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Author Topic: Scope & what I mean by it  (Read 8191 times)
Josh Roby
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« on: October 17, 2005, 03:21:38 PM »

Over in [Conquer the Horizon] Godfria, Mars thread, Roger asked me to elaborate what I mean by 'scope'.

The scope of a game is the imaginary territory from which content is drawn -- that is, in a Buffy game, the scope includes monsters and witticisms; in a historical recreation of Enlightenment Italy, scope includes doges and naval power.  Imagined content may be within or without the scope of the game, and must pass this initial test as part of being ratified by the other players.  If I want to introduce a vampire to the game, it will be accepted easily into Buffy but I'd only get weird looks at the Italy game.

Scope is an element of System (usually unwritten) which sponsors many articulation interactions, for anybody who's read the Interaction Model.

Scope works at both the macroscopic and microscopic levels -- at the macroscopic level, it comes in the form of "this game is about tanks and guns" while at the microscopic level, it comes in the form of "coming around the corner is a faerie warlord."  In the most traditional and old school games, scope at both levels is controlled by the GM -- only the GM gets to decide what elements get added to the game.  Newer games have loosened up one or both ends, so non-GM players can either contribute to what is involved in the setting, add elements to the current situation, or both.

You could make an argument that scope is constrained by the gamebook the group is playing out of, but I find any published material to be inspirational, not directorial.  The GM/players can always ignore or amend the scope presented in the "world" section of the book.

To illustrate: a houserule that I've played with forever concerns Flaws/Disadvantages and the like.  The house rule goes: "If you put it on your sheet, it will crop up in the game."  While some players have been annoyed that their Mistaken Identity flaw actually gets used instead of just giving them free points, this is me-the-GM giving the players an element of control over scope.  I take their character sheets as direct requests -- no, demands -- for specific elements of play, and provide that for them.  In FLFS, that process is systemized so that the players' Thematic Batteries directly translate into the conflicts of the adventure that the GM prepares.  I believe PTA uses a similar setup, but I am a bad designer for not having bought a copy yet.

Roger and everybody else -- does that all make sense?  Am I just putting a new term to a concept that is already in use and I haven't noticed?
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Roger
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2005, 06:00:09 PM »

(First off, thanks for moving this thread over.)

Interesting stuff, Joshua.  Thanks for the explanation -- I think it's clearer now.

I'm going to drop back into some terms from the Glossary to try to articulate things.

Exploration
The imagination of fictional events, established through communicating among one another. Exploration includes five Components: Character, Setting, Situation, System, and Color. See also Shared Imagined Space (a near or total synonym).


I see scope, as you've described it, as defining the edges or borders of what the Shared Imagined Space could be.

Everything which exists, or could exist, in the SIS is in scope.  Everything which couldn't possibly enter the SIS is out of scope.  Each component of Exploration has its own scope. 

Dial
A feature of System by which a given aspect of the imaginary material may be increased or decreased, in terms of Effectiveness, Color, or Points-of-Contact. Depending on the system, dials may be "spun" before play (in which case their value is expected to be fixed) or during play. The term was first presented in Champions Millenium.


I see scope as being distinct, though related, to dials.  Something that is out of scope isn't merely dialed down to zero -- it falls outside even that.  The dial isn't even there.

Line, the
Techniques which reinforce the limits for content that is not permitted to be included in the Explorative content of play, for a particular group. See also the Veil. The term was introduced in Sex & Sorcery.


I see the phrase "the limits for content" as being synonymous with scope.  I'm not sufficiently familiar with Sex & Sorcery to say for sure.

All of that being said, there's a couple of things you've said which don't fit into what I've written above.  This is a work in progress, after all, so let's try to explore them and see what we find.

Quote
Scope is an element of System (usually unwritten) which sponsors many articulation interactions

I think it's convenient to deal with scope with respect to specific Exploration elements, such as System, Setting, Colour, etc etc.  At the same time, I'm inclined to think that each definitely has a scope of its own.

Some of the scope in play is indeed unwritten.  If everyone tacitly agrees that there are not going to be any lesbian half-orc paladins in the game, then it is out of scope.  On the other hand, much (perhaps all) of the game as written does nothing more than define scope.  Dogs in the Vineyard, for example, has some clear written passages which define the scope of the Characters, the scope of the Setting, and so forth.

Quote
The GM/players can always ignore or amend the scope presented in the "world" section of the book.

