U.K. Watchdog Disappointed, Wanted Madworld Banned

January 16, 2009 -

Yesterday GamePolitics broke the news that the British Board of Film Classification had issued an 18 rating to Madworld, Sega's upcoming Wii gore-fest.

In doing so, the BBFC ignored a demand from Mediawatch-UK that Madworld be banned in the British market.

Spong is now reporting that John Beyer, head of the media watchdog group, has expressed disappointment over the BBFC's decision to approve Madworld for sale:

I'm disappointed but not surprised. I think my view is pretty well known. It's what I expected.

33 comments

Will New Study Linking Kids' Media Habits to Sex, Drugs & Obesity be Fast-tracked to the White House?

December 4, 2008 -

A study released by watchdog group Common Sense Media this week strongly correlates the amount of time children spend with media to poor school performance as well as negative health outcomes such as obesity, substance abuse and smoking.

Media and Child and Adolescent Health: A Systematic Review is, essentially, a survey of research on the topic conducted over the past 30 years. The study was carried out by researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and California Pacific Medical Center.

From a political standpoint, it is interesting to note that lead researcher Ezekiel Emanuel of the NIH is the brother of President-elect Barack Obama's incoming White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Common Sense Media CEO and founder Jim Steyer (left) discussed the Obama connection with Time:

[Rahm Emanuel] will have a strong position in the incoming Administration. And I am optimistic that you'll see a renewed emphasis, from the White House on down, on media, technology and kids. In that sense, I'm very hopeful that Barack and Michelle Obama will be parents-in-chief and role models-in-chief for our country. Barack talked about it repeatedly through his campaign—turning off the TV, turning off the video games, doing your homework, talking with your kids.

Steyer also told Time that the study deliberately stayed away from issues of violence and media:

The research team decided that there was a voluminous amount of studies that focus solely on media and violence. So they wanted to stay away from that... This report doesn't say, nor would Common Sense ever suggest, that media is the cause of all society's ills, or the sole cause of childhood obesity or risky sexual behavior or smoking or alcohol use among teens. But it is a significant contributing factor...

The study's politicial potential is also emphasized in a press release on the Common Sense Media website which quotes former FCC chairman and CSM board member William Kennard:

The new administration has shown a commitment to children and has already made important statements about how it will focus new attention on technology and media. There is a unique opportunity to make real change in the role that media plays in our children’s lives.

46 comments

NIMF Fires Back at GP

December 4, 2008 -

Yesterday on GamePolitics I wrote that watchdog group the National Institute on Media and the Family has been co-opted by the video game industry.

It wasn't the first time I've taken NIMF to task for accepting a $50,000 grant from the Entertainment Software Association, the lobbying group which represents US game publishers. Not surprisingly, NIMF took umbrage at my comments. Spokesman Darin Broton told GameCyte:

We’re never going to stop putting the [video game] retailers or the [video game] industry’s feet to the fire... You can rest assured that we’ll be talking publicly in 2009 about the issue of gaming addiction.

 

[NIMF accepted the ESA grant because] we’re working on a project to create an online tool for parents to tackle the issues of online predators, cyberbullies, etcetera. It’s not a blank check. It’s for a specific spot on the website.

 

Yes, there was hesitation [about accepting the ESA grant], and if there wasn’t hesitation, I don’t think any of us would be doing our jobs. But I think the end result of giving a parent another useful thing for them to make better decisions at home with their kids is worthwhile.

 

I’ve actually laughed at GamePolitics, because before this, GamePolitics was a frequent critic of NIMF for being too harsh on the industry. It’s a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

I look forward to seeing what GamePolitics has to say in early 2009, and see if they still think we’re in the back pocket of the industry.

GP: I'm glad to see that my comments struck a nerve - they were meant to.

That said, I should point out that I have a great deal of respect for Dr. David Walsh and his organization. But there are certain lines which a self-proclaimed watchdog group like NIMF just shouldn't cross. And accepting money from the very industry you claim to be watching is one of those lines - maybe the biggest, brightest one of all. It's the reason why you won't find any paid video game advertising on GamePolitics, which is owned by the ECA, a game consumer advocacy group.

