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Author Topic: Washing the blood off our hands... again  (Read 7422 times)
Anna Kreider
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Posts: 65


« on: May 02, 2006, 06:22:11 PM »

Just about a year ago now, our gaming group played a campaign of Dogs that ended in a spectacular sorcerous shootout between the Dogs; you can find the actual play thread here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=14494.0 It was also the basis for a flash animation that was posted here several months ago. (You can find it here: http://www.browserbeware.com/dogs.html   /shameless plug)

It ended just about as violently as a game could end. One of the Dogs killed by the sorcerer, the sorcerer dead by his own hands (and himself a Dog), one of the Dogs scarred mentally and slinking back to Bridal Falls in defeat, and one of the Dogs defecting to the Eastern Fort and turning his back on the faith. And as sad and bloody as it was, it was a good ending. A satisfying ending.

So why is it that one year later weíve just wrapped up a similarly satisfying (up until the end) campaign of Dogs with much the same result and the way it ended makes me feelÖ angry. Disappointed. Completely NOT satisfied.

Perhaps a little background is in order.

In this last town, the situation we had to deal with was a family where the parents were having their children work in the mines to support their lazy lifestyle. The boy was a miner, and the girl was a prostitute. The boy one night came upon his sister with a client and killed the man becauseÖ she was with a client. The girl, in turn, went sorcerer and caused a cave-in that killed five men to protect her brother by making the first killing look like a natural accident.

The argument started over what should be the fate of the two children. Ethelred, Aaronís character, wanted to see them both hang. Crispin, my character, wanted the boy to be spared and the girl to hang Ė arguing that there was a difference between premeditated murder and murder in the heat of the moment. Killgore was tentatively on Crispinís side, but not staunchly. And then there was Ceridwyn, who wanted both the children to escape and for Promise, the girl, to go to Bridal Falls and become a Dog.

Ultimately, it boiled down to a conflict about whether the ends justified the means, with Crispin arguing that some acts can never be justified by good intentions and Ceri arguing that intent was more important than the action.

I didnít roll very well, and eventually I reached a point where if I wanted to win I would have to shoot Ceri; I would have to shoot another Dog. And I gave, because Crispin could not bring himself to shoot another Dog, which left Killgore and Ceri. And when Ceri started to lose to Killgore, she went all demon-y and things ended in their logical conclusion.


I was stunned at first. This wasnít the same roleplaying group as the first campaign Ė more than half of the gang left and were replaced by other players. So how was it that we had completely changed the group dynamic by changing half of the players, we played game with characters that were practically polar opposites of the Dogs in our first campaign, we had made totally different judgments, we had totally different relationships to each other, and we still ended up almost exactly the same as the first game?

Ethelred quit, turning his back on the faith. Ceri was killed after she summoned demons to destroy the other Dogs. Crispin ended up mentally scarred, despite the fact that he was physically unscathed. AndÖ okay, Killgore bucked the trend by not dying Ė but he came damn close.

How had things turned out so similar? We had different characters being played by different players, with different issues and who made different choices. Shouldnít that have led to a different conclusion?

I mentioned during our reflection conversation that I was disappointed in how things turned out because I had really hoped to avoid violence between the Dogs, to which Killgoreís player responded by saying why didnít I mention that? Why didnít I set a hard line? Why didnít I make that part of the social contract? To which I could only respond that it felt like cheating. I was trying to leave myself open to what played out, I didnít want a preconceived ending in mind because thatís not really the way Dogs should work. (and also, I maintain that I Will Not Abandon You/Nobody Gets Hurt is for wusses Ė and Iíll stand by that, even if I donít like the results of what played out.)

Was it a little naÔve of me to think that a nonviolent ending was possible? Perhaps. I have to wonder if itís possible for any game of Dogs longer than two or three towns can end without Dogs killing each other. It seems inevitable that players are going to come to different conclusions about the Faith, since the Faith is effectively defined by the Dogs themselves. Perhaps Iím jaded, but it seems that it would take a very disciplined, restrained group of players to have a campaign end without having Dogs coming to blows or trying to kill each other.

It all left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and as stupid as it sounded all I could think was that it wasnít fair. It wasnít fair that Ceriís player was so cavalier about turning sorcerer Ė saying things like ďwell I might as well because itís the last gameĒ. It wasnít fair that Ceriís player never emotionally engaged with the conflict between the PCs, that she was willing to invest in NPCs but never really invested herself as a player in relating to the other Dogs Ė a fact which she did admit to at the end of our last session.