There's certainly a lot to be said about how the scope gets established and maintained in a live group.  It's related to how a group establishes and maintains the SIS, but I think there may be some differences.

The potential for problems, I think, arises because it is very difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between a Dial set to zero and something outside the scope.

It is easy to say that there are not any elf barbarians in the current SIS.  It gets considerably more difficult to say for sure whether or not there ever could be any elf barbarians in the SIS.  Could that Dial be nudged up a hair, or is it not even there to be fiddled with?  Different players might have different expectations.

I would suggest that it takes a much greater degree of Authority to change the scope than it does to change a Dial.  The resistance from players can be surprisingly strong.

In my experience with D&D, I've seen this sort of phenomenon.  A player thinks ninjas are cool, so he buys a rulebook and rolls up a ninja.  In his mind, he has turned up that Ninja Dial from zero to some tiny amount above zero.  That couldn't possibly be a big deal, right?

Other players will reasonably consider this as expanding the Scope of Character (and possibly, though not necessarily, Setting, Colour... he might be affecting all the elements of Exploration.)  Something which had once been impossible is walking among them.

The various parties will argue furiously, attempting to muster Authority from all the usual sources, and generally someone will be unhappy at the end of it.

All of that being said, some games have laid down System elements to help the players define and redefine scope, as you mention.  I'd suggest that most of these games provide a mechanism to narrow scope.  Yours looks like it has some support for making real additions to the scope.

Now, with all of that said, are we any further along?  Let me look over your playtest thread again.

Quote
Instead of "Facts" about the Old and New Worlds, the statements in worldbuilding have been changed to Facts about the Old World and Speculations about the New World.  This helped clarify things a great deal, and we never did find Indiana Jones.  No one seemed bothered by this.

Indiana Jones was defined as being in scope.  He didn't happen to show up in the SIS, but he was still there lurking in the scope.  I suspect both the Facts and the Speculations turn out to be equally binding in terms of defining the scope, though they may have a different effect on the realized SIS.

Hmm.  I've found this interesting, at least.  If I'm walking over a lot of old covered ground, I apologize to the Forge Elders.

Joshua, does it look like I'm getting what you're talking about?


Cheers,
Roger
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2005, 07:02:22 PM »

I try to avoid SIS due to its intrinsic problems, but yes, that's about how I'd describe it if I used the term.  Your point about the Facts and Speculations is spot-on and better put than I would have been able to render.

A short note: when I mentioned System I was using it terms of the Interaction Model, not the Big Model.  There isn't much difference between the two, so I don't know if that will lead to any misunderstandings. I don't know that scope can be applied to (Big Model) System Exploration, but I suppose that would be the selection of which parts of the published rules to use and which House Rules to implement.

In my experience, scope is one of those unmentioned parts of gaming, where perhaps the GM says "we're going to play World War Two but with ethertech" but otherwise scope is an unmentioned and unreferenced parameter.  Your scenario of the one player who buys the ninja book and thinks that therefore ninjas will be accepted into the game is a good example of when it is not ever discussed but the scope is breached nonetheless.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2005, 06:34:26 AM »

I think that back in the dark ages long ago I may have brought up this term. But I haven't seen it recently, so it's probably time for a rehash. Interestingly, I think that your definition, Josh, is pretty darn near what we'd looked at earlier, and actually probably a bit more precise as you have it above.

I started thinking of the term scope as worthwhile in this sense as a result of a source that some might find rather odd. It's defined in the Rolemaster Gamemaster's book. Seems like the current edition is called the Gamemaster Law (http://store.ironcrown.com/detail.jsp?itemId=2010&category=2039), though I can't say for sure that's the version that I have from quite a few years back that was part of the RMSS edition. Full of advice that's randomly simulationism support, and advice for running the game, there is a section that discusses concepts like Scope.

I think in that text it's defined a tad differently, but I'm not going to try to reconstruct it here. Because I think your broader definition is more useful, and how I remember talking about it as well.

There was another related term, Scale, that dealt with how "epic" the conflicts dealt with were. Gritty scale being where play tended to be about where you got your next meal, Epic scale being about the fate of nations. There were a couple of other related terms in that book as well, but I think that it might have been getting a tad too esoteric in dividing these things up. Though I'm not against their reintroduction (I may have to go back and do some reading).

I do find it useful to be able to say "The GM decided that having the party wander off to uncharted parts of the world was out of the scope of play for this game" or "We all agreed to keep the scope of play centered around the conflicts that the characters were involved in." Also, "The game was played on a near epic scale, with the characters able to sway entire battles and such, though they were not quite able to affect the destiny of the kingdom."