And while I haven't always agreed with NIMF's conclusions or its methodology, I've always believed that the organization's heart was in the right place. Over the years, David Walsh has been unfailingly respectful in his treatment of the gamer community and gaming press. As we all know, not every game critic behaves with such decency.

Beyond that, it's not a bad thing to have rational game industry watchdogs at work. When operating appropriately, groups like NIMF provide a useful checks-and-balances function. Yes, we may chafe at some of their conclusions, but sparking a dialogue about games and their potential effects on young people can't hurt.

In taking GamePolitics to task, Darin Broton indicates that NIMF will have some watchdog-worthy comments early in the new year.

We'll be watching.

FULL DISCLOSURE DEPT: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics.

27 comments

NIMF Report Card Praises Game Biz, Gives Parents an Incomplete

November 25, 2008 -

Mom and Dad forgot to turn an assignment in, apparently.

While lavishly praising the video game industry in its 13th Annual Video Game Report Card, the National Institute on Media and the Family has tagged parents with an "incomplete."

Actually, the "I" grade is NIMF's cutesy way of saying, well, not much, to be honest. Here are the grades along with NIMF's commentary:

ESRB Ratings.... A The addition of ratings summaries is yet another step forward in the growing list of improvements that the ESRB has made in recent years.

ESRB Ratings Education.... We commend the ESRB for intensifying efforts to help parents understand the video game ratings. The ESRB has become the entertainment industry leader in educating retailers and parents about the rating system.

Retailer Ratings Enforcement.... B+  The 80 percent enforcement rate shows significant progress with still some room for improvement.

Gaming Console Manufacturers.... Parental controls, timing devices and parent education efforts are all major
improvements giving parents more tools to supervise game play.

Parental Involvement.... Incomplete  The focus of this year’s report card is providing parents with the information they need. All segments of the industry have made significant improvements in recent years. Parents now have more information and tools than ever before. However, the constant changes present new challenges. Parents need to pay more attention to the amount of time and the types of games their kids play. The parent guide section in this report card is intended to motivate and equip parents to do this.

GP: We can't argue with the grades assigned to the game industry categories by NIMF, and the industry must certainly be pleased. There was a time, and not so long ago, that the ESA and ESRB dreaded this day as NIMF head David Walsh and Sen. Joe Lieberman would step to a Capitol Hill podium and deliver their annual video game beatdown, er, report card.

As to the incomplete for parents, it's meaningless, since NIMF has no way to measure it.

We must also say that the process would be far more coherent if NIMF maintained the same grading categories from year to year. The 2007 version, for example (which was far less complementary to the industry), included grades for "Retailer Policies," (broken down by National, Specialty and Rental) and "The Gaming Industry."

The 2005 version absolutely savaged the industry and included grades for "Ratings Accuracy," "Arcade Survey," and "Industry's 10-year cumulative grade." 

In addition to the grades, the report card contains about 30 pages of material regarding topics such as game addiction and a section on aggression research by Prof. Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University.

Finally, NIMF's unfortunate decision to accept game industry funding clouds their grading effort. Inevitably, there are those who will say that the one-time watchdog has become a lapdog.

201 comments

UK Watchdog Group Calls for Ban on Upcoming Madworld

August 13, 2008 -

The Daily Mail has published news of the first - but surely not the last - mainstream attack on Sega's upcoming Madworld for the Wii:

Players in the 'hack and slash' game, which is due for a UK release in early 2009, can impale enemies on road signs, rip out hearts and execute them with weapons including chainsaws and daggers.

 

The decision to release a violent game on a console which has based its reputation on family fun has shocked anti-violence pressure groups.
 

John Beyer, head of watchdog group Mediawatch-UK, called for a ban on Madworld:

This game sounds very unsavoury. I hope the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will view this with concern and decide it should not be granted a classification. Without that it cannot be marketed in Britain. What the rest of world does is up to them. We need to ensure that modern and civilized values take priority rather than killing and maiming people.

 

It seems a shame that the game's manufacturer have decided to exclusively release this game on the Wii. I believe it will spoil the family fun image of the Wii.