It wasnít fair that I was engaged to the point of crying because of the tragedy of it all, while Ceriís player adamantly remained disengaged - which was out of keeping with her play in all the previous sessions.


Despite all of this, I still maintain that Dogs is my favorite game (although Iíll admit I havenít played all that many). But I think that itís important to choose who you play Dogs with carefully, because Dogs is viscerally, gut-wrenchingly intense stuff and itís very easy to get hurt - even by people who are good roleplayers, who are your best friends Ė if some people are more engaged than others.


So because Iím rambling, there are two things that Iíd like to discuss:

1) In a recent thread (ďWeíre only doing what the Faith says!Ē http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19480.0) the problem was raised of players finding ways to distance themselves from their characters. While the case isnít as cut-and-dry, because Ceriís player had been very engaged for most of the campaign, it seems that there are circumstances in which some players feel the urge to distance themselves from their characters, to disengage from the moment.

2) Is it possible to have non-violent endings? Does the Dogs mechanic of escalation predispose it toward violent endings, or is that something that the players bring to the table? Specifically, Iím interested in input from people who have played through Dogs campaigns to their conclusions and not just random conjecture.

~ Anna
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greyorm
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« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2006, 07:15:51 PM »

Was this the first play through (not just the first session) of Dogs the other players had? Which players were responsible for driving events towards the Dogs shooting each other?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2006, 07:28:47 PM »

It all left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and as stupid as it sounded all I could think was that it wasnít fair. It wasnít fair that Ceriís player was so cavalier about turning sorcerer Ė saying things like ďwell I might as well because itís the last gameĒ. It wasnít fair that Ceriís player never emotionally engaged with the conflict between the PCs, that she was willing to invest in NPCs but never really invested herself as a player in relating to the other Dogs Ė a fact which she did admit to at the end of our last session.

It wasnít fair that I was engaged to the point of crying because of the tragedy of it all, while Ceriís player adamantly remained disengaged - which was out of keeping with her play in all the previous sessions.

Wow.† That's raw.† That's impressive.

Were I a delicate man, I'd prance around that issue.† Because yeah, it's emotionally freighted for you, and I respect that.

But I'm not a delicate man, so ... is there any outcome that you think would have satisfied the following two criteria?

  • Crispin loses because he wouldn't shoot a fellow dog
  • The outcome is "fair."

... and, specifically, let me offer the following hypothetical:† Everything happens as it must, except that Ceri's player is completely engaged, and is totally willing to stand by the character's descent into sorcery and death, as the moral, human, real choice that player has chosen to bring to the game this time around.

Would that have been cool?

I've got some theories on why things felt so unfair to you, but I'm going to hold them a little close to the chest until I hear your response on this ... genuinely not trying to be sneaky, just trying not to frame too far away from this potent actual play.
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Anna Kreider
Member

Posts: 65


« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2006, 08:06:23 PM »

Greyorm: Ethelred was the GM of the original campaign. I had a PC in both. And my husband, Solamasa, had a dog in the last one and GMed this one. Sister Ceri and Br. Killgore were both new players.

Ceri and Killgore wound up having the final shootout - but in all fairness tension had been building toward *some* sort of a resolution.


Tony:

Damn. You ask real stumpers, Tony. :D

While I can't think of a specific example, I would have been open to losing the conflict and still having an ending that felt fair. I wasn't about to hang my definition of a successful ending on Crispin's success - sometimes tragedy is the best ending a character can hope for. But it's the way in which that tragedy came about that seemed unfair.

To respond to your hypothetical more specifically...

I would have been far more satisfied if Ceri's player had, as you said, "completely engaged, and [was] totally willing to stand by the character's descent into sorcery and death". I can't guarantee that I wouldn't have been a little disappointed, but I think I could be mostly happy with that resolution.

However, if Ceri's player had been completely engaged, I don't know that that outcome would have come about in the first place. Her attitude was "I might as well, since this is the last game". But if it had been "shit, Ceri has to win this" or "I'm willing to stake everything on this" or "Ceri doesn't care what it takes to win"... I could have respected that even if I didn't like where it went.

...the fact that you say you have theories makes me curious.