I'd also agree that what we're saying here is that Scope is the limits put on what can be entered into the SIS. Slightly different from The Line, in that there's a connotation with that term that it's about what thematic material can be entered (or tested for entry) with regards to player comfort (or, again, stretching that comfort zone). So I'd say that Scope is very broad, while The Line is one of the borders that comprise the whole Scope (a very large and important part that may well be all of Scope effectively in some cases). For example, I think that it's reasonable to say, "For Game X, the Scope implied by the rules is Y, but for our group The Line was set to include certain limitations like avoiding any scenes that made any reference to chocolate jello pudding."

I would say, however, that where left un-negotiated, or unstated in any way, the Scope does not exist. That is, unless somebody attempts to bring in a lesbian half-orc, and it's rejected or accepted, we really probably don't know where the edge of the Scope is on that front. In accepting that we're going to be in a fantasy world from the book in which half-orcs are canonical, we probably put half-orcs into the scope (though they can be negotiated back out at some later date). But whether or not they can be lesbians is something that's probably not covered by the setting material, and will probably be adjudicated by taste at the first proposed entry.

A lot of scope gets set up this way on the spot. And, of course, it changes frequently, too. Not in every game, but in many games. That is set limits change. To say nothing of discovering new scope limits when new entries are tested.

This is an important term in conjunction with SIS. Beacuse often SIS is problematic because people say that the agreed to setting material is part of the SIS (and other such propositions) whereas other people say that it's only what's discussed in play, etc. Well, I think it's useful to say that setting material and what "might" be entered into play is Scope, and what is actually entered into the SIS is only what occurs in play. So, for instance, the Scope could include half-orcs, but when the GM tries to introduce one into the SIS, a player could object saying he finds the idea of half-orcs to be just too cliched and doesn't want them, and so the GM acceeds to the demand and instead introduces an ogre. This is really more than just a SIS negotiation, but a Scope negotiation as well. Players now have agreed to a Scope limit in that they won't even attempt to add half-orcs going forward. They don't just fail to exist in the SIS, but in the entire Scope of play.

Yep, I think that works out in a tidy fashion. Might also relate to some ideas that people have had regarding the "parts" of the SIS (we might just be discovering earlier labels for some of these things).

Mike
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2005, 10:13:58 AM »

I think 'Scale' is probably a phantom term -- that is, while we can talk about it and mostly communicate expectations through it, we are not really defining anything; we're describing something that relies on a lot of common knowledge (which is not common in either sense of the word).  We're used to things being described as gritty or epic or whatever and we have a basic idea of what that means.  I can't see how such determinations could translate into something concrete like game mechanics or even a determination of what is and is not within scope.

Not to mention, 'gritty' and 'epic' are not necessarily at two ends of a spectrum -- see Tribe 8 for a game that is both gritty and epic at the same time.  And in the end, the 'Scale' of just about any game should be 'what the characters care about'.  If they care about the fate of nations, that's what the game is about; if they care about where they get their next meal, that's what it's about.  These are not exclusive, either, as in the case of Tribe 8.

'Scale' also gets conflated with character power level, which I think is a different, though related, subject.  Power Level can be expressed in terms of character stats, but it also applies to how those stats affect the world around them.  Can I roll my Stealth to infiltrate the castle, or do I roll my Stealth to sneak past one guard?  Can I use my Bureaucracy ability to subvert the strike team sent after me, or can I only use it when overcoming challenges set out by the GM?

As far as Scope goes, I think there's always Scope, even when not explicitly agreed on.  It's just if it's not agreed on, the players around the table will probably be working off different Scopes.  Or in the old school games, the GM has total control of the scope and the players are supposed to just live with whatever the GM throws at them.  If the GM says a vampire is attacking you, well, update your understanding of the Scope to include vampires.

I think the microscopic level is important to note, too.  Scope isn't just about what could exist in the imagined content, but what does exist right now.  Again, the GM usually controls that, but I'm taking an extreme liking to the games that allow the players to affect it via mechanics and currency, as well.

I don't have Sex&Sorcery, but as I understand it the Line has everything to do with player comfort zones and not breaching what players agree is forbidden territory.  As I use it, Scope has more to do with aesthetic priorities -- I don't want half-orcs because I think they're a tired cliche, not because they make me feel funny.  The Line might be expanded to include such things, but personally I think it is an important thing to incorporate into the Social Contract and it is important to do so explicitly in relation to comfort zones.  I wouldn't want to dilute its potency to also complain about how I'm tired of half-orcs.

