story, plot, and mechanics. It’s just that the player doesn’t get to do them.

  7. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    So, Jonh, if you know the industry so well, where can I see YOUR Dice speech?!

    See what I did here? The ol’ “Unless you can save the whole medium single-handedly, you have no place to criticize it” argument is a bit shit, I think. Is that all you have? “Kid’s games?? But what about Sonic the Hedgehog!” “Games are immature? Looks like someone hasn’t played Skyrim!” “Players tend to be young? But there’s my dad!” WTF is all that? I tend to agree with most of his observations. Just because his games are silly doesn’t mean he can’t have his say, come on.

  8. KenTWOu says:

    Warren Spector fully supports David Cage’s ideas. And that fact makes me really really sad!

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