~Anna
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2006, 08:32:56 PM »

Well, here's my theory (for what it's worth, ushers will pass among you distributing grains of salt).

The resolution of a conflict under the Dogs rules can mirror the resolution of that same conflict between the players.† I would argue, in fact, that when the game sings (as it so often does) it is because the rules support and pattern the ways in which players thrash out a consensus among diverging visions.  When the mechanics stop, it's usually because one side or the other has decided that the story's going to be cool in the direction their opposition is taking it, and they give.

When it works:† Hezekiah and Chester get into an argument about whether smoking a peace pipe is a violation of God's will.† Chester knocks Hezekiah the hell down and strides over and takes the pipe.† Hezekiah's player (Bob) understands that his point of view has been heard, it's valid, people respect it ... but they're going the other way.† Bob also understands the valid reasons why the group is going the other way (presumably because Chester's player wanted it more, that's why he escalated further), and he's cool with that, now that he's been heard.† The symbols of the game have reinforced and shown the underlying conflict as it resolved.

When it doesn't work:† Same scene as before, only the symbols don't stay connected.† Bob makes a really meaningful address of the issue, but it isn't supported by the dice on his sheet, so it doesn't do him any numeric good.† Chester's player goes to physical because it's strategically good, but it's not any sort of flag that he wants to win the conflict more than Bob does.† At the end, Bob doesn't feel that he's been heard, and he doesn't feel that his opinions are respected by the group, and he sure as hell doesn't understand any valid reasons why the group is going the other way.† He's not cool with all that.† The symbols of the game have marched on in their own patterns, but the conflict between players has never been resolved.† Bob still thinks it should have gone the way he wanted.

It sounds to me like you've got a case of that second thing on your hands.† In particular:† You feel that your address of the whole "What crimes are too far, even for a noble goal?" theme wasn't given proper weight ... the choice not to escalate is something of a mechanical non-event in the rules, and I suspect that stings.† Also, you point out that Ceri's turn to sorcery was not a clear flag that Ceri's player wanted her outcome more than you wanted yours.† As with Bob, it looks to me like you aren't satisfied that the conflict between your vision and the visions of the other players was resolved in a way that made you satisfied, even in defeat.

How's that theory sit with you?
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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: May 02, 2006, 09:01:19 PM »

Hi Anna,

Two thoughts:

First, the emotional issue.  As I understand it, "I will not abandon you" play, means that everyone's coming in to be deeply engaged in play, and be there emotionally for each other, but not back away from tough things.  (Nobody Gets Hurt = let's not deal with tough stuff at all).   It really sounds like what you wanted was IWNAY play, and you weren't getting the sort of emotional feedback and -presence- that sort of thing requires.

That seems to be the core issue on a Social Contract level that is necessary.

Second, the issue of violence is pretty easy to call- Dogs is designed to be a tight formula of feces + fan with a heavy focus on violence.  This isn't to say that violence can't be avoided, but it is to say it's always going to be present, even if simply looming as a threat.  This isn't just in the escalation mechanics, but also in town creation, simply because without intervention, it will escalate to Hate & Murder...

From a non-mechanical view point, you also have a bunch of young folks, with strong ideals, a load of responsibility, nearly free reign as far as authority, and no concrete advice about how to fix the problems they encounter...  And if they fail, other people's souls go to hell.

From my play, my Dog had a wonderful 4D10 trait called "Faith beyond Fear", which made it the perfect trait to pull out in violent situations, but not necessarily -respond- with violence.  The hidden coin of the Dogs is that they're preachers on one side, gunslingers on the other.  Figuring out how much of which face to show is a focal point of play.

Chris
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greyorm
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« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2006, 10:44:40 PM »

Anna,

Given who the players were respective to the game, here's my alternative theory to Tony's. They were new to the game, so they pushed the game right to its most extreme boundaries to see what happened. It's like playing D&D for the first time: it is the most bizzare, weird, over-the-top bit of play that ever happens in the game.

Ron has a great story about how the players of videogame characters always have their characters run in circles, jump up on everything in sight, fire off a few rounds or smash stuff they don't have to, attack NPCs, etc. and basically act as spastically as possible. The players do this because they're learning the boundaries and play of the game.

