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ASK MATT
Moo Goo Guy Pan March 2, 2006

Matt Demers - 01:09 EST

I HAVE MADE A TERRIBLE ERROR.

A grievous error.

A truly shocking error.

An error that will stick with me all day today, and perhaps all day tomorrow too.

An error that could make me look absolutely ridiculous in the days to come.

An error that has caused a terrible attraction that I just can't do anything about.

Yes, I ran a load of laundry through the dryer twice instead of once, since it was still damp. Somewhere in there, my fabric softener sheet stopped doing whatever it's supposed to do, and now half of my wardrobe is rather electrically charged. My shirt is sticking to me as if it's vacuum-sealed! Now THAT, my friends, is a problem.

My biomath seminar is now tomorrow; we shall see if any random blizzards/freezing rain storms/meteor showers/earthquakes prevent me from completing it this time around! *gulp*

For now, though, let's get to the daily dose of letters!





L E T T E R S
Tasty! Cigarette salad is "smokin'"... AHAHAH *ahem*


Howdy, Matt.
Long-time reader, first-time writer.

I felt I needed to point out a wee discrepancy in your argument against video game violence. While I agree with you on most of the larger points of the argument, I'd be careful comparing games to cigarettes and McDonalds food.

Matt

Uwee, hee, hee... I knew I'd get into trouble over that one, one way or another, because it's nowhere near a valid comparison. Surely video games aren't horribly addictive, carcinogenic, and they definitely do not raise your risk of heart disease or increase your chances of smelling perpetually of a giant french fry.

Let's not forget that cigarettes have been identified as a carcinogen, and there HAVE been successfull lawsuits implicating cigarette companies for various offences. In the 1990s, a bunch of states sued various tobbacco companies, proving in court that the companies knew that tobacco was addictive and dangerous. There are a bunch of class action lawsuits in the works, now, suing on the same grounds. Not to mention the WHO and the "Global Treaty on Tobacco Control."

Matt

Surely... and never having smoked a day of my life, I really can't cast judgment upon those people that just can't quit. That said, I know that with enough effort it's possible, since I've witnessed many people around me, and many family members try to quit with success. Inside my brain, I just can't help but think "It just takes some effort" and when people choose to instead sue tobacco companies for millions of dollars, well, that strategy seems like a cop-out. Tobacco companies are definitely not innocent victims, mind you; if you're required by law to stamp "THIS WILL KILL YOU" on all of your products, the question must be raised: "Is it really ethical to make money off of killing people?" Anyway, let's move on.

McDonalds, as well, has had its day in court. It was successfully proved by Steel and Morris in the infamous McLibel case (1986) that the big M endangered customers and workers with advertisement, and further, that they exploited children (among other things). It was also proved that McDonalds food caused heart disease. Specific lawsuits concerning obesity, however, are being consistently thrown out by intelligent judges.

Matt

Well, I hope so. McDonald's food is not addictive, and it doesn't take THAT much more time to get off of your behind, go to the grocery store, buy some lettuce, and make a non-grease-laden salad. I have absolutely no sympathy for any fat lazy bum who is willing to spend such considerable effort launching lawsuits when the same amount of effort, when applied to a Stairmaster, would solve his/her obesiProblem completely.

Granted, anybody with an IQ over, say, room temperature knows that eating cigarettes and smoking Big Macs is bad, but the lawsuits have successfully blamed cancer and heart disease on deceptive advertisement, in both counts.

That is what the video game industry is being cushioned with right now. The fact that the games are rated for appropriate age groups helps them shrug responsibility--and logically so. Where Jackie T. and his merry men are gaining ground is in the video game companies' responsibility to label, market, and promote their games for the appropriate age group. Hence the giant 18+ stickers on games and the quest to remove advertisements for violent video games from children's television (see the Tobacco and McDonalds cases).

Matt

And you know, I have no real problem with violent-game advertising being removed from kids' programming. While I DO believe that people should be able to play whatever games they choose, I don't think it's a stretch to limit younger kids from playing games with so-called "Mature" themes, for the same reason that I don't think 9-year-olds should be free to go to R-rated movies or buy liquor from the store down the street.