An unnamed Nintendo spokesperson told the Daily Mail:

Wii appeals to a wide range of audiences from children and teenagers to adult and senior citizens, anyone from 5 - 95, as such there is a wide range of content for all ages and tastes available. Mad World will be suitably age rated through the appropriate legal channels and thus only available to an audience above the age rating it is given. The game is not made by Nintendo but by Sega.

 

69 comments

PTC Spanks Game Industry, Praises GameStop, Best Buy in Secret Shopper Report

July 24, 2008 -

(note: this PTC secret shopper survey is not related to the one conducted by Baltimore's ABC-2 that GamePolitics has reported on over the past couple of days)

Watchdog group the Parents Television Council has issued a secret shopper report in which video game retailers fared noticeably worse than in results issued by the Federal Trade Commission in April.

Overall, the PTC claims that game retailers sold M-rated titles to underage buyers 36% of the time. As reported by GamePolitics, the FTC's secret shoppers succeeded in buying M-rated games at only a 20% rate.

As in the the FTC study, GameStop and Best Buy did very well, according to the PTC. Both retailers sold to underage buyers just 8% of the time. Circuit City (60%), K-Mart (50%), Hollywood Video (50%) and various local and regional stores (47%) compiled the worst results.

PTC president Tim Winter (left) was harshly critical of the video game industry in the PTC's press release:

...a disturbing percentage of video game retailers are failing to prevent America’s children from purchasing violent and sexually graphic video games.  Any failure rate is problematic, but the failure rate we’re seeing is downright pathetic.  Similar to age restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, pornography and other products that are potentially harmful to children, parents deserve a reasonable expectation that age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level.

 

It is outrageous that retailers are not exercising greater responsibility, and even more absurd that there are no meaningful consequences for those retailers who ignore their industry’s own age restriction policies... 

 

The video game industry would have us believe that the 1/5 failure rate as reported by the FTC is acceptable and that parents need not worry.  Our analysis shows a 1/3 failure rate.  Perhaps the retailers felt the pressure was off after the FTC’s report was published... While we applaud Game Stop and Best Buy for their commitment to abide by their corporate age restriction policies, the other retailers should be ashamed and must act immediately to improve.

Winter also used the report as a platform to support new legislation introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). The bill targets video game ratings. GamePolitics coverage of the bill is upcoming.

Here is the data on various retailers as issued by the PTC (updated, as Blockbuster was left off of their original version):

 

M-RATED VIDEO GAMES
PTC Results (July 2008)
CHAIN
# of Stores
% Able to Purchase
Game Stop
12
8%
Wal-Mart
13
38%
Best Buy
12
8%
Toys “R” Us
5
40%
Blockbuster
11
36%
Target
17
41%
Kmart
4
50%
Circuit City
10
60%
Hollywood Video
2
50%
Various Local & Regional Stores
15
47%


 

58 comments

New Zealand Clears Morals Group to Petition for GTA IV Ban

July 22, 2008 -

Nearly 90 days post-launch, Grand Theft Auto IV is still raising the ire of watchdog groups.

The New Zealand Herald reports that the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards has been granted permission to appeal GTA IV's R18 rating. The group notes on its website that the appeal will be made to New Zealand's Office of Film & Literature Classification.

The SPCS quotes from a decision issued yesterday by Brendan Boyle (left), New Zealand's Secretary of Internal Affairs:

I found no evidence in the [SPCS] application to suggest that it was vexatious... I then considered whether the application for leave was frivolous (trivial, needless or unfounded, or so untenable that it could not succeed) under the Guidelines... I found that the application for leave from the SPCS appeared to be tenable in that it could possibly succeed. The application was therefore not frivolous. It is also my view that the SPCS has established an arguable prima facie case for the application to be considered by the Board.

Since R18 is New Zealand's most stringent rating, a successful appeal by the SPCS would result in a national ban of the exceedingly popular game.

GP: Thanks to GamePolitics reader Solufien for the tip!

13 comments

Watchdog Group Deletes Misinformation About GTA IV From Parental Alert

July 21, 2008 -

Here's something you don't see very often: a media watchdog group actually scaling back  the Grand Theft Auto IV fear factor in the interest of presenting more accurate information.

But it's true. The Parents Television Council recently issued a a video alert which warns parents about the violence and sexual content in GTA IV.

