NOTE: The main purpose of this page is to cover the history of GamerGate.
The Gamergate Controversy is a grassroots consumer revolt movement that first came to existence in August 2014. Like most controversies, it cannot be described neutrally in one sentence. The best summary is that the movement stemmed from corrupt and unethical journalism, specifically in the video game industry, with secondary concerns about the corrupting influence of extreme left-wing ideology on entertainment. It revolves around the #GamerGate hashtag coined by actor Adam Baldwin and has been criticized of practising misogyny and sexism through harassment and trolling by many, specifically Social Justice Warriors (S.J.Ws) and the mainstream media.
Prelude: The Zoë Post and Quinnspiracy
On August 16, 2014, Eron Gjoni, the ex-boyfriend of indie game developer Zoë Quinn, published a Wordpress blog titled "The Zoe Post". In the blog, Eron accused Quinn of infidelity and abuse and claimed that she cheated on him with five other men. Amongst the men that Gjoni mentioned, there's Nathan Grayson of Kotaku, Quinn's superior Joshua Boggs, indie devs Brandon McCartin and Kyle Pulver, as well as Robin Arnott, who judged her game on the Polaris Game Jam (which Quinn herself helped sabotaging). It became what was eventually named the "Five Guys Burger and Fries Incident" or "Quinnspiracy" by Internet Aristocrat.
Those who are familiar with Quinn's history (having sabotaged both the Polaris Game Jam and TFYC for incredibly petty reasons and claimed that Wizardchan harassed her without evidence) immediately were drawn to this inflammatory and scandalous piece. They got suspicious and concluded that Quinn has been romantically involved with people who had covered her game, given her press access, or gave her positive response in contests. The people started demanding further evidence other than the screenshots and videos Eron provided. While no clear evidence of sexual affairs being exchanged between Quinn and any of the four guys surfaced, investigations performed by citizen journalists revealed that Grayson had covered Quinn positively for three times before disclosing that they "dated briefly", and that he never revealed that he was financially supporting her.
Of course, it's not only the story of the faithless lover that interested the people on the Internet. To the gamers, it's the revelation of the men who she had affairs with that mattered: prominent members of the indie game scene, a judge from a Game Jam that she won, and most importantly, Nathan Grayson, who wrote posts for some of the most visited gaming sites on the Internet, such as Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun. Game journalism has been known for its lack of integrity: from DoritoGate, to the firing of Jeff Gerstmann, to the then-recent false accusation scandal involving Brad Wardell. The reveal that a journalist was likely giving good press to a woman in exchange for sexual favors was, for some people, the last straw that broke the camel's back.
Things got even uglier when the investigation continued. As some of the journalists who have recently covered Quinn, like Ben Kuchera from Polygon and Cameron Kunzelman from Critical Distance, are actually donating money to Quinn' via Patreon or IndieGoGo. Investigators also dug up many other cases of corruption or cronyism unrelated to Quinn's, such as Kotaku's Patricia Hernandez's conflict of interest with Christine Love and Anna Antrophy.
""The very first crack in a very large wall of collusion had been exposed by one angry man fed up with his abusive ex's actions. People began demanding accountability - all evidence was that a very real and brewing scandal involving corruption in the indie circuit.""---Lolcow Wiki
In conclusion, if GamerGate is the Great War, then Zoë Quinn is Gavrilo Princip.
Reaction and Damage Control
If there's one thing the media and Zoë Quinn have in common, it's that both cared too much about their dignity to admit any of their misgivings.
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Image used by Matt in his video, which is identical to the one used by Grayson in his article.
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Sure, this will never look suspicious!
Note: This article did get reposted eventually.
First, we have the response from Kotaku by Stephen Totilo, who hand waved the issue as unrelated to ethics, stating that Grayson's article about Quinn was not a review. It was written on March 31, when they were just "professional acquaintances".
On the day following the publication of The Zoe Post, YouTuber Matt Jarbo (a.k.a MundaneMatt) posted a video titled "Hell Hath No Fury Like A Lover's Scorn" critiquing Quinn's "game" and commented on the alleged affairs Quinn had with men of the gaming industry. A DMCA takedown Zoë herself removed the video due to Matt using one of her game's still images in his video.