It's a tricky business, this. If anything, even if the games are found to be the cause of violent behaviour (something yet to be done to the court's satisfaction), the companies will hide behind the free-speech rights in their respective country (yay First Amendment/Charter of Rights and Freedoms). Granted, free speech has its limits, but that's what the ESRB/Film Ratings Board is for--putting limits on who should be allowed to take in various messages.

Parents? They do what they can, but when little 10-year-old Billy can buy GTA and play it without his parent's permission or knowledge, the system needs to be adjusted to it can support parents, not circumvent them.

Matt

Sure. I just think that while many parents do what they can with regards to making sure their kids are playing age-appropriate games, many turn a blind eye to what their kids are up to OUTSIDE the home when perhaps they shouldn't... and I argue that that is a greater reason that kids get into trouble than the games they play while safe at home.

Er, the question: If games ARE eventually proven to change behaviour, would you stop playing them? If not, why?

Jamming with free speech since the dawn of time,
Vigivalgus


Matt

Ha, of course, the answer is a resounding "no way!" Why? Video games have also been shown to have a number of positive effects; personally, I know that they have influenced in a grand way my creativity, personal philsophy, and even general knowledge; I could even argue that they have resulted in increased vocabulary, problem-solving skills, and logical ability.

I think, though, that this is where a problem lies: I believe that it's a huge fallacy to group all video games together and generalize, and I'm sure most of you agree that there's a big difference between playing Dragon Quest and playing Grand Theft Auto. Of course, if there were studies released through the media that "proved" that video games change a person irreparably in a more violent manner, these studies would probably have focused on a SINGLE game or a select few, and my guess is that they'd be M-rated games with rather violent themes. I'd thoroughly question, then, that ALL VIDEO GAMES cause harm, which is what I'm sure many high-profile personalities would start spouting incessantly, and then I'd go back to saving the world in RPGs... I don't play M-rated games in the first place.

Phew... I hope I adequately addressed the question. It's a difficult problem, because as much as I disagree with Hillary, Jack, and friends for taking the issue way too far at times, I don't think that a controlled rating-system on video games is necessarily a bad idea.



Golden Moments of Final Fantasy IX


Howdy Matt,

The last time you hosted Q&A you and Joe talked about how pixelated and how "not as good as on the PS1" FFIX looked. Well if you have problems with that then you should use the PS2's Smooth and Diagnostic that appears in the Main screen when there isn't a disc inside the PS2, just press the triangle button and activate them. It makes the game look awesome, even better than on the ps1, I mean all the textures smooth out and the characters look less pixelated. Another game that shows this off really well is Vagrant Story (how i loathe it but nevertheless its good example of th AWESOMENESS of the Smooth).

Matt

*gasp* Reeaaallly? You're kidding me! I really must try this now. You have me excited! But, how could I have owned this system for five years and not discovered that feature?? I know I'm not the most observant fellow sometimes, but man... that's pretty bad.

Umm... so I guess I should ask something so I won't be the Q guy... What's your favorite moment of FFIX? Mine would have to be when they summoned Alexander and the whole battle with Bahamut I was just blown away in that part I almost peed my pant in awe of its eye candy.

Matt

Oh, oh, oh. No no... MY favourite moment is very near that moment, but it's when the game suddenly changes and you see Garland inside the Invincible with the extra-scary "Messenger of Time" theme-music for the very first time. Oh, MY... that scene made me very, very excited, because it's such a wonderful twist. Oh, FFIX...you had such a great plotline!!

PS- I like all the FFIX Boss battle music so I dunno wich you were listening to but the piano version of the Final Battle Theme is excellent.


Matt

Heh, I believe I was talking about the Boss Battle music from FFX, not IX; while X's is decent, it lacks a real "tune", especially in comparison to all of the other battle musics from the series. FFIX's boss music, on the other hand, is fantastic! The final battle music isn't my favourite, but it does the trick well enough. My main problem is that with such a spectacular broad array of music in FFIX, they should have had a different "major boss theme" besides the boring Beatrix one, perhaps for the times where you fight Kuja or Garland. Don't assault me with rotten vegetables... there's no WAY Beatrix's theme compares to any of: Jenova's battle music, the Atma Weapon's battle music, Exdeath's, Gilgamesh's, OR the four fiends of elements' battle themes from FFIV. NONE OF THEM!!!



A question about BACKLOG!


