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Subject: Some of my research on Dominion has been published! rss

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Joe Wasserman
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I research how people learn from playing games—and boardgames specifically—and my initial exploration of this process using Dominion has just been published in Simulation & Gaming! This is my first publication (I'm a PhD student), and I wanted to share it with BGG, because this is the community that first got me into boardgaming.

Details and Dynamics: Mental Models of Complex Systems in Game-Based Learning

In this study, I wanted to explore how (and whether) novices understand games as systems. I selected Dominion because it shares some characteristics with other complex systems that cause persistent challenges to understanding.

I'd love to respond to any feedback or questions you might have, about this study, what it's like to be a PhD student researching boardgames, or whatever.

The abstract is below, and you can download a preprint version from my website, but feel free to geekmail me your email address, and I'll happily share the full article. (An unfortunate part about academic publishing is that most articles are paywalled.)

Background. Although the effectiveness of game-based learning (GBL) is well-supported, much less is known about the process underlying it. Nevertheless, developing a mental model that matches the game system, which in turn models a real-world system, is a promising proposed process.

Aim. This article explores the first steps in model matching: identifying the entities and (complex) relations in a game system.

Method. Participants (N = 30) played the analog game DOMINION and completed a multi-step mental model mapping exercise. Categories of entities in mental model maps were inductively identified with grounded theory coding, while complex relations in mental model maps were identified via content analysis.

Results. Participants described formal game entities, player actions, sociality, learning processes, and subjective experience in their mental model maps. Participants identified very few complex relations—and no feedback loops—in their mental model maps.

Conclusions. Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL. Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination.
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Pete
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That is really cool, Joe.

Quote:
Conclusions. Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL. Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination.


What does that mean?

Pete (didn't get to read the whole thing because he doesn't register for offsite things at work)

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Joe Wasserman
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plezercruz wrote:
That is really cool, Joe.

Quote:
Conclusions. Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL. Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination.


What does that mean?

Pete (didn't get to read the whole thing because he doesn't register for offsite things at work)

Thank you, Pete!

There are two parts to the conclusion that hopefully I can explain a bit more clearly :
1) "Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL." A lot of scholarship on learning from games focuses on games as rules systems or narrative experiences. I'm suggesting that in addition to rules and narratives, gameplay involves material objects, social interactions with other players, subjective and emotional experiences—and that all of these are also potentially things that can be learned from.

2) "Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination." The idea here is that the meaning of game pieces isn't determined by just rules or theme. Instead, the ways players interpret the physical components of games emerges through their use during gameplay. These meanings can be related to both objects' roles in achieving game goals, as well as their import to potential stories or narratives that unfolding during gameplay.
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Joe, your paper sounds really interesting. You seem to reference the effectiveness of the analog experience in a way that suggests the tactile experience of the interaction of player with game components or players interactions with each other is important for the purposes of GBL. Does this occur with digital games (ie video gaming)? Is there any research comparing the process of lamination and learning in a quantitative sense to show which form of the gaming experience (analog vs digital) is more effective? So many of our favorite analog board games are available in a digital format it seems there would be ample opportunity to do some direct comparison of the two forms. I enjoy video games but my hierarchy is board games >>>> video games and it would satisfy my intuitive sense of "rightness" if analog games were indeed demonstrably better at producing GBL.

Kent
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Mymil wrote:
plezercruz wrote:
That is really cool, Joe.

Quote:
Conclusions. Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL. Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination.


What does that mean?

Pete (didn't get to read the whole thing because he doesn't register for offsite things at work)

Thank you, Pete!

There are two parts to the conclusion that hopefully I can explain a bit more clearly :
1) "Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL." A lot of scholarship on learning from games focuses on games as rules systems or narrative experiences. I'm suggesting that in addition to rules and narratives, gameplay involves material objects, social interactions with other players, subjective and emotional experiences—and that all of these are also potentially things that can be learned from.

