Tag Archives: inclusive

A L.A.R.P. by any other name – ABC’s The Quest

ABC's The Quest - Reality LARPingCopyright ABC*

ABC’s The Quest – Reality LARPing
Copyright: American Broadcasting Company*

Quite by accident the other night I found myself staring at a television set tuned to a channel of which I did not know and was presented with the opening scenes to a show of which I was not familiar with.

As the scenes unfolded, with contestants introducing themselves, their names in flowery almost Celtic-like patterns on the bottom telling personal stories of their earlier years, at first I thought this had to be a History channel snippet about Medieval times. Researchers perhaps? Historians or even, dare-I-say-it, Mythologists?

But as the scenes switched into talk of fantasy and the unknown world around us I began to suspect it was perhaps a behind-the-scenes look at the latest Hollywood fantasy flick I was not even aware as being in production.

Wrong on all accounts.

The show, which became apparent to me after watching a few minutes, was a reality series where contestants vied to become the Hero of a group of Paladins in the Kingdom of Ever-Realm.

Heroes in the Lands of Ever-RealmABC

Heroes in the Lands of Ever-Realm
ABC

Wha-?!

Upon seeing this I can only suspect that you would have immediately jumped to the same conclusion I did about the show—the people are LARPing!

And indeed that is the unspoken premise behind ABC’s reality television show, The Quest.

In this new series, twelve contestants venture into the mystical world of Ever-Realm to become the Last-Hero-Standing as they battle it out against the evil forces of Verlox in the kingdom of Saenctum. All of this action takes place in a fully immersive and completely constructed landscape around a castle and populated by costumed Medieval citizenry as well as witches, wizards, monsters and more.

The expanded canon of the world includes the Fates, three mystical beings who banished the historically nefarious being of Verlox, a cross between Middle Earth’s Sauron and Harry Potter’s Voldemort, with the help of an original group of heroes, a dozen Paladin’s from ages past, testing them through various Labors (like Hercules) until a Legendary True Hero emerged. And every time this V’lox fellow returns, the search is reset, with new pallys sought out by the three Fates to do battle with the Sun Spear against the evil Verlox.

The Evil Verlox

The Evil Verlox of the Ever Realm
ABC’s The Quest

The show itself follows the typical format for reality fare: contestants vying to become the-last-man-standing through a series of challenges. The twist to The Quest however, is the blend between fantasy and reality- or as ABC bills it:

“from the producers of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, paired with the producers of “The Amazing Race,” “The Quest” will be a fully immersive experience. In and around this castle, our fantasy realm will come to life with state-of-the art projections, animatronics, prosthetics, real-time motion capture and art direction. The narrative and mythology of “The Quest” is deep and fully imagined, and it has been designed to incorporate seamlessly with the unexpected actions and decisions of our contestants – fantasy comes alive as it never has before in this genre-bending series.”

And as for the folks behind it:

‘“The Quest” is executive produced by Bertram van Munster, Elise Doganieri, Mark Ordesky, Jane Fleming, Rob Eric and Michael Williams. It was filmed on location in Austria.’

In the first episode, which was in all, a rather timid beginning, the contestants entered the Kingdom of Saenctum hounded by horsemen and were given their first challenge which turned out to be, get this:

Firing ballista’s into wooden dummies.

Ballista Challenge

Challenge: Ballista Practice
ABC’s The Quest

That’s right; they suited up in Medieval gear, got behind wooden barricades and fired FRIGGAN  ballista’s!

How medieval is that?

Can you get anymore LARPed out than firing a FRIGGAN ballista?

I’ve been to LARPS and I’ve never fired a ballista, let alone did so in a challenge, let alone did so against wooden dummies, let alone did so more than once– Have you?

Aside from firing FRIGGAN ballista’s, the real intriguing things going on with the show however, and unfortunately it is not the shows chemistry or super engaging contestants themselves or camera-work, is the backgrounds of these ‘contestants’.

Self-professed dreamers and superhero fans, the contestants are, so far as has been revealed anyways, not exactly cut from your typical Gamer cloth.

The Paladin's Assembled

The Paladin’s Assembled
ABC’s The Quest

They are regular people, and by regular, I mean non-RPG/LARPers: i.e. non-Gamers. They are waiters, real-estate folk, teachers, an MMA fighter (that’s right a Real-life FIGHTER, (Level 4+ I imagine)), assistants and other non-gamers galore.

Now given this, I’ve already come across a review about the believability of these folks’ commitment to their roles.

Which reminded me of the mild outcry over Porn Stars playing D&D as being a horrible representation of the hobby to the public at-large, which was simultaneously seen as  disingenuous all-the-same (never mind the creators own inflammatory history within the community itself).

The issue is really though, and always is, about the legitimacy of the ‘non-gamer’ who engages in Gaming culture.

The World of Ever Realm

The World of Ever Realm – Non-Gamers as LARPers
ABC’s The Quest

This is a reoccurring and thorny issue amongst any group that prides itself on exclusivity and uber-competence. But for me what is so potentially exciting about the show is the fact that it is precisely because it is about non-gamers adjusting to a fantasy setting that makes it something worth consuming and encouraging.

There are always the two sides to this issue of non-Gamers entering the Gaming sphere, those who wish for the hobby to remain exclusive and purist, and those who believe it should be more inclusive and welcoming—I believe it isn’t too hard to imagine which part of spectrum of that argument I stand upon, firmly.

Which, despite the lackluster excitement of the show itself, leads to the biggest and coolest thing about the show that I saw (aside from the ballista’s of course)—the FIGGAN diversity!

Take a look at some of the paladins, i.e. the shows Contestants (Heroes):

The Quest - ChristianThe Quest - BonnieThe Quest - ShondoThe Quest - LeticiaThe Quest - AdriaThe Quest - Lina

The show is set in a fantasy realm modeled after the Middle Ages in Europe. But these don’t exactly typify the images of people ripped from settings of this standard archetypical D&D world (well maybe some D&D Worlds)—yet here, on one of the biggest Networks in the world, they pushed aside all the historical ‘sameness’ of Europe and went for contestants who looked like this:

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What can I say? Awesome; that’s one thing I could say. And I will say it- Awesome. (Care to give it a try?)