On July 11th GamePolitics reported on the alert, which is narrated by PTC president Tim Winters. Among his criticisms of the game, Winters repeats the oft-heard, "You get points for [insert nasty activity of your choice]..."

In the latest edition of, the player is a thug who gets points for having sex with prostitutes, running over pedestrians and even shooting police officers.

There are no such points in the GTA series, of course. Never have been, despite the frequent assertion of such by watchdogs. At least two GamePolitics readers, hayabusa 75 and NecroSen, wrote to the PTC to voice their objections. Lo and behold, a few days later the PTC edited the "You get points for..." line out of the video.

GamePolitics received this comment on the change from Gavin McKiernan, National Grassroots Director for the PTC:

[Winters] misspoke.  He knows there are no points in GTA and we of course want all of our productions to be completely factually accurate so we corrected it.

Catch the edited video alert here.

GP: While the viewpoint of the PTC is often at odds with that of gamers, credit is due for taking the trouble to correct this error. Kudos as well to the GP readers who contacted the PTC to point out the misinformation.

32 comments

No Longer in a Metal Mood, Pat Boone Trashes Video Games

July 12, 2008 -

In a commentary for WorldNetDaily, singer Pat Boone frets that video games are part of a social upheaval which will cost America its very soul:

[While the presidential race takes place], there's another campaign in full swing, one perhaps even more crucial, one that will certainly determine the future of our country. One that will determine the direction and morality of our young. One that quite possibly will cost America its soul.

 

It's the campaign, in the world of entertainment to absolutely throw off every restraint, abandon every moral guideline, exploit every taboo and be free to portray and present anything human beings are capable of. In prime time and full color and without any regard for the sensibilities of parents or ministers or censors, or anybody else. On TV, in movies, in music even and especially in video games.

 

Target? Our young, virtually every age from grade school through college. The next generation – our future.

It seems that Boone serves on the board of watchdog group the Parents Television Council, a frequent critic of video game content. And while he singles out video games as especially worrisome, he mentions nary a one in his column, focusing instead on TV shows like Gossip Girl, Nip/Tuck and Sex and the City.

The good news is that Boone has a suggestion. If modern media content troubles you, just wind the clock back, oh, 70 years or so and listen to old radio shows:

Many adults, fed up completely... are doing the logical thing: tuning out and turning off. My friends Ed and Jean Lubin, whose three kids are mostly grown and on their own now, just told me they're spending their evenings out on their patio listening to old radio shows! Classic shows like "The Green Hornet," "The Lone Ranger," "Fibber McGee and Molly," "Abbot and Costello," "Jack Benny," dramatic and comedic and music shows from a time when entertainment was just that – entertainment...

GP: Gosh, he hardly sounds out of touch at all.

What's really ironic is that on the album pictured here, Boone sings lounge lizard arrangements of tunes like Alice Cooper's No More Mr. Nice Guy. Now, when Boone still actually had something of a career in the mid-70's, Alice Cooper was regarded by the mainstream much as Marilyn Manson is today.

89 comments

Parents Television Council Issues Video Alert on "Sick" GTA IV

July 11, 2008 -

Watchdog group the Parents Television Council has issued a "entertainment alert" condemning Grand Theft Auto IV as well as the CBS TV series Swingtown.

PTC president Tim Winter narrates:

Unfortunately, sex and violence often go together in today's media environment. That's especially true for many of the violent video games that are now flooding the marketplace. Topping them all for worst content is Grand Theft Auto. 

 

In the latest edition of, the player is a thug who gets points for having sex with prostitutes, running over pedestrians and even shooting police officers. And our research shows that many chidlren are able to buy this adult-rated video game far too easily. That's because the retailers don't have any consequenced for abiding by their own rules. We're asking major retailers to not carry this sick game at all...

 

You can also write Congress to ask them to pass the Video Games Rating Enforcement Act which will give teeth to the current ratings system.

Via: GameArgus

GP: Thanks to Matt Paprocki for the heads-up!

80 comments

With Controversy Comes Increased Online Traffic to Torture Game

July 2, 2008 -

 

When violent video game controveries flare, it's often said that critics are unintentionally increasing traffic to the game in question.