The rest of the media were practically silent. Games Nosh did try to give coverage but its host demand it to be taken down, N4G also tried, but its article got deleted quickly. While several other game publications, including Kotaku, essentially claimed they investigated and found nothing wrong. It was interesting how so many of the same articles that eagerly treated the Bard Wardell allegations as legit, fell silent when a genuine and provable scandal walked right up their doorstep.
Gamers, on the other hand, were also finding themselves losing their voices, as their discussions about Quinn and the incident began to go dark en masse. Soon it became evident that their assumptions are correct. Zoë Quinn "is" trying her very best to use any connection she has to cover up the incident via mass censorship, using every excuse they can get: sexism, harassment, defamation, copyright violation, etc. One platform after another bowed down to censorship: Facebook, Twitter, The Escapist, Reddit, and even 4chan, which is long considered one of the last online bastions for free speech.
Instead of discouraging and scaring away people, some only became more curious and decided to dig in further; others, however, became frustrated and decided to take out their anger on the closest thing they can blame: Quinn herself. Then some drama hunters from Something Awful caught a whiff of the scandal and descended upon it like vultures to carcasses. Quinn soon found herself on the receiving end of actual harassment: death threats, rape threats, threats directed at family members, and friends came crashing down on her like a giant shitstorm. Quinn will later claim that she and her new boyfriend, Alex Lifschitz, went into hiding because of these anonymous threats.
Little did these hotheaded anons realize they were only fueling Zoë Quinn's claim of being the most oppressed being on the Internet, a narrative that the media would gladly adopt later on.
But there is one group that didn't keep its silence nor get silenced, that being the longstanding defenders of Social Justice. They began to use the barrage of scandals (that involved ONE WOMAN who inadvertently helped launched them) as evidence to support their claim that sexism and misogyny is rooted deep within the gaming industry and its surrounding culture. This group quickly became the go-to defense of Quinn's defenders such as Arthur Chu, David Gallant, or Dan Olson. In many cases, Quinn's supporters managed to shut down criticism of her by essentially claiming that any discussion of the Quinn scandal was to enable harassment of Quinn herself and others like her while treating the possibility that Quinn may have been legitimately responsible for her behavior as unusual. Some will go so far as to handle anything that might disadvantage Quinn, such as Kotaku's and Polygon's ethics policy update, as "results of misogyny and sexism." The same tactic would later be used to defend other prominent female members of anti-GG like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu.
Eventually, this would grow into the popular narrative that GamerGate itself is born from sexism and misogyny. Even comparatively mild members of anti-GamerGate believe the supporters to be unilaterally guilty of harassment, in the same logic that every soldier of the Third Reich was unilaterally guilty of Nazism.
""Hello, have you met the Internet? Everyone gets harassed regardless of gender, especially if they say false things.""---Elon Musk to Noah Schachtman from Daily Beast
Eventually, on August 27, 2014, actor Adam Baldwin became fed up with the constant attempts at censoring discussion about Zoë Quinn and the multiple sub-scandals that are created by it. He coined the hashtag #GamerGate to provide an ability for those interested in the developments of the scandal to to discuss them without hindrance. The hashtag became an overnight sensation, tweeted almost a quarter of a million times in its first week alone.
The "End" of Gamers & Declaration of War
Now, if GamerGate is the Pacific, then "Gamers Are Dead" is Pearl Harbour.
Just one day after the birth of the hashtag, on August 28, an article on Gamasutra was written by Leigh Alexander. It denounced gamers as the site's audience bashed them with inaccurate stereotypes, and stated that the concept of "gamers" "should be put to an end right now."
""Games culture is a petri dish of people who know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works that they can concoct online 'wars' about social justice or 'game journalism ethics.""---Leigh Alexander, Gamasutra
It was only the first shot of the opening salvo of the new culture war. For three days, a total of 14 journalistic sites, gaming-related (like Kotaku, Polygon, Destructoid, Rock Paper Shotgun, Ars Technica) or not (The Guardian, Financial Post, Buzzfeed), published a series of articles that contained the same narrative that Leigh Alexander made: the gamer identity or its culture is over, killed by its sexism and misogyny. It's referred to as the "Gamers Are Dead" incident.