But it wasn’t just the Paladins who were of eclectic origins, I also noticed Non-European stock in the extras too (apologies, Background Actors), and check out the three Fates of the realms, the mystical women, more than likely modeled after the Greek Fates and transported Ever-Realm and the ones responsible for overseeing the original Heroes who triumphed over Verlox in the first go-round:

The Three Fates of Ever-Realm

The Three Fates of Ever-Realm
ABC

Notice the ethnicity of the one on the left and of the one in middle (at the highest podium I might dare add. Well La-de-da!)  I wonder who is clearly leader of the group? Can you say, INCLUSIVE? (No seriously, say inclusive—come on now, I know you can)

It was astounding to see, not just see, but how little the show seemed to give a damn about portraying these folks in a medieval setting according to ‘historical’ notions. It immediately reminded me of a website I’ve recently been pointed towards, called People of Color in European Art History—a site that explores how apparently ingrained and pervasive (yet ridiculously ignored) people of color were throughout European history.

Don Miguel De Castro, Ambassador from Kongo to Dutch Brazil(c. 1637)

Don Miguel De Castro
Ambassador from Kongo to Dutch Brazil
(c. 1637)
People of Color in European Art History

But unlike actual history, ABC didn’t stop simply with representations; they seemed almost gleefully joyous at the idea of promoting female stars as the main draw, with over half (seven) of the twelve contestants not just being women but women of various backgrounds.

In fact one of the coolest and most interesting and candid moments of the Pilot episode was when the contestants were discussing their motivations for coming and one of the female paladins said she hoped that one of the ladies ended up winning, just to show that it could be done (paraphrasing)—What!?

Bonnie Gordon

One of the Paladin’s hoping to wield the Sun Spear
ABC

For all this talk recently about inclusion in the gaming world and community, what amazes me is that mainstreaming execs of the show didn’t even blink at the discomfort these icons might cause. The reason? I suspect because unlike the real Gaming world, ABC realizes that they aren’t catering to a select group of folks who may or may not dominate a particular past-time: the past-time of tv watching.

Rather by simple profitable design they are clearly seeking a broader fan base than the traditional Gaming industry caters to, i.e. the actual landscape of the American population and not some rapidly shrinking minority group who for the moment still holds the majority.

Right now though, there doesn’t seem to be much discussion out there about the show. But I imagine if the series continues it just might start showing up on the radar big-time in the hobby, more than likely controversially so on both sides, for and against the depictions, and of course for and against the mainstreaming of LARPing in general and for and against [insert minutia by which Gamers will inevitably find to pick the show apart].

The World of Ever Realm

The World of Ever Realm
ABC’s The Quest

For me though I can think of no greater spearhead than such a show as a wedge for the hobby to gain further traction into the consciousness of the world beyond the Gaming community itself.

Game of Thrones made medieval cooler, even as Lord of the Rings made it cool in the first place. Take a look at the new movie Hercules which stars Dwayne Johnson as the Son of Zeus; you have a mixed-American male playing a European historical Icon and folks didn’t even seem to raise a Rock-like eyebrow (even as they vociferously howled over Idris Elba’s Thor).

If the folks out there interested in widening the tent in Gaming really wanted to show off their gaming pride, and especially those LARPers out there, why not mention the show to everyone you can, inserting subtle little questions in the conversations like “Wouldn’t it be cool to be on vacation in a castle like that?” or “Imagine if Halloween was more than once a year, and you could dress up like a Knight?” These questions and discussions aren’t’ so far off from nudging them ever so slightly into “So I’m heading out to this medieval festival this weekend, you wanna’ go?” If the gaming hobby needs more of anything, it’s that it needs more Gamers.

So when you get a chance, why not tune in, download, stream or just pirate (don’t pirate- say no to pirates, they have Beards) ABC’s The Quest and

Watch forth?

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Beyond the Con – DexCon 17

IMG_0280

Double Exposure’s DexCon 17
Play-testers for Grifter

Maybe it’s the because the arguably most well-known Table-top/Role-playing convention in the North-East falls on the July 4 weekend, the country’s Independence Day, but my recent trek out to Jersey for this years Dexcon brought with it a strange but welcome moment of reflection about the landscape beyond the Convention itself.

First, DexCon 17 was a great experience—I spent most of the time there play-testing my upcoming Kickstarter card-game, Grifter, which got universal thumbs up. When I wasn’t getting valuable feedback about the game, I managed to play a few scenarios of Pathfinder, sit for a little D&D Next adventure and round out my stay with some group-talks and seminars.

Besides myself, also in attendance at the packed Con were a bevy of Gamers, vendors, authors, developers, artists, LARPers, organizers and all manner of creative minds. And from what I saw the collection was eclectic, all-encompassing, and very inclusive–a great turnout.

Not one for spending their entire daylight hours cooped up inside I felt the urge to head outdoors for some lunch during my second day there. My walk through Morristown, the town where Dexcon was situated in, gave me an odd chance at reflection about the world at large and gifted me with a peculiar set of lenses through which I afterwards returned to the convention itself with.

Though this wasn’t my first Dexcon or my first trip to Morristown, it was the first time I ventured out of the oasis and into the small city surrounding the area in which the mecca of gaming occurred. What I found was an interesting mash-up of Americana.

Morristown Key1

Map of Morristown NJ
Site of Double Exposure 17

Directly across from the Hyatt hotel, where Dexcon takes place, is a host of restaurants– noticeably Latin ones.

IMG_0302

Galapagos Latin Cuisine Eatery

A short walk North along Speedwell which is the boulevard where the Hotel sits on, one will find many eateries of Spanish cuisine.

The neighborhood itself, judging by the make-up of the individuals walking around seemed to be composed of many inhabitants appearing to be largely of Latin American ancestry. In fact the further one walks this way the more pronounced this appears to be the case. My New York City eyes saw the Jersey equivalents of Bodegas along with attorney storefronts, supermarkets and shops catering to an evidently manifold Hispanic population.

Intrigued, I decided to scout out the rest of the area around the Convention, several gaps in my play-testing, seminar and gaming schedule allowing for this amateur sleuthing.