So, why do so many Dogs games end in violence? I will posit that most first-time Dogs games end in violence because the players involved want to see it happen. Not because they like violence, per se, but because they are establishing game boundaries by hitting the extreme edges of play. They want to see someone shot to see someone shot, not because it means anything right then and there: it may, but that is secondary to the drive to use the rules to their fullest and find the boundaries. To use the tools spread out before them to see what they all do.

Afterwards, play drops back towards the middle and other tactics and resolutions are tried. ie: the video game character stops jumping up and down and smashing every barrel in sight.

I might be completely off here, and you're free to tell me so, but that is what I believe is the answer to your question about why the game ended in violence and similarly to the other game. (Anecdotally, after my first Dogs game I complained, "Damn. No one got SHOT! We're playing Dogs and NO ONE got SHOT!")
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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oliof
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« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2006, 02:49:33 AM »

greyorm: Most of my dogs sessions also are all way less bloody and shooty then most of the AP reports. The players are satisfied nonetheless, and I don't think I'm holding back anything. So, I don't think shoot-to-kill is necessary for a dogs experience, but the possibility to be able just-so to switch there.

I also think that my towns are not as polarised as others are, because in my towns people are misled about leading a faithful life only *a small bit* - which can easily lead the full sin progression up to heresy and witch cults. But generally, people still see dogs as authorities and only seldom begin to aggressively oppose them. Maybe it's just that I know small organisatorial structures like towns quite well to know that people'd rather weasel themselves out of a tough position than to openly oppose the people in power.
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2006, 04:11:58 AM »

So, I don't think shoot-to-kill is necessary for a dogs experience, but the possibility to be able just-so to switch there.

Greetings oliof, please note I did not say that ("shooting and killing is a necessary part of any Dogs experience"). In fact, I agree with your statement in full.

I'm talking about a very specific situation with specific criteria. Now, if you tell me that the majority of your unbloody Dogs sessions are with players new to the game, and that afterwards they don't talk about how they didn't get to shoot anyone, or that no one got shot, then ok -- but I think that discussion best handled in another thread. I'm looking to see if Anna thinks I've got anything here with my theory regarding her experiences (and admittedly, I may not).
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Anna Kreider
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Posts: 65


« Reply #9 on: May 03, 2006, 05:23:39 AM »

Greyorm:

I agree with your assessment that newer players are more predisposed toward violence only somewhat. The player of brother Killgore was really uninterested in seeing the Dogs come to blows, but went with it because he said it seemed like what the rest of the group wanted. It's possible that Ceri's player might have have acted that way because she was a new player, but seeing as how for the most of the towns she made several stands against punishing certain people I'm not certain I want to pidgeon-hole her into that category.

Chris:

Thank you for your input, but I was more input in specific feedback based on people's experience with conclusions of their Dogs campaigns.

Tony:

Your assessment seems pretty accurate. Giving that conflict was hard and painful, and watching it turn into blood and sorcery after I'd given even more so because I didn't like where things were going but couldn't intervene because I was out of the conflict. You're also right when you say that Ceri's turn to sorcery wasn't a sign of wanting to win more than everyone else - it just seemed like the thing to do.

In retrospect, I should have interrupted and brought up my concerns, because it's a little hypocritical of me to complain about the outcome if I didn't say anything. But I wasn't really able to articulate what bothered me about the situation until a day later when I'd been thinking about it for quite a while, so it was hard for me to speak up beyond "hey, I don't like this..."


~Anna

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greyorm
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My name is Raven.


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« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2006, 12:14:21 PM »

That's cool, Anna. As I said, I could have been completely off in that assessment.
I'm also curious, given this:

But I wasn't really able to articulate what bothered me about the situation until a day later when I'd been thinking about it for quite a while, so it was hard for me to speak up beyond "hey, I don't like this..."

Did your group run through a Reflection of the session? What was discussed during the Reflection? Did you mention your vague dislike of the end result?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Anna Kreider
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Posts: 65


« Reply #11 on: May 03, 2006, 12:40:08 PM »

We did have a reflection afterwards, and I did mention that I didn't care for how things ended. But like I said I couldn't articulate any specific reasons why until a day later.

~Anna
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Ravingmad
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« Reply #12 on: May 11, 2006, 03:38:27 PM »

It wasnít fair that Ceriís player was so cavalier about turning sorcerer Ė saying things like ďwell I might as well because itís the last gameĒ.