Now picture this: you are a pure game enthusiast, all you want to do is to play games and have fun, conflicts be damned. But then one day you logged in to your gaming website to gain some more news on your favorite franchises, and what you see instead is an article telling you that you are an irredeemable sexist nerd who can't accept someone of the opposite gender developing your toy, the cause of all misery that women have to experience online, and deserve to die. How will you feel?
Then came something even more heavy-handed, an open letter signed by hundreds of game developers and journalists, essentially blaming the entire gamer community for actions that may not have even been performed by them.
Suddenly, this wasn't a little conspiracy theory anymore. Not only were GamerGate's concerns over ethics in journalism accurate, but the very journalists involved in such scandals didn't even bother to pretend that they were innocent of such allegations. Many gamers perceived this coordinated attack as a tangible indication that the gaming media has made a definitive paradigm shift away from reporting on behalf of the consumer, and instead focusing on a biased cultural critique of video games and the people who play them, especially given with their consistent tendencies to inject game reviews with political perspectives, skew scores based on a game's compatibility with those perspectives, while outright ignoring the objective information that the gamers expected to read about in a proper game review.
Overall, Gamers Are Dead is arguably one of the worst decisions ever made in this controversy. Not only did the game journalists fail to place themselves on the moral high ground, they essentially validated the suspicions of gamers they tried so hard to silence and condemn and declared war on a considerable chunk of the gaming community.
"The gaming press declares that gamers are dead. But they are the ones who are becoming obsolete." --- David Auerbach, Slate
And just like that, what started to be an Internet scandal that shouldn't have lasted for more than three weeks grew into a cultural phenomenon that remains relevant as of today.
Keepers VS Pushers, with Trolls Meddling About
Despite all the attempts made by journalists to suppress discussion and guilt players into submission, all of these attempts failed, and positive proof of the media being openly complicit with efforts to cover it up is now well-in-hand. Gamergate would explode in size over the next month. By mid-September, the consumer hashtag movement would grow into a motivated activism group. It focused heavily on making public the information of breaches of journalistic ethics that had been exposed and of boycotting the media outlets that had been responsible for the earlier Gamers are Dead incident.
The most well-known campaign conducted by GamerGate supporters was Operation Disrespectful Nod, which was a mailing campaign targeting advertisers on unethical video game journalism sites - specifically those that participated in the earlier Gamers are Dead Incident. In the campaign, GG supporters contacted advertisers directly and asked the advertisers to reconsider their association with these publications. The publications which engaged in unethical behavior were malicious to gamers - the intended audience that the advertisers were trying to reach - so the letters were an appeal to these companies to protect the integrity of their product by severing ties to unethical media. They complained about incidents ranged from the Brad Wardell scandal to the revelations of the GameJournoPros to Sam Biddle's Bring Back Bullying tweets. Within a few months of targeted boycotts, GamerGate had successfully cost Gawker Media well over a million dollars - which was what Gawker would admit to - and the real damage was estimated to be far higher. When Gawker would file for bankruptcy in 2016, several associated with the company directly blamed GamerGate itself for the company's demise.
In addition to targeted boycotts, GamerGate was highly successful at getting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) involved with affairs of game journalism. The FTC directly got involved in the cases of several gaming websites, provably because of GamerGate's direct attempts to inform them of the situation, and wound up enforcing both disclosure guidelines (to force sites whose journalists cover a game or person of interest they're friends with or financially involved with to disclose that relationship) and covering native advertisements (ads disguised as news). GamerGate also successfully reported Gawker Media for FTC violations, and the only reason the FTC didn't take action is because Gawker ceased to exist before they could. The Escapist also fired Bob "MovieBob" Chipman, and while Bob denies GamerGate had anything to do with it, his posts on the matter paint a very different picture entirely.
While motivated and guided, the one thing GamerGate isn't is organized, as it's a consumer revolt based on a Twitter hashtag wielded by anonymous internet users who can jump onboard and off at any given time. Amongst these anons are people who don't have much to do and crave drama, even if it means creating some on their own. These people are Internet trolls, and where trolls tread, chaos will inevitably descend. The worst part is the haphazard nature of trolls makes it difficult for law enforcement agents to track them down. At one moment, a troll can be making a sexist tweet to trigger S.J.Ws; at another moment, it will be sending death threats to a random GG supporter. The FBI discovered that the majority of harassment, threatening, and doxxing caused during the controversy are the works of factionless trolls. A notable example is when actress Felicia Day got doxxed by an Internet Aristocrat impersonator after she made a blog criticizing GG, Kirk Hamilton made a report on it. Its difference with reality is about as great as night and day.