2) "Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination." The idea here is that the meaning of game pieces isn't determined by just rules or theme. Instead, the ways players interpret the physical components of games emerges through their use during gameplay. These meanings can be related to both objects' roles in achieving game goals, as well as their import to potential stories or narratives that unfolding during gameplay.
Makes sense. I offer:

Exhibit B: Kickstarter.

Pete (chuckles)
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I find drift of meaning in language interesting. Is it common now to use analog as a synonym for physical? Or is there some non-obvious continuously varying feature of Dominion referenced in the paper? (Paywall.)
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Joe Wasserman
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gimongous wrote:
Joe, your paper sounds really interesting. You seem to reference the effectiveness of the analog experience in a way that suggests the tactile experience of the interaction of player with game components or players interactions with each other is important for the purposes of GBL. Does this occur with digital games (ie video gaming)? Is there any research comparing the process of lamination and learning in a quantitative sense to show which form of the gaming experience (analog vs digital) is more effective? So many of our favorite analog board games are available in a digital format it seems there would be ample opportunity to do some direct comparison of the two forms. I enjoy video games but my hierarchy is board games >>>> video games and it would satisfy my intuitive sense of "rightness" if analog games were indeed demonstrably better at producing GBL.

Thanks for the excellent questions, Kent! There are two main reasons why I think analog games may be in some ways superior to digital games for this type of learning. First, like you say, the manual manipulation of material objects may facilitate learning. (I need to dig further into the literature on connections among our cognitive and physical faculties to strengthen this argument.) Second, because analog games require players to continually monitor and update game states, and digital games typically employ software to do much of this work, I suspect that this cognitive monitoring will also facilitate learning—at least at first.

There are a few key studies that I think support the "mere physicality" argument:
In an experiment on the recall of conceptual information associated with either tangible cubes or digital squares found, participants who manipulated physical cubes recalled more than those who manipulated digital squares (Patten & Ishii, 2000).

In a direct comparison between an analog version and a digital version of the same game, neither of which enforced or resolved rules for players, researchers found an increase in teenagers’ systems thinking ability—measured by a stock and flow task—after playing the analog version, but not the digital version (Kaufman & Flanagan, 2016b). This finding may have been a consequence of a tendency to engage analog games more deliberatively than digital games (Kaufman & Flanagan, 2016b), or of a tendency to take a more abstract orientations toward analog media in general (Kaufman & Flanagan, 2016a). The latter would would contribute to more holistic, integrated, or systemic understandings.

As far as I know, there isn't any research relevant to the "cognitive monitoring" argument, yet! But it's something I'm working on. Some of my current research is investigating differences between analog and digital implementation of the same boardgames, exactly as you suggest, but it's not yet ready for the light of day.

Kaufman, G., & Flanagan, M. (2016a). High-low split: Divergent cognitive construal levels triggered by digital and non-digital platforms. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2773–2777). New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery. doi:10.1145/2858036.2858550
Kaufman, G., & Flanagan, M. (2016b). Playing the system: Comparing the efficacy and impact of digital and non-digital versions of a collaborative strategy game. In Proceedings of the First International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG.
Patten, J., & Ishii, H. (2000). A comparison of spatial organization strategies in graphical and tangible user interfaces. In Proceedings of DARE 2000 on Designing Augmented Reality Environments (pp. 41–50). New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery. doi:10.1145/354666.354671
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Joe Wasserman
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ConG wrote:
I find drift of meaning in language interesting. Is it common now to use analog as a synonym for physical? Or is there some non-obvious continuously varying feature of Dominion referenced in the paper? (Paywall.)

Nope, that's exactly it: physical or material. Choosing to use the word "analog" was not an easy decision! If I recall correctly, non-digital and tangible were the two runners-up, but it's more common to see "analog" used as the antonym for digital in games scholarship, so that's what we went with.
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Mymil wrote:
plezercruz wrote:
That is really cool, Joe.

Quote:
Conclusions. Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL. Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination.


What does that mean?

Pete (didn't get to read the whole thing because he doesn't register for offsite things at work)

Thank you, Pete!