For example, I think that it's reasonable to say, "For Game X, the Scope implied by the rules is Y, but for our group The Line was set to include certain limitations like avoiding any scenes that made any reference to chocolate jello pudding."

I try not to define games except within the context of a group playing it -- that is, the gamebook is not a game, only a book.  It only becomes a game when you have a group playing.  Therefore saying that a game has a scope independent of a group playing it puts the cart before the horse.  The group always determines scope (explicitly or not), and they may take up the suggestions presented in the game book to define that scope.  I mean, you can play Dogs in Finland, after all.  Finland is nowhere in the Dogs gamebook, but it was within the scope of at least one game.
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Roger
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« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2005, 12:25:11 PM »

I think we've got a good consensus on what scope is, but I think I'm losing the vision when it comes to The Line.  In my opinion, the two are closely related, so I'm hoping we can clarify things a bit.  There's potentially also a good conversation here about Scale, but I'm going to defer on that one for now.

A couple of excerpts from above to provide some context:

I'd also agree that what we're saying here is that Scope is the limits put on what can be entered into the SIS. Slightly different from The Line, in that there's a connotation with that term that it's about what thematic material can be entered (or tested for entry) with regards to player comfort (or, again, stretching that comfort zone). So I'd say that Scope is very broad, while The Line is one of the borders that comprise the whole Scope (a very large and important part that may well be all of Scope effectively in some cases). For example, I think that it's reasonable to say, "For Game X, the Scope implied by the rules is Y, but for our group The Line was set to include certain limitations like avoiding any scenes that made any reference to chocolate jello pudding."

I don't have Sex&Sorcery, but as I understand it the Line has everything to do with player comfort zones and not breaching what players agree is forbidden territory.  As I use it, Scope has more to do with aesthetic priorities -- I don't want half-orcs because I think they're a tired cliche, not because they make me feel funny.  The Line might be expanded to include such things, but personally I think it is an important thing to incorporate into the Social Contract and it is important to do so explicitly in relation to comfort zones.  I wouldn't want to dilute its potency to also complain about how I'm tired of half-orcs.

Line, the
Techniques which reinforce the limits for content that is not permitted to be included in the Explorative content of play, for a particular group. See also the Veil. The term was introduced in Sex & Sorcery.

Techniques
Specific procedures of play which, when employed together, are sufficient to introduce fictional characters, places, or events into the Shared Imagined Space.


Based on my reading of the Glossary, it seems to me that the Line is defined as specific procedures of play which reinforce the limits for content that is not permitted.  That is, it would seem to be part of the process of definining and maintaining the scope rather than part of the scope itself.

This might not turn out to be a critical point of discussion, but I'd still like to sort it out.


Cheers,
Roger
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2005, 12:30:56 PM »

As I said, I don't have a copy of the book -- perhaps someone who does can clarify for us?  Is the Line a set of techniques, or is it a determining factor?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2005, 12:51:19 PM »

Joshua,

I think you're splitting hairs or coming up with objections to things that I mostly didn't intend. That is, I think we mostly agree.

I probably shouldn't have thrown scale into the mix, but I wanted to prose that there are other similar ideas to these that are part of them. That is, I merely see scale as the the part of scope that's about, well, issues of scale and what can be brought into play with regards to that. And I think that all such borders on play are fuzzy, and maleable, subject to constant negotiation in some cases.

BTW, by my use of the terms, what you're calling microscopic scope is either the equivalent to SIS or perhaps slightly larger, situation.

Mike
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2005, 01:09:19 PM »

Oh, we certainly do agree for the most part.  Scale as a subset of Scope, much like Genre would be a subset of Scope, seems about right.  I find 'Scale' descriptors to be very similar to 'Genre' descriptors: 'epic' means about as much, and is about as precise, as 'steampunk'.  While they mean different things to different people, it is at least a rough descriptor.  The only hangup with "Scale" is that the term sort of implies a spectrum when in fact it's a non-exclusive grab-bag: you can be epic and gritty (Tribe 8) just like you can be steampunk and spiritualist (Castle Falkenstein).  So, to revise my prior statement, not so much a 'phantom term' as a 'phantom spectrum'.  As long as the term communicates something, it's valuable.