Such appears to be the case with The Torture Game 2.

The amateur, online game has been attracting no small amout of attention lately, including a parental alert from watchdog group the Parents Television Council.

The free game is available at online gaming portals Newgrounds and Kongregate.

But a message posted by Newgrounds guru Tom Fulp documents that the controversy is actually bringing many new players to the game:

The latest controversy has been surrounding The Torture Game 2, a fun little ragdoll physics engine that lets you do all sorts of horrible things to a lifeless dummy. Sensible Erection put together a gallery of all the fancy artwork you can create with TG2... at which point Derek Yu made a post about it on TIGSource and a whole debate erupted.

 

MSNBC picked up on the TIGSource debate and posted their own article about the game, but the real fun came when FOX News weighed in with a Fair & Balanced video, expressing their disgust while showing real-time footage of the person being tortured. Hey! At least we slapped a MATURE rating on the game and made you click a link to view it... Fox just dumped it into every living room in America!

 

As a result of their efforts, many more people are now enjoying The Torture Game 2.


 The Fox News video mentioned by Fulp appears at left.

NIMF's David Walsh Interviewed in Game Informer

July 2, 2008 -

Dr. David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, is the subject of an  interview in the July issue of Game Informer.

The politically-connected Walsh, whose organization delivers its Annual Video Game Report Card each holiday season, is described by the magazine as "one of gaming's most thoughtful and reasoned critics." He dishes on a number of topics, including:

  • ESRB ratings (watchdog-ish, cautiously supportive)
  • his criticism of the Grand Theft Childhood book (disagrees with its premise)
  • his thoughts on video game legislation (opposes censorship)
  • Jack Thompson (publicly distanced himself from Thompson)

Regarding legislation, Walsh told GI:

I'm not in favor of censorship. Once we delegate to the government what we can and can't say and freedom of expression - and video games are a form of expression - that's a very slippery slope. I think government can have a role. I think the role they've been playing is the "bully pulpit" to raise awareness.

As to Thompson, Walsh said:

Extreme positions create a lot of heat but very little light. Television and talk radio love extreme positions. So there are folks out there who do not hesitate to take positions that they can't defend. You get the these food fights going on that talk radio loves, but don't really advance our knowledge and understanding whatsoever. It got to the point where I had to publlcily distance myself from Jack Thompson. 

Distance himself, indeed.

The high-profile split with Thompson came in October, 2005. The story was broken by GamePolitics, and set Internet tongues wagging for days. Read Walsh's letter breaking ties with Thompson here.

Parents Television Council Issues Warning on Torture Game

July 1, 2008 -

Last week GamePolitics reported on the controversy surrounding The Torture Game 2, an amateur online offering in which players inflict injury upon a defenseless human-like figure.

One News Now reports that media watchdog group the Parents Television Council has issued an alert to parents about the game. The site quotes PTC exec Gavin McKiernan:

The Internet can be a great resource for kids...  [But] parents need to be aware that there's [sic] so many negative things they can be doing – from chat rooms, where they expose themselves to sexual predators, to violent and depraved games and so-called entertainment like this.

 

 ...any kid who's sitting around playing the Torture Game or whose parents are allowing him to play Grand Theft Auto at home, is opening themselves up to a lot of potential negative repercussions that they may not realize for years.

 

 

68 comments

Why is National Institute on Media & Family Jumping into the File Sharing Debate?

March 5, 2008 -

In an unusual move, the National Institute on Media & the Family issued a newsletter alert last Thursday under the heading, "Does your teen understand illegal downloading?"

We found this both surprising and unsettling, for a couple of reasons.

First, the file sharing debate is a hot button issue between media content owners and consumers, and it's not one that's going away any time soon. Nor is it a simple issue. And while reasonable points can be made by both sides, the tactics of the content owners and their apparatchiks have been little short of draconian at times.

But even beyond the various arguments to be made, our question is simply this: Why is an organization founded and operated by a child psychologist (Dr. David Walsh), an organization which has historically attempted to relate modern digital media to developmental and emotional health issues, getting involved in a fight which is fraught with elements of politics and class struggle?