IMG_0307

Another Morristown Latino establishment

Directly behind the Hyatt, no more than a block East were small, closely built houses. Unlike two streets over, the demographics here seemed to suggest a neighborhood of largely African decent. There was a nice sunny ball-park I passed on my brief walk-thru where some children were playing and individuals along my path nodded as I strolled by.

To the West and South of the Hyatt I found municipal buildings and a small low-built commercial section of the town that reminded me of a less dense version of Brooklyn.

The municipal buildings included an armory, a court house and an amusingly titled Fort Nonsense. Investigating Morristown when I returned home yielded the fact that the town proved to be a decisive location in the War for Independence from Britain—a fine choice for the Con given the date of its occurrence.

IMG_0291

Shops in this quarter were plentiful, with restaurants of a decidedly American and European flavor. It was also here that I found an abundance of churches, from Baptist to Episcopalian to Methodist (One Episcopal site had a welcoming LBGTQA sign outside). Just for comparison, in the apparently Hispanic community to the north of the Hyatt I did see a church as well as an old and apparently historic Synagogue.

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Episcopal Church with an LBGTQA sign

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A Baptist Church a few blocks away

IMG_0295 - Copy

Morristown Municipal building

IMG_0303

A Synagogue

The mix of peoples in this clearly more affluent area largely appeared to be wealthier and of a more European descent. There was a small square with a statue of a man walking a German Shepard. Stopping to read the two plaques beside it I found that this scene depicted Morris Frank & his Seeing Eye dog Buddy. They were it seems, some of the first pioneers in the Seeing Eye dog movement in the United States and Morris, the man, lived in the Morristown area until his death in 1980.

FrankBuddy2

Statue of Morris Frank and
his Seeing Eye dog Buddy

IMG_0313
Continuing along this boulevard I saw many small specialty shops like Yoga Spa’s, jewelry stores and organic eateries. Waiting at a cross-walk a car honked by in several beeps as its occupants, four young ladies of potentially Latin decent waved the Columbian flag from one of rolled down windows. Smiling at them and receiving a smile back I continued on, encountering more homes and stores before heading back to the Con to continue on with my gaming fun.

IMG_0317
It was a ponderous walk through the town, one that got me thinking about the convention and the folks in attendance there.

The Convention and the Hyatt hotel it was hosted at were clearly situated at the convergence of a number of different neighborhoods. But not just in terms of population, so too did the area seem to be a nexus of various religious, historical and alternative viewpoints that were the entire backdrop amidst which the Con itself was occurring.

It got me thinking about the world outside the gaming one and how so much of what Gamers, including myself bring to the table comes from their world experience beyond the board.

Perhaps it was fitting that the Convention was happening along the border of an extraordinary intersection of peoples, ideologies and history so too like gaming itself which occurs at the crossroads of fantasy and reality whose blurred lines occur in the minds of its players. Incorporating all those different factors into a unified story, or Country is kind of what the hobby is all about. The suspension of the familiar in hopes of creating something new and different—at the junction of all things varied. America, like Gaming, was and is something birthed by the notion that ideas can trump everything that has already come before. Something new, something unique and something inclusive of All Men, and now Women too, Created equally: a fitting food for thought on Independence Day. Take it or leave it, but always,

Game Forth.

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Doubly Exposed to a Maelstrom – An Alternative Review

Double Exposure's Logo for their first 'Inclusive' Convention- MaelstromImage Copyright: Double Exposure Inc.

Double Exposure’s Logo for their
first ‘Inclusive’ Convention- Maelstrom

Image Copyright: Double Exposure Inc.

In the spirit of positivity, by way of a certain icon of Geekiness, Curt Thompson, I have decided to post a follow-up to a previous blog that was quite the opposite of this idea of One Love– one that at the time was a politely justifiable rant.

You see, a couple months ago, not long after I formed my Meetup.com group devoted towards bringing more inclusivity to the gaming world, I caught wind of a Gaming convention that was being formed around that very idea: Double Exposure’s Maelstrom.

Needless to say I was slightly peeved when I contacted the organizer to the Convention and got little by way of a response (okay more than a little peeved), especially considering its seemingly recent and coincidental abiogenesis.

It’s never an easy thing to step out of the shadows and admit you’ve got some issues with the way the world is being run, especially the Gaming world where the whole Knowledge Is Power concept is the epitome of elite Gamerdom (see: Uber-pwnage).

Image Source: ???

Image Source: ???–

But as I consider myself generally the optimist, and as the Convention drew near and I was continuously reminded of its approach, I decided to once again reach out to the organizer and start a dialogue. This time, results varied.

Vincent Salzillo, the President and Founder of Double Exposure Inc. personally invited both myself and the members of my fledgling Meetup group to the con, gifting the lot of us with discount tickets and a warm welcome.

Needless to say, the skeptic in me viewed this as a payoff of sorts; the more positive person in me viewed it as an opportunity.

#

In Maelstrom, regardless of the why, I saw a chance to add to the discourse on Inclusive Gamerdom that, aside from glad-handing and talk, have personally seen very little of first-hand.

So, taking up the offer, I headed out with a few comedic friends in tow and adventured out to the wilds of New Jersey, embarking on a quest most geeky into a Maelstrom…

And the results?

Varied.

A fellow (and thus independent from my own sensibilities)Gamer's own image of the 'diverse' crowd at Maelstrom Image Copyright: VB Wyrde

A fellow (and thus independent) Gamer’s
own image of the ‘diverse’ crowd at Maelstrom
Image Source: VB Wyrde (check out his blog!)

While not as eclectic as I had hoped it to be (see photo above), there were a few good signs that the Inclusivity agenda was an important stone in the Con’s foundation. Most obvious and notable to this effect: the panels.

With Seminars set up to cover the idea of Inclusivity, and a huge emphasis on ‘The Other’, a concept I dealt with in a panel I myself hosted (“Kill the Orc!“), there was at least a sincere effort to address the disparity of Gamers in the world of Gaming.

The Black CoyotlYours truly, hosting "Kill the Orc!"

The Black Coyotl
Yours truly, hosting “Kill the Orc!”
-A Seminar about Race & Gaming

The medley of panels and their hosts covered topics ranging from gender issues and religion to sexuality, orientation and the all important, yet somehow nebulous concept of ‘The Other’.