Dear Abby,

I always seem to have some kind of dilemma and going for a week without your help as gotten me so lost. I really do hope you had a good break though, everyone needs one occasionally.

Matt

Indeed! It was fast, and fleeting, but it was adequately fun and decently relaxing. It already feels as if I never left, though, which is pretty typical. I can't wait until the summer is here...

How would you suggest I catch up on my backlog of video games? I'm low on time and whenever I do seem to get time to sit down and play something, it is never long enough. I'm married and work 40+ hours a week. I just don't have the time I once did and it sucks.

Matt

Ha... you're out of luck, since I doubt that either going unemployed or getting unmarried are viable options (not that you'd choose to even if they WERE viable options, but, you know). I feel your pain, though, because I don't have the time either. I've pretty much given into the fact that I have Friday nights or Saturdays to play video games, and that's about it. There's just too much to do otherwise, between Teacher's Assist-ing, doing my own coursework, and writing this here columnlike entity.

I'd say that a good strategy to follow would be to actually schedule some time for yourself every week, on one or two nights, where you just give yourself a couple of hours to just go and play. I find that when life gets really super-busy, it's easiest to fit things in here and there when they're cleanly scheduled; if you force yourself to just put down whatever you're doing because it's 8:00 pm on Monday night, for example, and go play until bedtime... and then make it a regular, predictable phenomenon, you're likely to slowly chug through games. I guess while "slow and steady wins the race", you won't get through games very quickly in this manner. THUS, try not to buy any new additions to your collection unless they're absolutely must-have items.

My theme would be Golbez's Theme from FFIV. Dark and brooding. I find it interesting that you would choose Garnet's Theme, but hey, who am I to judge?

- Macstorm, coo coo for cocoa puffs


Matt

I just had to pick Unfathomed Reminiscence because it's so... well, I dunno, it invokes emotions in me, which isn't really that common for myself when it comes to character themes. Sure, I have my feeling-evil moments too, but I have to say that at the end of the day, I'm a good guy inside. A princess, though? Good question...



From one grad to another


Hey Matt,

You're a math grad student, right? Well, I'm a psych grad student. So when you starting talking about violent video games, I felt I just had to chime in. I've read tons and tons of articles on "the effects of video games on violent behavior," and I have to say, there really isn't much experimental theory or evidence to support the notion that playing specifically violent video games somehow translates to becoming a violent person. There have been studies done of existing populations of gamers, but these only show trends but no actual statistical significance; In addition, no real causal theoretical link has been established in a lab. The closest ANYONE has gotten to linking violent behavior to video games, it was in instances of temporary aggression due to divided attention.

Matt

Quel surprise! I'm sure that the Q&A guy from the "WE HATE VIDEO GAMES" website would spin it invalidly. Studies are the devil, because any group can take them and interpret them to the public in a way that suits their purposes. The single study that shows the slightest possible link is certainly the one that would go up on CTV and CNN, even if 350 studies preceding it showed the opposite.

In layman's terms, imagine you're playing video games (not hard to do, I'm sure). As you play video games, this study suggests that your "arousal" levels (the chemicals in your brain which usually invoke your attention and memory) are increasing to very high levels. This is sustainable but very draining, and can theoretically be safely sustained until your system runs out of energy (you get tired faster while playing, and if you play for too long, you'll pass out). Divided attention happens when your mom, dad, friends, school, work, or roommates start bothering the crap out of you. You are attending to the game (usually many things in the game), and when you are "distracted" by whatever, your body attempts to compensate by raising your arousal levels even higher (not additively, but MULTIPLICITIVELY). Now, attending to one thing vigorously is safe, but attempting to attend to more than one or two things after having sustained a high arousal level causes a sort of meltdown, which theoretically dumps a whole bunch of 'fight or flight' chemicals (adrenaline). So here you are, playing Mario Kart with your most basic primal brain active to dangerous levels; adrenaline is pumping through your body; and your little brother shuts off your SNES when you were in your final lap on the rainbow bridge level on 150cc while you were in first place. You are telling me you wouldn't beat his ass just for spite?

Matt

Of course I would... because he's a little brat. I'm sure you'd agree with me too that this pales in comparison to a much more universal phenomenon: The middle finger flashed while driving on the road; people honking and screaming and yelling... road rage! If "video games cause aggression", then we could just as easily say "cars cause aggression". Does it mean we should ban them? Of course not.