There are two parts to the conclusion that hopefully I can explain a bit more clearly :
1) "Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL." A lot of scholarship on learning from games focuses on games as rules systems or narrative experiences. I'm suggesting that in addition to rules and narratives, gameplay involves material objects, social interactions with other players, subjective and emotional experiences—and that all of these are also potentially things that can be learned from.

2) "Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination." The idea here is that the meaning of game pieces isn't determined by just rules or theme. Instead, the ways players interpret the physical components of games emerges through their use during gameplay. These meanings can be related to both objects' roles in achieving game goals, as well as their import to potential stories or narratives that unfolding during gameplay.


Just curious here.. Traditional scholarship delineates "games" as unique platforms for learning by focusing on their systems of rules and narratives, right? You're also including the social aspect of (presumably) multiplayer games as a unique avenue through which learning occurs. How is the social dynamic present in "analog" games different or unique from any other social experience where people are entrenched in output/input feedback loops with others through which learning can take place? Is the character or modality of what's learned through game-driven social interaction different from what's learned through other social environments? From first glance (this is totally not my field btw; I study hydrogels for tissue engineering and don't know anything about psychology or social science) it seems like the rules and collaborative narratives are what define the game environment, and that, when isolated, would leave social queues which are largely indistinguishable from other social interactions. If I'm learning problem solving techniques from someone via conversation over their game decision or via conversation over beers where they're relating something they did at work the other day, it seems the mode of learning is the same on a fundamental level. Please clarify if possible

And please keep posting about future publications. I like seeing academic stuff on here.
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Curious that you chose Dominion, which is essentially just cards, for a study on the physical connection people may make with game pieces. I would have imagined that more tangible items, like meeples or pawns and the like, would have served that function more directly...

Pete (knows nothing of your work, and is just speculating wildly)
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Congratulations!!

That's awesome that board games are helping to propel you forward on your journey to a PhD!

As the expression goes, "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."
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Congratulations - very cool!

Have the link opened to read the article when I'm less tired, but looking forward to checking it out.
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Joe Wasserman
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kshathra wrote:
Mymil wrote:
plezercruz wrote:
That is really cool, Joe.

Quote:
Conclusions. Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL. Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination.


What does that mean?

Pete (didn't get to read the whole thing because he doesn't register for offsite things at work)

Thank you, Pete!

There are two parts to the conclusion that hopefully I can explain a bit more clearly :
1) "Games—and analog games specifically—provide a breadth of resources for model matching and GBL." A lot of scholarship on learning from games focuses on games as rules systems or narrative experiences. I'm suggesting that in addition to rules and narratives, gameplay involves material objects, social interactions with other players, subjective and emotional experiences—and that all of these are also potentially things that can be learned from.

2) "Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination." The idea here is that the meaning of game pieces isn't determined by just rules or theme. Instead, the ways players interpret the physical components of games emerges through their use during gameplay. These meanings can be related to both objects' roles in achieving game goals, as well as their import to potential stories or narratives that unfolding during gameplay.


Just curious here.. Traditional scholarship delineates "games" as unique platforms for learning by focusing on their systems of rules and narratives, right? You're also including the social aspect of (presumably) multiplayer games as a unique avenue through which learning occurs. How is the social dynamic present in "analog" games different or unique from any other social experience where people are entrenched in output/input feedback loops with others through which learning can take place? Is the character or modality of what's learned through game-driven social interaction different from what's learned through other social environments? From first glance (this is totally not my field btw; I study hydrogels for tissue engineering and don't know anything about psychology or social science) it seems like the rules and collaborative narratives are what define the game environment, and that, when isolated, would leave social queues which are largely indistinguishable from other social interactions. If I'm learning problem solving techniques from someone via conversation over their game decision or via conversation over beers where they're relating something they did at work the other day, it seems the mode of learning is the same on a fundamental level. Please clarify if possible

I've actually been thinking a lot about what might make "games" unique from other types of learning objects, and more often than not I find myself deciding: possibly very little! Especially in comparison to simulations, which have a long-standing role in certain disciplines. But this might be a family resemblance problem, in that games/simulation games/simulations share all of their characteristics with other things, but their constellation of characteristics are (relatively) unique. So my response would be that the social dynamics of learning in multiplayer games are likely quite similar to the social dynamics of learning in other contexts. One qualification, though: in some games, social dynamics are at the heart of the game itself. If the character of those social dynamics are similar to the sort of social dynamics being learned, then that's probably a somewhat unique opportunity to use the social dynamics of a game for experiential learning. Tilton (2015) did a case study exploring just this possibility.