""It is imperative to stop Gamergate because it's currently a troll's paradise, providing cover for a whole host of bad actors, whether they're pro-Gamergate, anti-Gamergate, or simply wantonly malicious. Whatever a troll does under cover of Gamergate—such as doxxing actress Felicia Day or offering free game codes to accounts that send death threats—is guaranteed to get a lot of attention (far more than typical Internet harassment) and to be blamed not on the individual but Gamergate collectively. For a troll, this is a perfect setup: maximum effect, minimal exposure. I could dox any woman in gaming, and Gamergate would get blamed. So as long as Gamergate drags on, trolls who care less about games than about causing chaos will wreak havoc."---David Auerbach, Slate
The situation had gotten so chaotic that GamerGate formed a vigilante squad, the GamerGate Harassment Patrol, which reports unruly users who broke Twitter's harassment regulations on both sides of the controversy and used their pattern of behavior. At one point, GGHP has even managed to track down a serial harasser of Anita Sarkeesian's: a Brazilian journalist named Mateus Prado Sousa, GGHP's actions were so successful that even Jason Schreier had to acknowledge them. However, Schreier still managed to find a way to blame GG, as if the movement is the mother of Internet trolls.
One thing is sure, judging from the current situation, GamerGate has already developed into something big and is not going to wind down anytime soon. Neither sides are willing to back down.
In the media circle, all reactions and reporting of the scandal, first by the gaming press and then by the mainstream media, showed nothing but open hostility to the movement, to the point that GamerGate s starting to gain national attention.
It became clear pretty soon that these journalists involved have zero intention to have any dialogue whatsoever with the opposite side, and no attempt to properly investigate the scandal that would blossom into the GamerGate flame war was ever really made. Opinion pieces are frequently posted as facts; the evidence is either lacking or outright fabricated; trolls, related to GG or not, are being used to represent the entire movement; the narrative that "gamers" are homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic monsters with no redeeming values are pushed nearly everywhere and was even accepted by otherwise-reputable institutions without a scrap of counter-evidence needed.
Skeptics, those with legitimate concerns, prominent voices in the field and actual journalists, as well as a significant number of neutrals repeatedly tried to approach the press and uninvolved parties and talk common sense, bringing up the logical belief that no situation was as cut-and-dry as the mass media liked to make it out to be, and that it was probably worth looking into the rumors if only to verify that they were, in fact, inaccurate. The response they always received the same: outright dismissal for daring to ask too many questions and people saying that the opinion was irrelevant. Even finding themselves on the receiving end of coordinated attacks intended to shut down attempts to uncover the issue.
On social media, discussion of the controversy is treated as a taboo, and simply pushing too deep was enough to warrant a block or a ban. Being skeptical was simply not allowed, no matter how genuine one's questions are, they will still be received with hatred, condescension, or outright contempt. The message was simple: you either accept the narrative that's being pushed as the truth or you're part of the problem.
""Whilst those demanding culpability came from an enormous plurality of different backgrounds, cultures, races, sexualities, and personal belief structures, the media elected to paint all of them as right-wing misogynists and anti-diversity racists. This was rote fearmongering, plain and simple.""---Lolcow Wiki
The problem was that while journalists can push narratives and spread biased opinion pieces any way they want, there's no guarantee that citizens will buy into these narratives. And sometimes, these attempts often inadvertently exposed the hypocrisy of those involved in them. These journalists, who claim that they are speaking on behalf of the minorities and women who were excluded a place in gaming by the "evil, cis-gendered, virgin scumbag white male nerds" soon found themselves facing GamerGates new ally: #NotYourShield, actual minorities who are angry that the media unfairly portrayed a rich and diverse culture as being homogeneous and accusing them of that most egregious sin by people who claim to be defending them. Journalists, of course, quickly dismissed them as "sock puppet accounts" made by white males as a facade to garner support for their misogynistic exploits. Unfortunately for the journalists, the people they've dismissed as non-existent are willing to risk their privacy and safety to show that they were indeed real people, and they were not ok with being used to further the political propaganda of a small clique of journalists.