That's the closest theory I have heard which can be analogous to an "aggressive behavior due to video games" theory. Other theories speculate that just having sustained arousal levels for long periods of time (like playing DQ8 for 36 hours straight and then going to class) can have negative effects on mood, concentration, attention, and memory, but research suggests that these symptoms are all TEMPORARY.

Matt

Interesting, interesting... and for interest's sake, have there been any positive connections too?

I think that my biggest problem with earth-shattering "findings" like those is... that if people didn't have video games to distract them, I doubt they'd do anything more productive in their place. Between the TV, the internet, instant messaging, and whatever else... there are plenty of potential replacement-distractions for any video game buffs out there.

Any causal link which could be shown as a long term effect is generally addressed as a two way correlation. In layman's terms, sociopaths and psychopaths are drawn to violent video games; This seems more likely than the notion that violent video games draw people into a life of sociopathy and psychopathy (which happen to have rather strong genetic components more than anything else).

Matt

Now, THAT is an interesting notion, and a very viable one at that! I'm going to write that one down for future reference...

*scribbles*

There. If what you say is true, then maybe there's hope for me yet... what a happy day.

So now that I've solved that enigma, on to my question; If you had the choice between an official English version of Star Ocean 1 on the GBA or the English release of "Mother 1+2" on the GBA, which would you choose? Personally, newer is better, so I'd probably go with Star Ocean. Although Earthbound was a terrific game, and that is two games in one, so I don't really know.

-ATG

PS: don't play Suikoden right before or after Radiata Stories; I think that may be the factor which biases hatred toward RS. Too much meaningless character recruiting between the two games.


Matt

Ohhh... you kill me with your questions. That's a really tough call, because I've always wanted to see both Mother 1 AND the original Star Ocean. Really and truthfully, I have to be faithful and say Mother 1+2, just because I really want to see where the series originated from. I've seen a few screenshots, and it looks very similar... it would be infinitely cool to see it "in person", and finally play it to discover if the series was always so zany.

Anyway, thanks for the insight into the violence issue, ATG! Mucho appreciato.



Another take on violence!


Welcome back Matt-man!

Thought I'd get in on the discussion of violence in video games and responsible parties. I am in complete accordance with you that most of the responsibility should fall on the parents. I mean, parents regulate (or should be regulating) what kids see on tv and in movies and even content of books or interenet sites. It's what a parent is supposed to do right?

Matt

It seems pretty basic to me, yeah. A parent's job IS "to parent"! I think the most important thing, though, has nothing to do with gaming, books, or the internet...it's bringing up kids in such a manner that they can tell on their very own what things are "right" and what things are "wrong". Imbuing kids with good judgment skills should be a priority that helps them keep themselves out of trouble at the worst of times.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that some states are trying to put forth laws that require stores to card for mature and up video games. I also know that there are many groups opposed to is, stating that it is a violation of freedom of speech. (Excuse me? I'm thinking this is just a convenient catch all in this case.)

I think that the carding is a great idea myself. Especially since a system such as that is already in place for Rated R movies. I mean most places do, in fact, prevent kids from seeing R movies if they are under 17, so why should it be different for the equivalent for video games? I mean, if the parents aren't going to regulate what they're children are consuming media-wise, there should be some stop-gap to help keep children from getting at the media without parental consent.

Matt

I know that EB games checks to make sure that kids are old enough before selling them any games, and I'm not opposed to it either, as I described in a previous letter somewhere up there. Free speech or not, 5-year-olds shouldn't be sitting through hours of blood and gore.

Of course there are parents who would then buy the M games for their under age children anyway, but then - TADA! - it's the parent's responsibility! As it should be. What do you think?

Matt

Hey, if parents believe that it's fine for their kids to play these kinds of games, then good for them; at the very least, they do know what their kids are playing. I do agree with you in that parents are (or, at least, should be) primarily responsible for their kids (and their kids' actions).

Okay, putting the soapbox away. I've been on it enough for today. So, on a lighter note, character themes! I always thought of myself along the lines of Frog or Shadow's theme. Or even Schala! Oooh mysterious and adventurous themes! Heh, okay, someone trank me, I'm getting a little too goofy.