We note that the non-profit NIMF recently agreed to partner with Microsoft on PACT, a video game usage contract between parents and kids which also enjoys the backing of the National PTA. It is unknown whether NIMF's relationship with Microsoft is related to the non-profit's position on downloading. Figures compiled by Microsoft, however, are cited in last week's newsletter:
 

Parents have understood for millennia that they must teach their kids values like honesty and that you cannot just walk into a store and take stuff. Modern parenting includes preparing kids for honesty in the digital age.


 

Microsoft released results from an online survey showing that teens are less likely to illegally download or share content from the Internet when they understand the laws protecting intellectual property. However (and here’s the heads-up for parents and teachers), 49% of those surveyed said they did not understand the rules for downloading music, movies, images, literature, and software. Only 11% of teens surveyed said they “understood the rules very well.”


Attempts to reach NIMF for comment were unsuccessful. However, we will update if we hear from the organization.

GP: Let's be clear: we don't support copyright violation or illegal downloading. Nor, on the other hand, can we get behind many of the heavy-handed tactics employed by content providers. The bottom line? NIMF should stick to what it does best and let the wealthy media corporations fight their own battles.

 
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Andrew EisenNeo - If you're not bleeding then it's probably not you who needs to go to the doctor.11/23/2014 - 5:45pm
Wonderkarpgood. that kind of behavior is unnecessary.11/23/2014 - 5:44pm
WonderkarpGeorgina Young - Are Video Games Sexist? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX9LV4GuG9E11/23/2014 - 5:43pm
ZippyDSMleehttp://deadspin.com/starcraft-player-says-hell-rape-opponent-is-booted-f-1662346891/+Fahey11/23/2014 - 5:40pm
Wonderkarphttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4a9tMGSTG411/23/2014 - 5:32pm
WonderkarpDan Vavra of Warhorse Studios at the Nordic eCommerce Summit 2014 on Game Journalism and why ethics are important11/23/2014 - 5:27pm
WonderkarpGame Dev Ashley Ross on the Block/Blacklist https://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/comments/2n603f/thoughts_on_the_recent_igdaggautoblocker_incident/11/23/2014 - 5:25pm
Wonderkarpwhich is interesting cause this the first one 100% made by 2k games after the THQ buy11/23/2014 - 4:17pm
Wonderkarpbleh. the more I play WWE 2k15 on PS4, the more I get disappointed.11/23/2014 - 4:09pm
Neo_DrKefkaIt happened around 1030 this morning. I was not blooding because blood was on my hands11/23/2014 - 3:50pm
Andrew EisenThat depends on a lot. Were you bleeding at the time you requested to leave or did you want to leave work to go to the doctor over an incident that happened on a different day that you didn't file an incident report for?11/23/2014 - 3:21pm
Neo_DrKefkaThat would be a major OSHA violation correct?11/23/2014 - 1:54pm
Neo_DrKefkaOff topic but I was at work and went over to the first aid kit to get some eye drops. I look at my hand and noticed blood on my hands. My employers said their is no incident report and they won't send me to see a doctor and that I am abandoning my job.11/23/2014 - 1:54pm
MaskedPixelanteThe more I hear about AC Unity being rushed out, the more I think Ubisoft was telling the truth about why they couldn't add female co-op models.11/23/2014 - 1:14pm
IanCI wouldnt say the 360/PS3 version were superior. They were different games.11/23/2014 - 11:49am
MechaTama31It's hard to rank my top 5 against eachother, but they would include Ghostbusters, Back to the Future (all of it), Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Princess Bride.11/23/2014 - 11:09am
Andrew EisenTrue, but I liked the fact that rather than do a crappy looking version of the PS3/360 version, it went with an art style more suited to the Wii's strengths.11/23/2014 - 12:26am
Wonderkarpif I had the money, I'd buy one of those expensive proton pack replicas11/22/2014 - 11:25pm
Wonderkarpthats the wii version though. the PS3/360 version is far superior.11/22/2014 - 11:19pm
Andrew EisenOdd that there was no hose connecting the thrower to the backpack. Was there just no more horsepower left in the Wii to animate it? And did seriously no one on the dev or QA team notice the Ghostbusters patch on the player's sleeve was backwards?11/22/2014 - 11:17pm
 

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