I think it's also important to attend to the social dynamics learning via gameplay not because they're unique, but because different dynamics may have different consequences. For example, Weintrop and Wilensky (2013) built a proof-of-concept game designed to learn by modeling opponents' behaviors. This would be different than groups collaborating on learning, as many of the participants in my study did---despite the fact that Dominion is (nominally) competitive! It's possible, therefore, that social dynamics could even fundamentally alter the game being played, as when a competitive game becomes collaborative.

Tilton, S. (2015). Winning through deception: A pedagogical case study on using social deception games to teach small group communication. Paper presented at the National Communication Association Game Studies Division Preconference, Las Vegas, NV. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/15853717/Winning_through_Deception_...
Weintrop, D., & Wilensky, U. (2013). Know your enemy: Learning from in-game opponents. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (pp. 408–411). New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery. doi:10.1145/2485760.2485789

Quote:
And please keep posting about future publications. I like seeing academic stuff on here.

I will, thank you for your interest!
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Joe Wasserman
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plezercruz wrote:
Curious that you chose Dominion, which is essentially just cards, for a study on the physical connection people may make with game pieces. I would have imagined that more tangible items, like meeples or pawns and the like, would have served that function more directly...

Pete (knows nothing of your work, and is just speculating wildly)

Dominion was chosen because it contains five kinds of dynamics that are typical of many complex systems. From the article:
Wasserman and Banks, 2017 wrote:
System complexity emerging from particular kinds of relations among entities in a system is dynamic complexity (Senge, 2006). Common heuristics for these relations typically treat them as direct, linear, deterministic, and immediate (Sterman, 1994; Sweeney & Sterman, 2007). Five types of relations, however, do not conform to these heuristics and are therefore considered complex: indirect relations, nonlinear relations, stochastic relations, time-delayed relations, and feedback loops. Because they violate heuristic understandings of causal relations, the prevalence of these individual complex relations contributes to a system’s overall dynamic complexity. An indirect relation is one in which an entity influences another via at least one other (Schaffernicht & Groesser, 2013). Whereas simple, linear relations involve a constant proportion of input to output, nonlinear relations change depending on the input (Sweeney & Sterman, 2007)—the magnitude of one entity’s influence on another depends on the quantity or strength of the influencing entity (e.g., curvilinearity of exponential and logarithmic relations). Because they involve randomness, stochastic relations are non-deterministic (Resnick & Wilensky, 1998)—the influence of one entity on another is probabilistic. Time-delayed relations involve a span of time between an event or an input and its consequences (Sweeney & Sterman, 2007); the influence of one entity on another does not occur immediately, but after some temporal lag. In combination, relations among entities of a system can form feedback loops (Sweeney & Sterman, 2007), such that an entity influences itself, often through indirect relations.

The emphasis on tangible components actually emerged from the analysis of participants' descriptions of the game! I started this project thinking more about games as rules or mechanics systems, but wanted to do this exploratory study to see what novices would actually attend to and final salient during gameplay.
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Kent Marcuson
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kshathra wrote:

(this is totally not my field btw; I study hydrogels for tissue engineering and don't know anything about psychology or social science)


Ha! One of my jobs is running a wound care clinic, wherein we treat patients frequently with hydrogels.

Who would have guessed that random BGGer's would have this kind of esoteric peripheral connection? One of the many things that makes this site great.

PS Joe, sorry for the derail didn't mean to detract from your topic which BTW I am finding extremely interesting.

Kent
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Thanks for sharing this. I find you study of Dominion intriguing.
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Thank you so much for sending me the article! I really enjoyed reading it and I think it's terrific that you were able to integrate a board game into your research. Good luck with future endeavors!
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Mymil wrote:
Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination.