Matt

Ohhh... Schala's theme is sooo good... and so is the other one from CT... I think it's Belthasar's theme. I wish I could sing it for you all to make sure that's what it is, exactly. Grr, it goes something like this: *la-la-laaa!!(high) .... la-la-looo!!(not quite as high) .... la-la-laaa!!(as high as the first) .... DONG! (low piano)*

How bout town themes? I've always favored Jidor (World of Ruin) or even Mysidia. How bout yourself?

Free soapbox to a nice home,
MagRowan


Matt

Town theme, huh? One of my favourite town themes is the Wolf town from Golden Sun whose name escapes me... Daroh, or Garoh, or something... it's SO remarkably sad. Another spectacular town theme is from Star Ocean: The Second Story... it places in a snowy town; I think it's called "Giveaway" or something like that, but I can't quite recall. Oh, and the sad one that plays in Ebon Keep/Ivor tower from Secret of Evermore. Man, the sad ones are GREAT!

Other town themes that are really spectacular are most town themes in Lufia 1 and 2... for some reason, they're just superior. In Final Fantasy land, I always liked FFVI's Thamasa, though the "World of Ruin towns" have a great theme as well.

Any-who, that's all I've got to say on the matter! Thanks for the soapbox offer, but, you know, I've just got to decline.



You buy it, you break it!


What is the most exciting upcoming game, in your opinion?

I'm excited about Elder Scrolls 4, the first game of that type I'm actually interested in playing. Good graphics and non-linear gameplay (like GTA).

Matt

There's no question in my mind; Final Fantasy III DS is the game I think of most, day-in and day-out. Sure, it might be a long ways away still, but at least it's in sight. I'm excited to play an official translation, but the fact that they're actually putting so much work into it is both surprising and, uh, um, yeah, exciting.

In response to the guy asking about snowboarding RPGS: Most good snowboarding games (most sports games, for that matter) have RPG elements in them. Your character improves throughout the game, enabling faster speeds and better tricks. Zelda uses the same formula (Your character becomes more versatile throughout the game).

Matt

True; many games from different genres- racing, sports, and more- are incorporating RPG elements into the mix. It's an interesting flavouring, and while I'm not big on sports games, it's nice to see this happening, in a way. I'd say, though, that there are very few games by this point that don't include character-powering-up as you go, now. Through most platformers of today, even, the character(s) you control end up learning new moves, getting new items, or whatever. It's a far cry from Super Mario Bros. 1, where higher levels simply meant more enemies and scarier pits to fall into.

In response to - Matt: "if ANY other product in our commercial world today had a lifespan of five years, it would be unacceptable.": Most computer electronics have a lifespan of five years. The Gamecube had a lifespan of just six years (2001 to 2006, it is being replaced by a nex-gen platform this year). PCs, until just recently, had a lifespan of five years. Seagate (A manufacturer of hard disk drives) offers a standard five year warrantly on every drive sold, the best in the industry. Consoles, like any other electronic product, will eventually break over time. Moving parts (like a DVD drive or hard disk drive) will break sooner. While you will likely hear of readers whose solid state hardware has broken, a cartridge design (where there are zero moving parts) tends to last the longest.

I am willing to accept a lifespan of five years for my consumer electronic products. I have had a good experience with my consoles. Every console I have ever bought (even ones off eBay) has worked the first time I turned it on, and none has ever broken before I sold it. I'm sure this is not rare among RPGamer readers (You could do a poll on it). If a console maker were to offer a 5 year warranty on their product, it would not at all affect my purchasing decision. Good software is much more important to the success of a console than hardware robustness.

Flamethrower


Matt

Five years... but six months? That's about how long my PS2 lasted in complete functionality, and to me, that's absolutely ludicrous, considering that someone (Santa?) pumped $300+ into it. I would guess that if they really wanted to, they could make a product that lasted more than a few (or even five) years. Of COURSE the companies want the consoles to break down, though... then you'd have to buy a brand new shiny one, and lo, the cycle will then repeat itself. If I buy something, I don't care: I'm going to want it to last. I like replaying all of my old games, after all! Not having the ability to in a few years' time is a truly disheartening thought.

All of that said, you're right: Game libraries make or break consoles, and crappy RPG lineups like the ones offered on Sony's loverly handheld are a prime example. I was sour on the Sony-handheld idea in the first place, and now, the library has turned me completely off. Toooo bad!