But beyond the panel area, the actual implementation of inclusivity fell somewhat short.

First I’d like to say that points go to the overall attempt at addressing gaming under-representation.  But for actually getting non-traditional Gamers to show up and Game, I didn’t see too many other -ahem- non-traditional looking gamers strolling the halls (see photo above, again).

There were a few, other panelists to be sure, and a handful of other non-trad Gamers, but the bulk of the goers seemed to be cut from the same cloth as other convention-goers.

Now I’ve been to my share of conventions, especially considering the short amount of time I’ve been gaming and the lack of diversity I generally encounter at the gaming table can be both disheartening and hostile at times, sometimes concurrently. So it was a bit disappointing seeing the turnout, however, its something that I’ve come to understand as an Organizer myself is something you really can’t blame entirely on the Convention runners themselves, no matter how much apparent outreach.

But having said all that, and with my critical eye of the overall goals of the convention satisfied, I’d like to put away my  ideological lens for the rest of this long-winded blog and simply describe my experience at the Con itself (which I believe was the point of Mr. Thompson’s Day of 9th)– in short, I had a blast.

Grifter: A Game of ConsMy upcoming 54-card game

Grifter: A Game of Cons
My upcoming 54-card game

The first thing I did when I arrived was get in a play-test of the game I’ve been working on for the past couple of months and am looking to KickStart soon, Grifter with a bunch of great folks who walked over to my ‘lane’ and signed up to play.

You see Maelstrom adopted a basic organizing room where folks could print out the names of games people were willing to run and whoever wanted to, could sign up and play.  So I posted my game to one of these ‘lanes’ and was psyched when four Gamers strolled over, inquired about the title and sat down to play.

Two games in and I got some great feedback and was amazed to find out that one of the Gamers was Tom Tiernan of Everything Epic Games whose partner in crime, Chris Batarlis I’d met at a James Bond LARP event  a year ago and blogged about afterwards (and who was, apparently as pictured above, also at the Con).

After finishing up some great play with my game Grifter, I jumped at the chance to test out his and Chris’ successfully KickStarted Secrets of the Lost Tomb, a Betrayal on House on the Hill homage game. But before that, I gave my Seminar entitled ‘Kill the Orc!’– a not so subtle look at the parallels between fantasy and real-world race relations.

A Ubiquitous Orc...Who regardless, has to die.

A Ubiquitous Orc
Who of course, has to die.

The Q&A feedback I got from the session was again a great experience and it was amazing to be able to openly talk about a lot of the issues that I encountered throughout my short career thus far in gaming.

I heard from folks who told me about their own experiences about inserting taboo topics into their games in an effort to bring awareness of real-world understanding to the gaming table and was delighted to engage with people who described their own discomfort at times over the language used in gaming literature concerning race and gender.

I also got a chance to meet Ajit George and Whitney Beltran, whose own panel seminar on Gaming as the Other dealt with their personal experiences in the world of gaming.

It was through these great gaming folks (GGFs) that I was introduced to the game “How We Came To Live Here“.

Brennan Taylor's Native American RPG A story-telling game of community and consequences Image Copyright: Indie Press Revolution

Brennan Taylor’s Native American RPG
A story-telling game of community and consequences
Image Copyright: Indie Press Revolution

Put out by Galileo Games |Galileo Books, How We Came To Live Here is a Native American story-telling game written by Brennan Taylor that deals with the myths and legends of Native American peoples. Centered around family and the tribe, the game is a surprising answer to the concepts I raised in a blog I posted not too long ago about Native American Druids.

Following this exchange I finally got to test-drive Tom’s Secret’s of the Lost Tomb with my comedy bud, admiring the great art and narrative character backgrounds, and after that I joined a one-shot table of Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG by Fantasy Flight  Games– The Long Arm of the Hutt. Playing a Twi’lek bounty hunter at a table comprised of overwhelmingly non-traditional gamers, it was a great way to end the con.

(Somewhere in all that action I also got in a few minutes of D&D Next as a Drow assassin, but I forget now the order of the affair, only that I Sneaked Attacked the funk out of an undead Dwarven Skeleton – UBER-PWNAGE!)

So all in all,  it was a great con–and a Positive Experience, something that truly made me, as a Gamer, Happy (Nerd Love Post: Owned).

And while the bar Maelstrom set for Inclusive was in my critical eye nowhere near met, nor even analyzed as to how to approach it, the actual outcome of the Con was in my ‘Other’ more positive eye a success– the conversation about inclusivity was started.

So when you get a chance, why not Head Out, Game Out, Roll out with your Gnoll Out and find some reasons to incorporate Inclusivity, in whatever form it takes into your own gaming experiences and

Game Forth!

Game Positively.

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A Very ‘Unconventional’ Convention – A Very Familiar Tactic

failI grew up with half a tongue.

A couple months ago I decided to implement a long-term goal of mine that had been a dream since I first became a Gamer.

It was a dream that entailed the creation of my own public Gaming group, open to all members but with a special focus on bringing into the fold of D&D and table-top games individuals like myself and other, potentially disenfranchised folks who might have felt a bit out of place within the larger Gaming Community.

Granted, this is a lofty position to take, but it was a sentiment in tune with comments I’d heard from other Gamers I‘d played with. By sight alone, I saw how frequent certain individuals came and went in the gaming community, with little impetus by other Gamers to keep them in the mix.

And so it was, with the generous and grateful help of my group of campaign players who, I cannot ever express the gratitude I have for their support that this idea and dream of mine was able to come to fruition.

I successfully launched this brand-spanking new Meetup.com group for Gamers in the New York City area this past September. (You can find the page here.)

With the title of Alternative Gamers, and a moniker for our Members that was an extension of this very commercial brand, Black Coyotl, I gave our members the title of ‘Inclusive Gamers’.

In all honesty, I didn’t know how the Meetup would fare in the marketplace; there are literally dozens of gaming groups operating in the Tri-state area, all of which are geared towards a specific niche, neighborhood, or type of Gamer (Female/V:TM/Old-Timers etc.)