On social media, anti-GamerGate seems to have agreed that the best defense is offense, resorting to endless waves of attacks and narrative pushing to shut down the consumer hashtag before it could advance further. However, making accusations is something anyone can do, but coming up with a good solution to shut down a movement with no central authority is simply beyond them. Some of their tactics, as Auerbach pointed out, include:
- Making hyperbolic comparisons of Gamergate to ISIS, the KKK, fascists, terrorists, Ebola, child pornography, etc., etc., etc.
- Result: didn't work, and becomes ridiculous when comparing GG's worst actions to those of actual terrorists and terminal diseases. LOL.
- Endless ridicule and antagonism of GamerGaters on Twitter.
- Didn't work. Instead of Gators backing down, it quickly turned into a flame war of "consumer vs. media" vs. "male vs. female" narratives. No progress.
- Creating counter-hashtags like #StopGamergate2014 or #Gameovergate.
- Their popularity didn't even come close to # GamerGate's, other times they simply ended up appropriated and used to mock GamerGate's opposition.
- Use terror tactics to try and scare people away from supporting GG.
- Is it wise to use the same tactics you've accused GG of using? Also, they simply screenshot the evidence and called you a hypocrite, and you got interrogated by the Feds. JAIL.
- Convenient erasure of Gamergate's many female, LGBTQ+, and minority members, however wrong they may be.
- NotYourShield became more popular and louder and started doing face reveals, which made you look like a hypocrite. Nope.
- Hauling out celebrities like Joss Whedon to condemn Gamergate and telling them their heroes hate them.
- People either stop caring or simply dig up some of the celeb's past day scandals to mock them in return. Also, GG sadly has several big, influential names under their banner. Try again.
- Telling Intel and others they are misogynist cowards when they pull advertising thanks to GG's mailing campaigns.
- Cooperates have always found money more important than ethics. They can either listen to non-consumers and risk losing money, or play it safe and put their advertisements somewhere where nobody will complain. FAIL.
- Threatening to blacklist Gamergate members from the gaming industry.
- Wishful-thinking pieces like "So Long, Gamergate."
- Leave all you like, we'll be around until next year. Nice try.
- Fire-and-brimstone sermons like "Stop supporting Gamergate."
- Too many already are supporting it, and even those who have read your article may still change his mind after talking to an actual Gator. Also, Streisand Effect. Thanks for the free advert!
- Shutting all gamers (not just Gamergate members) out of media discourse.
- You have no more audience left, Congratulations!
- The old "video games cause violence" canard.
- Waiting for more solid proof. Next!
- Defective quantitative analysis.
- Counter-studies will pop up eventually, and your audience can see your gaps. FAIL.
- Defective social science.
- Cherry-picked results, and many not exclusive to GG. Try harder.
- Obtuse social theorizing.
- Socialism and war declaration doesn't work. History has proven that.
""These people are watching a house on fire and refusing to dial 911 because they're trying to shame the arsonist into making the call.""---David Auerbach, Slate
Overall, the controversy is pretty much going nowhere, especially when the two sides are arguing about different things: one side is devoted to demonizing their opponents as nothing more but harassers and never because gaming journalism probably did suck; the other determined to remain under the banner despite its tainted reputation, and getting their revenge on the journalists that defamed them, even if it means siding with some of the less pleasant people on the Internet.
It appears that most people never thought about how simple the solution is, simply admit that the acts of the journalists were indeed unethical and needs to be properly handled like how The Escapist did and that GamerGate's issues are not the gamers' fault, that sexism, racism and other forms of bigotry aren't exclusive to gamers, rather, they're problems with society in general.
""Gamergate could be over in a week.""---Oliver Campbell to Hayley Tsukayama of Slate.
"That would probably end it immediately. Or, if it didn't, Gamergate would have no defense. It would have no reason to exist, and could be universally derided and loathed as just another Twitter harassment campaign.""---Anonymous GG supporter.
It is suspected by many that, due to the timing of the "Gamers Are Dead" articles, both in the quick succession of which they were released and amid an unresolved scandal, the articles were an act of cooperation. That suspicion was proven to be highly likely soon after.