EWW... accursed math acronyms!


Hi Matt.

I was horrified to see yesterday a letter praising Rhapsody. I think that is probably my worst buy ever (apart for, perhaps, Saga Frontier 2, which I only played an hour of). A short review, if you will:

Matt

I will.

Cons:
Stupid characters, stupid story, bad and embarassing music, bad graphics, the easiest RPG of all time. I mean it. I'm not even sure if you can die by randomly pressing buttons...

Pros:
It's so incredibly short (less than ten hours) that the torment is over before it seeps into your soul.

Matt

It's funny that short playtimes slowly creep from the "con" list to the "pro" list, the more cons there are. "The Theory of Relativity of Game Reviews", I call it.

The game might have some attraction for very little boys and girls, its pathetic excuse for a battle system might be an introduction to normal games.

Matt

So might Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, and that doesn't make it a good game either. Yikes...

You want a light-hearted RPG? Go play anything by Working Designs, Disgaia, Earthbound or any of the other titles that do not suck.

Matt

My sentiments almost exactly. Wait, didn't I just make recommendations almost exactly like those earlier in this column? Or was that yesterday? It's all blending together... like a soup! Ahhhghhhgh...

Oh, I just thought about another good thing the game has going for it - it's so bad you'll start to appreciate other games more.

I don't have a question really... but if you must have one... Ain't ODEs boring?

Zohar Gilboa


Matt

Yes, but at least they're reasonably understandable. Not only are PDEs boring, but they're ridiculous. My presentation tomorrow is chock-full of them and I'm scared half-to-death that I'm going to get something not-exactly right. If that happens, why, the world will melt away or explode or something, I'm sure. Either that, or my teacher just won't like me anymore...





C L O S I N G
IN CONCLUSION:

What to do... what to do... WHAT TO DO!? My big moment is only twelve hours away, and the "light flurries" that are forecast for the overnight period are just not going to be enough to close the school. I'm running out of options, folks!!! Time is running short, and I have no plan! Will I actually have to give the seminar?? I... um... er....

*wishes for an earthquake*


Flashay!


OK. This will be quick!

#125 asked about my university mascot! Firstly, I go to the University of Guelph, for those of you who didn't know, and the mascot of Guelph is the Guelph GRYPHON, who is coloured red, yellow, black, and sports a mean e) pair of wings for 100 points.

#126 was asked by one of the SOCK contestants who hasn't been able to make his way up into the Top Ten so far, but this will help him out! Gaijin asked what Lynx's original name was in Japan, and the answer, according to him, is c) Yamaneko, meaning "Wild Cat" in Japanese, or something like that. 100 points for getting that one right, too- and a whopping 200 for him! Thanks for the submission!

Question #127:
Which of the following is the first game that I ever played on my dysfunctional PS2? (125 points)

a) Final Fantasy IX
b) Final Fantasy X
c) Chrono Cross
d) Summoner
e) Dark Cloud

Question #128:
At the Red Papaya Thai-Vietnamese restaurant in Guelph, what is Item #87 on the take-out menu? (135 points)

a) Grilled Chicken, Minced Shrimp, Shredded Pork Rice Vermicelli Combination Plate
b) Grilled Beef, Spring Roll Rice Vermicelli Combination Plate
c) Beef Green Beans
d) Crispy Egg Noodle Phoenix Nest with Shrimp
e) Thai Spicy Noodles with Tiger Shrimp


Things to work for (the SOCK item shop!):

800 points: Tilde (infinite number remaining!)
2,000 points: Guest-co-host Opportunity #2 (4 remaining!)
5,000 points: Guest-co-host Opportunity #3 (5 remaining!)


One day left before the weekend is upon us!! I will be a very happy man come tomorrow night, let me tell you. How will my seminar fare?? Do I dare share??? Do you even care?! Look there! A mare!

So, that's about all I can muster. Please, please write in with more of your thoughts and feelings, answers and questions, replies and remarks, theme musics and violence-related commentary. Oh, and good news: Tomorrow, XLASH the Dwarf Berserker will cohost at my side! So, prepare yourself for some exciting dual-host action!


slimey@rpgamer.com
***Matt likes dual-host action!


Send a Question

Dare I try trio-host action sometime in the future?! Noooo... it can't happen, can it?

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