It seems to me like this is a big part of the issue.  Why did this game have a definite ending as "the last game"?  Anytime the players know that this is the big end, it creates a possibility of disconnect between them and the game world.  Instead of feeling like they are the character, they can feel like they are writing the epilogue for the character.  And if that's the case, there is the temptation to go out in a "blaze of glory" because a more game-oriented player is no longer invested in their character's future.

I don't think I'd ever run a session saying beforehand "this is the last game."  Even if I knew we were suspending play indefinitely due to real life issues, I'd tell the players to keep their character sheets and if we ever got together again they might go for another ride.  If there was obviously a huge conflict between the Dogs and that group wasn't going to run together anymore, I might say that some dogs would be continuing into the next storyline, but I hadn't decided on who.  Anything to keep the players invested in their characters.  If this story is coming to an end, the door has to at least be open for a sequel where some characters may come back.

In your other campaign that ended in bloodshed, didn't you say that group knew it was coming to an end soon as well?  I don't think this is necessarily a DoTV issue, it's a "endgame" issue.  Once you know the game is done for these particular characters, it's too easy for the Dog to say "I never liked you anyway, you low-down snake-in-the-grass, and now yer gonna pay."  While if that Dog still has to face the opportunity of working with the other Dog...or at least dealing with the fallout and continuing on...it's a much harder move to make.
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Darren Hill
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« Reply #13 on: May 11, 2006, 05:35:45 PM »

I don't think I'd ever run a session saying beforehand "this is the last game."† Even if I knew we were suspending play indefinitely due to real life issues, I'd tell the players to keep their character sheets and if we ever got together again they might go for another ride.† If there was obviously a huge conflict between the Dogs and that group wasn't going to run together anymore, I might say that some dogs would be continuing into the next storyline, but I hadn't decided on who.† Anything to keep the players invested in their characters.† If this story is coming to an end, the door has to at least be open for a sequel where some characters may come back.

It seems to me that one of the pillars of narrativist games is you don't lie to your players. That means traditional GM white lies have to go: if it's the last session, and you really have no serious plans to play those characters again, you really should tell them that. And then trust your players to play their characters with integrity.
And, in any case, if they want a satisfying conclusion to their character's story, they should have the chance to get it. When every player is aware that this session may be the chance for their character to have a satisfying end and have it concide with the end of the game, I'd argue that ups the potential for dramatic tension and coolness, because everyone knows at some point during this session, players are going to be putting everything on the line, and will be looking for the moment to make that happen.
Maybe Anna would have had more fun if she had anticipated that? (I also agree with Tony's notion of when it doesn't work. I've seen a few players feel gipped when that's happened - fortunately, the dice mechanic in Dogs ensures it's not too common, while not completely eliminating the chance.)
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Anna Kreider
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Posts: 65


« Reply #14 on: May 12, 2006, 06:59:53 AM »

Ravingmad: We had been playing for two months when we got to the last town, and everyone mutually decided that this would be a good place for the campaign to end. Things between the Dogs had been heading toward some sort of a resolution anyhow, and everyone agreed it would be best - since we did want that final sense of resolution. And I certainly wouldn't have been happy with the GM lying about the end of the game - because that seems like a holdover from "the GM is all powerful" kind of thinking. It's a group game, we should all get to decide when it ends.

That being said, the previous campaign I played in, the one with a "satisfying" ending, ended accidentally. We had planned on going another two or three towns, but things just kind of happened that way and we rolled with it. But I can't really say if it was knowing that this was the last game that threw the game off.

Darren: I've played a lot of Dogs, and realized that that was what was going to happen. The last game would mean people would take harder stands on things, would put everything on the line. But the fact remains that *for my character* the stakes weren't worth killing, or trying to kill, another Dog. (At the point I dropped out, Ceri had not gone to sorcery yet). I wasn't going to keep going in the conflict simply because I knew it was the last game - not when I knew that it was something that my character simply couldn't do. So when I ran out of options that involved shooting at Dogs, I gave.

Dogs is a game that pushes people to badness, because the dice mechanic rewards violence. And I think that's awesome. But what bugged me wasn't this issue of players putting everything on the line. What bugged me was the fact that Ceri's player wasn't engaged, that she intentionally distanced herself from the pathos of the moment, and that the ending felt cheapened because of it. It wasn't the decision that bothered me, it was the reason for the decision; "I can't lose this conflict" would have been satisfying, whereas "the consequences don't really matter, because this is the last game" was not.

~Anna
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