Which is why I decided to create a group where I, and others like myself could feel comfortable playing in, and more than that, feel welcomed. It was my attempt at creating a ‘safe place to play’ for Gamers who might not be the most welcomed at your traditional gaming scene.

In the months since, I’m proud to say that my Inclusive Gaming group, with the gracious help of my Gaming friends, has been a success.We have had over a dozen successfully organized Meets, and have brought in a slew of new players to the mix. 

What’s more, it was rewarding to see that the idea of an Inclusive Gaming group could not only attract members, but could do so repeatedly and retain them.

Now, what is rather interesting is the development of this idea of Inclusive and Alternative Gaming that has suddenly sprung up in the area.

As a Gaming hobbyist, I keep an ear to the gnomish railroad of this world (as evidenced by my blog) and came across another Meetup group in the city, a Gaming group, around since 2012 that surreptitiously about a month after our launch this year had the following on their homepage:

It’s interesting considering the phrasing, but what I find more interesting is the disclaimer about its non-competitive nature; as if there is some implied competition in quoting this new addendum to their site, almost as if the presence of this disclaimer were expected to be challenged in some way. In what way I can only wonder (does this blog constitute a challenge?), but I do find its sudden appearance more than coincidental.

(I also find it amusing, as a consequence of a mechanical and hence numbers crunching mindset, that their apparent Inclusive bent is rather, at least seemingly, exclusive, as evidenced by the makeup of their apparent members.

I also mention this group because in a prior incarnation, it was organized by a member who was a PoC [with a name similar to my own actually] but evidently because he was too ‘combative’ he was replaced– you know, how the President sometimes comes across as an ‘angry you know what person’)

I want to stress that I am not calling out the group, simply pointing out an obvious appeal to head off a label of exclusivity. But there has also been another very interesting development in the larger gaming community:

Image Copyright:   Double Exposure, Inc.

Image Copyright:
Double Exposure, Inc.

This past week I received an invite to Double Exposure’s Maelstrom Convention via mailing list. What I find incredibly interesting is how this particular con is being billed, according to some of the following sections on its main page:

Image Altered & Reproduced from:  http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from:
http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from: http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from:
http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Now, I’m not exactly a man given towards providence, however, I do see something of a pattern emerging here. Well, that’s not true exactly, what I actually see is a pattern emerging from a design that I created, and implemented- successfully.

It’s a design that as I said had been a dream for a long time, one where I sought to create a space of safety and comfort for individuals who, well quite frankly: felt marginalized (Wow, where have I heard that before?) Strange that these ideals and goals sound so closely similar to the stated goals of my own group: altgamers So having learned about this Inclusive Gaming outlet I contacted them, and set about asking them if, as they seem ready, willing and able to “set the bar for inclusivity” and to “research” and “outreach”, they wouldn’t mind sponsoring or helping out, or at the very least, responding to  our group’s existence, and thereby embracing such a collection of Inclusive Gamers. As for a response I received none. Which, sadly to say, is exactly the response I expected to be given; not even a rejection, I expected complete and utter silence.

Expectations: Met.

(So much for outreach and research..)

It’s a reaction I’ve gotten more than once since launching this Meetup, as when I mention its goals, I invariably get no response.

For instance, the Emerson College professor Eric Gordon, who runs the Engagement Game Lab, billed as an organization designed to turn gaming engagement into political and civic action and has sponsored games designed to bring water to African’s, and incidentally whom I met at a lecture for inclusion and informed about the group, seemed entirely disinterested in hearing about it, or its members. It’s a general hands-off approach I’ve received in quite a few venues. Unpub, a gaming organization for play testers and whose events I have attended (here for instance) I reached out to as well and inquired if there may be any interest in the possibility of PoC and other Inclusive gamers version of their play-testing model, was silent on the possibility: I received no response from them either. Zilch. Nadda. Nothing. The Con or Bust program, which sponsors trips for minorities to go to Sci-Fi Conventions ( i.e.the burden of helping out the ‘Other’) I also reached out to, looking to engage them in the possibly of being a perk sponsor- and was politely told that their finances didn’t really align with our goals, those of course being getting more minorities involved in the fantasy genre and table-top world. (Obviously D&D isn’t really speculative stuff).

I realize of course asking for endorsements is a tricky and complicated idea, and more doors will be shut than open, but what is amazing is the similarity of goals for the organizations I’ve reached out to, and their complete disinterest in even acknowledging our presence. It’s a paradigm that is wedded to the idea of helping out the ‘Other’ from afar rather than actually engaging with them on an even level with full parity (Give them soup, but for God’s Sake DON’T HIRE THEM!).

I mention these examples also as another pattern I see, one that unlike my Gaming group, is one I did NOT have a hand in making. It is a convenient side-stepping around a certain topic; one I dare not state the Card I wish to play, as I will be accused precisely of playing it– tsk, tsk, we allow you here don’t we- good grief what more do  you want?!?

It does seem however that the goals of my group are ones that clearly need to be addressed. One that is a quaint idea, and clearly a new avenue for exploitation; similar to the appearance of the Blaxploitation film genre of the seventies:

Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_caesar.jpg

Image Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_caesar.jpg
He’s Caesar, but wait he’s not just Caesar, he’s black Caesar- Whaaa?!?

Clearly Inclusive Gaming is a concept that can be run and implemented by anyone. Of course the goals of this concept should encourage not simply the attracting of diverse gamers, but also seeing them in decision-making positions and given free agency.

What is even more amazing is that at the very inception of a concept like Inclusive Gaming, before the scene is even fully formed, the Gaming world is already trying to co-opt and consume it, but in the most capitalist way possible. So even when a group like ours tries to exert its agency and differentiation to what is already in place, it seems that outright stealing and re-branding this desire is the only option available by the wider culture.

This tactic of paying lip service to the idea, wait, sorry “outreach and research”–  and doing so purely for profit, or worse to head off charges of exclusivity falls under the realm of false appeasement and exploitation. It’s an argument that has been far better elaborated on by far more eloquent writers than myself when the great RaceFail of ’09 happened.

RaceFail was a backlash against the perception that there were institutional factors at work within the speculative fiction world that prevented certain ‘types’ of writers from achieving successful careers in the genre (for further details check out this blog here).