This sentence is somewhat unclear, I'd suggest rewriting it as: After gameplay, learners come to affix transparent protection to material objects in a process called sleeving.
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Fascinating. I've really been enjoying your answers to the questions as well.

Thanks for sharing.
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Joe Wasserman
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I don't think he would like that.
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gimongous wrote:
PS Joe, sorry for the derail didn't mean to detract from your topic which BTW I am finding extremely interesting.

Haha, it's quite alright. I also enjoy all of the unanticipated connections that happen on BGG.

silverrobert wrote:
Mymil wrote:
Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination.

This sentence is somewhat unclear, I'd suggest rewriting it as: After gameplay, learners come to affix transparent protection to material objects in a process called sleeving.

laugh I wish I could say that I address that in further detail in the discussion.

jade_alarm wrote:
Thanks for sharing this. I find you study of Dominion intriguing.
4theta wrote:
Thank you so much for sending me the article! I really enjoyed reading it and I think it's terrific that you were able to integrate a board game into your research. Good luck with future endeavors!
Bearhug78 wrote:
Fascinating. I've really been enjoying your answers to the questions as well.

Thanks for sharing.

Thank you all! I'm just happy to see that others are interested and have such interesting questions to ask.
 
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Mymil wrote:
2) "Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination." The idea here is that the meaning of game pieces isn't determined by just rules or theme. Instead, the ways players interpret the physical components of games emerges through their use during gameplay. These meanings can be related to both objects' roles in achieving game goals, as well as their import to potential stories or narratives that unfolding during gameplay.

Not much in the way of game pieces in Dominion. It's just cards. How many emergent interpretations can there be?
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Mymil wrote:
I'm suggesting that in addition to rules and narratives, gameplay involves material objects, social interactions with other players, subjective and emotional experiences—and that all of these are also potentially things that can be learned from.


Goddamn yes! Great work Joe - look forward to reading this.
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Joe Wasserman
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Talmanes wrote:
Mymil wrote:
2) "Through gameplay, learners come to affix conceptual meanings to material objects, a process dubbed lamination." The idea here is that the meaning of game pieces isn't determined by just rules or theme. Instead, the ways players interpret the physical components of games emerges through their use during gameplay. These meanings can be related to both objects' roles in achieving game goals, as well as their import to potential stories or narratives that unfolding during gameplay.

Not much in the way of game pieces in Dominion. It's just cards. How many emergent interpretations can there be?

In the case of Dominion, different meanings emerge for different cards. They all have unique functions, roles, and potential ranges of interpretation. Particularly for novices unfamiliar with Dominion—and unfamiliar with hobby boardgames in general—I suspect that these interpretations are highly contingent on the particular actions that occurred during a given gameplay session.
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lokides wrote:
Mymil wrote:
I'm suggesting that in addition to rules and narratives, gameplay involves material objects, social interactions with other players, subjective and emotional experiences—and that all of these are also potentially things that can be learned from.

Goddamn yes! Great work Joe - look forward to reading this.

Thank you, Stew! I alluded to this up-thread, but when I began this project, I expected to see more of an emphasis on rules and mechanics in participants' descriptions. I'm pleased to have done this exploratory study, since it really highlighted for me not only how much other stuff is going on during gameplay, but how much people pay attention to it.
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gimongous wrote:
kshathra wrote:

(this is totally not my field btw; I study hydrogels for tissue engineering and don't know anything about psychology or social science)


Ha! One of my jobs is running a wound care clinic, wherein we treat patients frequently with hydrogels.

Who would have guessed that random BGGer's would have this kind of esoteric peripheral connection? One of the many things that makes this site great.

PS Joe, sorry for the derail didn't mean to detract from your topic which BTW I am finding extremely interesting.

Kent


Nice one! Unfortunately my focus is on materials so far from entering a product pipeline that I don't think I'll be directly helping anyone for a long time. One of these days I'll have to transition to industry so I can work on less esoteric problems.
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