Before, it was widely believed that the coordinated attack is the work of a PR company called Sliverstring Media. But on September 17, 2014, Milo Yiannopolous of the conservative news site Breitbart exposed a secret mailing list known as the "GameJournoPros" agenda or GJP.
This mailing list, which included contact information and multiple conversations between its roughly 150 writers, bloggers, and editors from various game news sites and media outlets, acted as the proverbial "smoking gun" in GamerGate as a whole - the proof that brought many of the above instances of attempted lockdowns of Quinnspiracy and subsequently, discussion of GamerGate as a whole, into perspective. One of the members of the group, William Usher, is generally suspected to be the source of the leaks and one of the people who has verified its contents.
The leak of GJP proved that not only were many journalists from sites such as the Escapist, Polygon, Kotaku, and Ars Technica were openly in cooperation with attempts to bury the Quinn scandal from the start and were attempting damage control as the scandal blossomed into GamerGate (several members including Ben Kuchera pressured Greg Tito into censoring GG discussion on The Escapist), but that they (Kuchera, Grayson, etc.) were outright financially supporting Zoe Quinn and actively attempting to blacklist people in the industry who went against them. Kyle Orland and some have gone as far as trying to send support to Quinn via a signed letter, but others including Jason Schreier disagreed, who stated that "this incident has raised enough questions about the incestuous relationship between press and developers already".
It was also discovered that GJP covered the Alistair Pinsof scandal, in which the publication Destructoid illegally blacklisted Pinsof after he exposed Chloe Sagal's attempted own fraud IndieGoGo where he/she tried to finance a sex change surgery by claiming it was a life-saving operation. Dale North, then editor-in-chief of Destructoid, personally requested that members of GJP to ignore Pinsof should he request employment or coverage of his side.
It was also established that the group was extremely insular and that disagreeing with the hive mind ideology of the group was aggressively punished in one instance Ryan Smith from Chicago Tribune's RedEye was banished from the clique for merely disagreeing with Ben Kuchera.
Turning The Table
GamerGate opponents continued to fight bitterly to ensure that the movement was labeled a "Harassment Group" and "Terror Group". While the meme was getting pushed everywhere that certain ideologies held sway, it simply wasn't sticking, and the opposition continued to suffer loss after loss - in no small part due to their actions.
Thanks to heavy coverage from the mainstream media, GamerGate had begun to attract international attention - and not all of it was oppositional. While the overpowering majority of press coverage of the movement was outright hostile, these same attempts often inadvertently exposed the hypocrisy of those involved in them.
To shut down GamerGate discussions and signal-boost discovered facts about the latest controversy Anti-GamerGate was embroiled in, Anti-GGers increasingly turned to block lists and block bots to hedge out potential "problematic users." One of the better known of these blockers is the GGAutoBlocker, created by Randi Harper, an associate of Zoë Quinn's. The GGAutoBlocker's readme will automatically block anyone who followed specific Twitter accounts it identifies as "GG ringleaders". Unfortunately, Harper messed up the block bot's algorithm quite severely, causing the bot to proceed in blacklisting many separate Twitter accounts, such as KFC and McDonald's. The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) released and promoted this Anti-GG Twitter block bot. However, this quickly backfired when the IGDA started describing more than 10,000 people as "some of the worst offenders in the recent wave of harassment", especially when you consider that this list is based on nothing but guilt-by-association. Most hilariously, IGDA's own Puerto Rico chairman, Roberto Rosario, ended up labeled as a harasser after he spoke out against Geordie Tait, a GG opponent who called for the gassing of all GG supporters.
""I've been in software development for 29 years and that is the most idiotic algorithm I've seen! Is not about who is relevant or not, being tagged as a harasser by this method is harassment itself. But relevancy you want? I was reverse engineering and doing emus before you could pick up a controller. I don't care I'm blocked, it is not a popularity contest, I care about being named a harasser publicly without harassment proof. I'm censoring, sabotaging?! I built a SOPA killer p2p network to protect your freedom of speech! A misogynist?! I'm a primary sponsor of @IncludeGirls group that seeks to increase women roles in tech!""---Roberto Rosario
- The GamerGate Movement on Awesome Games Wiki
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