Essentially what it boiled down to was that while efforts to appear inclusive could be implemented and hence self-evident, in actuality, this appearance was just that: an appearance. There was no genuine desire to engage with these other types of Writers, at best there was only the desire to write about them in purely abstract form (the magical ‘Other’ and the exotic ‘Other’).

The attempt was seen as not only flawed but completely dishonest and was really only addressed by certain writers who wished to avoid appearing Exclusive (which DexCon seems to backhandedly acknowledge with its Dual Headline of Inclusive Gaming Experience / Exclusive Event Schedule—you can’t get much more disingenuous than this).

What’s more, DexCon is trying to shoot down the fact that the Gaming world is inherently Exclusive– not simply inherently, but systematically Exclusive.

This is an acknowledgement that the Gaming world, and Geek culture in general denies on its face. It is the reason why RaceFail happened. It is the reason why such eloquent and heartfelt appeals to this fact were written by bloggers like Avalon Willow and Deepa D. when they wrote the following:

Unfortunately with DexCon’s upcoming ‘Inclusive Gaming Bar’ being set, there’s a preemptive attempt to display an openness in the community which clearly does NOT exist, otherwise groups would not have to give disclaimers, organizations wouldn’t have to host ‘inclusive’ conventions, and my Group would NEVER have had to have been created.

What it is then, is an attempt to co-opt the argument, and the critique of the culture, from people who have been the very reason for its bias.

And so it’s interesting knowing that while I and the members of my group are clearly not worth the time to deserve even a response, our dollars are certainly desired and even courted.

It’s also interesting to note that while I am personally NOT welcome at a lot of the events I go to (in fact my presence is actually often times greeted with outright hostility and ridicule), my IDEAS clearly are.

So, in an effort to maybe demonstrate just how, non-inclusive this upcoming convention really is, if you’re in the area, and were interested in going to this or any of the DexCon conventions, I would like to encourage you NOT to go– and unlike my usual foot-forward saying I think given their clear appropriation and disingenuous appeal towards ‘inclusion’ as an effort to appear open, is really nothing more than a disingenuous money grab.

I would suggest quite simply not going to any of their events all together: I know I won’t be anymore. In fact, why not create your own truly Inclusive Group, one where inclusive means engagement and cooperation, not co-opting and profit, and

Game True!

Edit: Since this post, I’ve been in communications with the organizers for Double Exposure and have received nothing but support and assistance in both promoting an inclusive mindset within the Gaming community and in allowing for a discussion concerning changing the representations of those depicted in the industry.

They have also provided financial assistance in the form of discounts to members of the Incusive Gaming group of which I am the Organizer, as well as providing spaces to have talks with other gamers as to how to effect change within the community itself.

Towards this end, I would like to state that the Double Exposures organizers are clearly forward-thinking members and backers of a diverse and inclusive future in the Gaming industry and I personally wish others within the community were as proactive in their efforts as they were.

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Drow – The Other Elven Meat

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment LLC

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment LLC
The fair-skinned evil Dark Elves of Thor.

Last month I went and saw Thor: The Dark World, the latest in the Hollywood onslaught of Marvel films that have graced the screen since their re-boot with the X-Men franchise way back in 2000.

It was a decent film, one that delved further into the conflict between Thor and his brother, but also brought in other elements of the fictional Thorian universe, notably the appearance of Malekith the Accursed and his race of Dark Elves as villains. As a Dungeons & Dragons Gamer, the appearance of these ‘dark elves’ immediately brought to mind their role-playing equivalents: the Drow.

When it comes to specific villain’s and monsters that litter the Dungeons & Dragon’s canon, I have always had a particular fondness for the race of evil, magic-using, dark-skinned  subterranean elves that inhabit many of the worlds that make up the fantasy realms of my games. My own weekly D&D campaign is in the midst of an ‘Underdark’ arch that features several of these beings- though their purpose in the plot is far more dubious than their traditional bent at best.

One of the traits of these Drow, or dark elves, which has always intrigued and in all honesty upset me, is the singular fact that these evil elves are gifted with dark skin.

Image Copyright: Paizo Publishing, LLC

Image Copyright:
Paizo Publishing, LLC
A dark-skinned, female drow; the standard, eroticised ‘evil elf’ as the ‘Other’.

As a monster race, the Drow were created by one of the originators to the D&D world, the one and only Gary Gygax, who is said to have crafted both the name and existence of these alternative elves from a blend of Norse mythology and his own imagination. The word “drow” is an alternative of the word “trow”, or its cognate “troll” and comes from the Gaelic dialect of the Scots. The actual appearance in myth that the drow are based on are their Norse equivalents, the Dökkálfar, or ‘dark elves’ who live underground and are described in the Prose Edda, a compilation of Norse myth penned in the 13th century, as ‘blacker than pitch’. They are the counter parts to the Light elves, who were said to be fairer than the sun to look at.

Based on this description, Gygax went on to create one of the most iconic and ubiquitous villain’s of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately one of the lasting hallmarks and most indelible fact about the drow was and is their dark skin.

drowwords

Original Drow description from
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977)

This trait has been brought up over the years around various tables as somewhat perplexing. The fact that the drow are subsurface dwellers should mean that rather than having dark-skin, they should be completely pale; the absence of sun light should make them look something more like albinos (similar to the cave-dwelling cannibals in Lion Gates 2005 Descent), where there is no longer a need to have protection from harmful ultra violet radiation, which is the main benefit of tonal differences in melanin, or skin pigmentation. At the birth of their inclusion into the world of D&D, I’m willing to believe that the science behind subterranean life and the effects of sun deprivation were at best a murky topic, and fantasy references served as the basis for the fleshing out of their general appearance.

Image Copyright: Lions Gate Films.   The underground dwelling evil albino cannibals from the 2005 Horror Film The Descent.

Image Copyright: Lions Gate Films.
The underground dwelling evil albino cannibals from the 2005 Horror Film The Descent.

This observation may at first seem overly critical of made-up villains in a fantasy world, but it is a topic that has evidently been raised elsewhere, time and again. And as a Gamer, who also just so happens to be a Gamer of Color, I am indisputably afflicted by a gene that causes me to explore things that interest and confound my understanding of the various systems that surround me.