Microscopic scope is probably a better fit for the situation rather than the SIS.  Either way, I keep underlining the macroscopic and microscopic scopes because I have an inkling that they are separate though related issues.  The great big grand scope of the entire game is a good and important thing to be mindful of, but I think we're all pretty solid on that front.  It's been done. The actual procedures by which we distribute power to determine scope of the situation, however -- that sounds like some tasty potential territory.
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jmac
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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2005, 02:52:06 AM »

I thought much about something like scope recently (in light of "Simulationism Aside").

I find three things you mention here concerning scope as quite different:
(1) scope as a limitation of things acceptable to SIS (I mean - imagination);
(2) scope as a limitation of aspects of game* actually brought into play at given moment
(3) scope as a limitation of aspects of game that potentially can be brought into play at some point.

* game here can mean in-game world and (in conjunction with scope) - system.

I like the second one best (though I use different word for it) and I found it realy useful thing to condider before and during play.

Am I distorting something?
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Ivan.
Josh Roby
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« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2005, 09:09:35 AM »

In all truth I've never applied scope to system, although that may be a useful thing to do.  Scope has always been content to me.  The macro and micro levels (your #1 and #3) may be two very different things in some games, this is true, but I'm starting to think that the closer-related they are, the better the game gets -- at least in my estimation.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2005, 09:17:54 AM »

I think that's where the term focus comes in. As in the game's scope was very focused on element X. Or the system helps create a strong focus on a certain parts of the overal scope. Etc.

Mike
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #12 on: October 20, 2005, 09:53:58 AM »

Mike, in almost every instance of my use, 'scope' is synonymous with what you were calling 'focus' in the last post.  In that scope is defined by the game as it is played (and not derived from the gamebook or other source material), and a good game does not have extraneous elements (the game is about judging sins, but there's also a guy in a clown suit -- wha?), there should not be any difference between "what elements are involved in the game" and "what elements we interacted with in the game".  Why involve elements that are not interacted with?

Caveat: in a long-term campaign type game, one session of play very well may not include all elements included in the entire campaign.  PTA and Buffy have "spotlight episodes" for specific characters, for instance, and in this case, I can see some use for the term 'focus'.  As with all other elements of play, though, if you're going to use focus, you need to be sure that you're using it in service of the goals of the play group.  It should be as intentional as possible.
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jmac
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« Reply #13 on: October 20, 2005, 11:24:59 AM »

I meant something link this: (1) filters away vampires in Star Wars, while (3) filters away inner psychological conflicts in gold-gathering dungeon-crawl. Maybe a misunderstanding happened, because I can't understand how these kind of "scopes" can be close.

I can't separate "focus" from "scope" - I use them as the same.

Scope can be decided upon before playing game - so we can prepare the system more thoroughly in those aspects we will be focused upon.
I'm not sure if there are games with enough and ready to use specification of scope on which players should just agree.

Why involve elements that are not interacted with?
For instance, we could include elements to be interacted with later, or those interacted with before, or those which interact with those we interact with - some kind of depth may be usefull. If I get it right.
Maybe those elements we don't interact with become some kind of colour?
And it seems to me that "open" play is somewhat connected to such circumstances - when it's possible to shift focus during play.
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Ivan.
Josh Roby
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« Reply #14 on: October 20, 2005, 12:43:08 PM »

Scope can be decided upon before playing game - so we can prepare the system more thoroughly in those aspects we will be focused upon.

Minor nitpick: scope can be determined before imagined content is articulated.  That's not 'before play'.  Determining scope is part of play.  Of course, I include a lot of things in 'play' that are normally considered 'prep' and the like, so again: grain of salt.  (In Interaction terms, scope is a function of System that determines which articulation interactions can occur -- determining scope is determining part of the System.)

Your distinction between 1 and 3 seem to be between concrete and abstract content -- that is, the 'real stuff' (bigass guns) and the 'insubstantial stuff' (feelings about those bigass guns).  Of course in gaming, nothing is real and everything is insubstantial.  Your distinction is a natural one to draw, but I think it's a false distinction.  Especially with games coming out that have mechanics that drive all that insubstantial stuff (MLwM, Dogs), there's no reason not to consider the in-game abstract as equal to the in-game concrete.

As in my caveat, I can see some use for focus if you're planning on drawing out play for whatever reason.  I just don't have time to draw out play these days -- if it doesn't happen immediately, I have little faith that it's going to happen "five sessions later".  I can't recall the last time I got to "five sessions later."
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