One of the main problems with their skin tone is the historical rationales that sometimes accompany its presence in the fantasy settings; that it is part of a curse they received for being ‘evil’ and coincides with their subsequent expulsion into the underground. This mythology has an all too familiar and chilling parallel in the real world.

The Mark of Cain, a Christian concept as to the branding curse of the fabled first murderer in human history has at times over the centuries and very believably been attributed to dark skin. It was a defining rationale behind slavery and segregation in the United States from a religious standpoint, and was wholly integrated into the Mormon faith, something that the Church only divorced itself from in the later-half of the 1970’s. The idea of cursing an individual, or even a group of individuals with any easily identifying mark, such as a Scarlet Letter, is a concept old an ingrained into the human psyche, the dangers though of such a racial deliminator are easy to see.

These dangers are addressed in a scene from another Hollywood film– in the 1992 movie, Malcolm X, Denzel Washington who plays the civil rights leader speaks to the power of language and the importance of choosing ones words for the implications and imagery that it can not only conjure, but perpetuate out into the world beyond the self. The tropes of dark skin seem as rooted in our subconscious and across cultures as the ideas surrounding darkness itself seem to be: evil, ugliness, danger, shadows, monsters and above all, the unknown. By associating these terms and ideas with physical manifestations of our fellow human beings, people effectively charge interactions with these individuals with notions of perceived specificity: hence we get the stereotype. Which is why the idea of drow, or dark elves, being evil, malicious, dangerous and predatory have been a point of issue for some of us in the Gaming world. Add to this the expanded universe where the drow through editions of D&D canon have been expanded upon with facts that include how their society is matriarchal (a subtle implication about the dangers of female empowerment and agency) and ironically, big traffickers of slaves (quite the inversion).

All of this was bouncing around in the recesses of my head as I watched Thor: The Dark World. It wasn’t until I was thinking back about the film though that I could appreciate the comportment of its evil characters. The ‘dark elves’ in the world of Thor, based on their Marvel comic book origins (who have a mix of purplish-white skin) were in fact pale skinned individuals. At long last it seemed, the ‘dark’ sunless and nihilist evil elves of the universe held a glimmer of a more plausible appearance. I also reflected on the controversy over Idris Elba’s donning of the mask of Heimdall in the original and in the sequel to Thor and wondered if the film-makers wanted to treat the subject with a more encompassing brush-stroke concerning their Dark Elves.

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment, LLC

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment, LLC
The African-Nord.

All the elements of fantasy speak to a reflection in our broader understandings of the world and how we perceive the elements that move about us, even and especially in Hollywood blockbusters. By infusing these worlds we create with preordained concepts, we are not really leaving behind or escaping anything that persists in the world, and even more, we are limiting our ability at creating truly divergent universes that might imagine a more fantastic world than our own. Of course, Games are as much about perpetuating our myths and symbols as they are about creation and interaction. Still, by challenging the ‘rules’ of what has come before, Gamers themselves are typically graced with a mindset towards breaking these very truths, and what better rules to break, than some of the most ingrained and harmful ones around. So when you get a chance, why not challenge some rules you see concerning language and descriptive iconography, and above all,

Game Forth!

  • Most of the historical details in this article were culled from Wikipedia.

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Game Review : Story War

Copyright: Cantrip Games

Copyright: Cantrip Games

My Gremlin fires off his laser at you and you die!

No wait, my goblin is way too dexterous to get hit, and he fires off his laser at you and you die!

Please-my Gremlin’s way faster than your goblin and your laser, he dodges, fires again, and you die!

[Repeat, ad infinitum]

That about sums up the final round that my gaming group completed over the weekend for the Kickstarter funded, Story Wars. Its a tense, no-holds barred ostensible card-game that allows players the chance to use their creative talents towards nefarious and ultimately lethal ends in destroying their opponents at the table.

Put out by Cantrip Games which consists of the duo Brad O’ Farrell and Tom “Frezned” McLean and who are in theory based in my own backyard neighborhood of Astoria, New York, Story War is a game of geek story-telling. In it, players work off of three decks of cards composed of locations, creatures and equipment in the basic Kickstarter set. The equipment and creature cards form a players hand that replenishes each ’round’, and is overseen by another, non-competing player for the round who is a ‘judge’ for the current match-up who draws and places a location card.

This location card determines where the ‘battle’ between players, and their creatures and items, happen. Players play their creature(s) and item(s) and create stories how their creature(s) and item(s) kill/maim and ultimately destroy their opponents. These descriptions must match the mythological and fairy-tale oriented cards like the Philosopher Stone, a Gremlin, a Wishing Star or a Kraken that a player plays during the round. It’s a completely open-ended battle with the player who convinces the ‘judge’ with the best plausible and ‘coolest’ way they kill their opponent and also most believable way, winning the round. The game admittedly has its roots in Apples-to-Apples and other third-player decider mechanisms.

Image Copyright: Cantrip Games

Image Copyright: Cantrip Games

The crux of the game comes down to the levels of competitive testosterone imbued at the table that it is played at. As my group is generally rules aware but also incredibly great at role-play, the game quickly degenerated into mechanical lawyering the minutiae of what was displayed on the cards as applicable to the outcome of a fight, along with obvious traits of creatures and items that clearly could and couldn’t be applicable in the game; obviously for instance an invisibility ring is metal and is drawn to a magnet, even if a ghost is wearing it. Duh!

It’s a tricky game because it is so open-ended but boils down to being a basically competitive, argumentative procedural affair. Creature does X; Creature 2 does Y; repeat. It has appealing traits in that players combine stories into a unified whole similar to Once Upon A Time, but without the mechanical foundation of a game like Gloom that gives a fixed goal-post towards a win. With the right people its a great game. For Gamers? It’s an exercise in rules-lawyering.

Overall it’s a great concept, something that appeals to the story-teller in me, as well as the role-player– the chance to don a new character every round with new items. The cards themselves are illustrated in a campy anime-crossed style by Vondell Swain. Their appeal is surely a means to lean players towards a light-hearted feel, however, the combative nature of the game itself somewhat undercuts the approach.

Still, if you’re able to get a few folks together who like a competitive game, without being competitive about it, I suggest picking up a copy of Story War, and sitting down so you can,

Game Forth!

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Independent Game Designer Spotlight & Interview: Clance M. Morring – BATTLE THIS!

Image Copyright: Clance M. Morring

Image Copyright: Clance M. Morring

With the rise of Kickstarter, strategy, card and board game designers have been given access to a pool of potential customers and funding that spans the entire  globe.

This shift in public awareness has fundamentally changed the way independent companies can bring their ideas to the market, allowing everyone from sole operators to experienced creators the chance to showcase their ideas at game design.  But even with tools like Kickstarter at their fingertips, there are still some creators out there who are doing things the old-fashioned way- with boots on the ground, personal demos and play-testing.

This is the case for Clance M. Morring, whose board game is a unique take on Chess. His design fuses figurines and tactics from the  world of war-gaming with one of the oldest games around to create a particularly engaging product he calls BATTLE THIS!

Promoted as a military version of Chess, the game pits two players against one-another on a traditional Chess board with three differing types of pieces: an infantry-man, a tank and an airplane. Set-up in the classic two column starting formation of Chess pieces, BATTLE THIS! proceeds in the same turn-based order with the modified pieces of this variation each having their own methods of defeating other pieces; planes fly diagonally, infantry ‘run’ forward and creep back and sideways, and tanks target diagonal squares while moving forward at a slow pace.

At first sight, the hand-painted miniatures, which are surplus plastic army-men, tank miniatures and planes mounted on clear-colored bases along with the sparsely designed board itself carries with it a  rugged workshop feel that lacks the polish of a professionally made product typical of your average Kickstarter fare. However, what was surprising about the BATTLE THIS! was that after the about the fifth move the Gaming zone in my brain seemed to switch on and the tactical aspects of the Game jumped out at me.

The unique moves of the pieces, essentially a variation on Chess, infused the game with what I felt was a distinctive feel for the chaotic aspects of military campaigns; the fact that infantry and planes could move back and forth across the battle-field and conquer squares with lighting speed or through slow marches really gave the game individualistic flavor.

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Mr. Morring demonstrated the game itself to me recently and during the session I had the chance to ask him a few questions and get some insights into its history, and the challenges he faced as an independent designer with his first game:

Mr. Morring, when did you begin production on your game?

“I start producing my games in the months of February through May of 2012 and then I released them to the public for sale in June of 2012. So far I have made 500 games, sold 434 and is now left with 66 games to sell.”

What’s the process for getting your game, BATTLE THIS! to your customers, do you use outside manufacturers or do you do everything by hand?

“I self-publish. The entire BATTLE THIS! Board Game is hand-made and I manufacture, package, shrink warp, box and ship them from my home. My buyers are receiving the original Inventor’s copy, that may one day become a classic collector’s edition. This is one of the many reason why I am able to market and sell my BATTLE THIS! Board Game so well.

Production time: It takes me at least two days to make one set, that’s because I have to hand paint all the Brown playing pieces brown and then touch them up the next day after it dries and I have to glue all the Soldiers and Airplanes onto their bases. So instead of just hand producing one game at a time, I try to average about 50 games a week; it’s much easier and quicker.”

Where did you get the idea for BATTLE THIS!?

“My BATTLE THIS! Board Game came to me in a dream I had 20 something years ago. It was a dream about two creature like entities pitting us humans against one another; to them it was just a game but to us it was real life war. The entire rules and concept and unique strategy was given to me in this dream, thus “BATTLE THIS!” was born. Till this very day there’s no other game like it on the market and I own all exclusive rights.”

What markets have you sold your game in, what type of web presence do you have?

“The market that my board game is selling in are: Toys and Games, Board Games and Strategy Abstract Board Games. Since I had 20 something years of researching the Toy Industries and savings, it was not difficult for me at all to get into the market, it became a matter of when to get into the market, not how. After gathering all my resources for the supplies I needed to produce my BATTLE THIS! Board Game, myself, the 1st thing I did was design my BATTLE THIS! Website and BATTLE THIS! Blog Site in 2012, then I started selling my board game on my job, in my neighborhood, on the streets, in the parks, at board games meet ups, on Amazon and now on eBay. Form June of 2012 till now, I have hand produced 500 games.”

What were some of the challenges you faced as an independent game designer?

“I didn’t experience any difficulties getting my board game to market because they are originals, the problem I did encounter was how to hand produce the games. After a few trials & errors and wasted materials at a costly expense, I did manage to work it all out. Nobody was willing to help me financially and physically take on this project; I had to do everything all by myself. I received no support what so ever from my family, certain neighbors and close friends that I use to hang out with. The woman I loved made me choose between her and my game, so she ended up leaving me as well in 2011. She made it very clear, she never wanted me to start this project. Those around me said that I am 24 years late and that no one plays board games anymore. They told me that I’ll be just wasting my time, money and effort, that I’m living in a fantasy world, selling people a dream. Those who I gave so much of myself to and thought was for me, were honestly, spiritually against me. A year later, my BATTLE THIS! Board Game sales and the contacts I have made, have proven them wrong.

This has been a very lonely journey for me, I was surrounded by negative thinking people who had been praying for me to fail. What keeps me going, is my love for my board game, my belief in myself and the BIG picture I’m chasing after. I’m a very focused and  disciplined person who has learned to use the negative vibes as the match to light my fire and push me into my blessing.

The feedback I received, once my BATTLE THIS! Board Game has been released, are very positive. People are so impressed with the product, how it’s put together and packaged. They love the fact that the rule book is only two pages, the game is easy to learn and not complicated but challenging. For a home-made game, my customers are getting a really good quality, package fun play board game.”

What do you see as the next steps in promoting and distributing BATTLE THIS!?

 “My goal for 2014 is to have BATTLE THIS!  made as an app and into software, also to have the board game itself professionally manufactured by a Toy company. For more information about me, my journey and the Battle This Board Game, please visit my website http://battlethisboardgame.com “

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Given the hobby’s humble beginnings, its great to see that independent, self-made creators are still out there in the Gaming world, so when you get a chance, why not head over to the BATTLE THIS! website, support an indie designer by purchasing a copy of BATTLE THIS! and

Game Forth!

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