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The Story of Braid


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#1 lewismistreated

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 01:15 AM

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Apologies for making a new thread, but I didn't think all of this could be spoiler boxed, and there are people in the Braid thread who might not want to read some things. But me and a friend have noticed a few things about Braid, and thought they were interesting enough to share.

Wankhat disclaimer: Braid is a game that involves climbing ladders and picking up keys. However, it also has a plot, and you could quite easily complete the game without ever really coming across half of it.

This is that half.

(All of this is the work of both myself and a guy called razedinwhite.)



Braid is a story that focuses on the development and deployment of the atomic bomb, and the irreversible impact it had on all human conflicts thereafter. At the very same time, it deals with the very human story of a relationship breaking down due to one person’s obsessive need to control this power. Finally, at certain points, the perspective of the bomb creator as a child comes through.

No, seriously.

The main source for all of this comes straight from the passages of the texts found in the epilogue screens, all of which are laid out openly below. Each screen has an alternative passage laid out, which only appears once Tim is located behind an object in the foreground. The italicised text is the alternative.

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The boy called for the girl to follow him, and he took her hand. He would protect her; they would make their way through this oppressive castle, fighting off the creatures made of smoke and doubt, escaping to a life of freedom,

The boy wanted to protect the girl. He held her hand, or put his arm around her shoulders in a walking embrace, to help her feel supported and close to him amid the impersonal throngs of Manhattan. They turned and made their way toward the Canal St. subway station, and he picked a path through the jostling crowd.

His arm weighed upon her shoulders, felt constrictive around her neck. “You’re burdening me with your ridiculous need,” she said. Or, she said: “You’re going the wrong way and you’re pulling me with you.” In another time, another place, she said: “Stop yanking on my arm; you’re hurting me!”


-----

I’m coming back to this one in a second. For now, take note of the location (Manhattan), and the somewhat schizophrenic splitting of events hinted in the alt text. Three women are shown speaking; the first being the spurned partner, the second being that of the bomb, the third being that of the mother of a persistent child.

----

He worked his ruler and his compass. He inferred. He deduced. He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. He was searching for the Princess, and he would not stop until he found her, for he was hungry. He cut rats into pieces to examine their brains, implanted tungsten posts into the skulls of water-starved monkeys.

Ghostly, she stood in front of him and looked into his eyes. “I am here,” she said. “I am here. I want to touch you.” She pleaded: “Look at me! But he would not see her; he only knew hot to look at the outside of things.


Again; I want to come back after the big reveal. But the search for the ‘Princess’ is important, and the description of a man obsessed with observing, with deducing but never really knowing.

---

He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. Through these clues he would find the Princess, see her face. After an especially fervent night of tinkering, he kneeled behind a bunker in the desert; he held a piece of welder’s glass up to his eyes and waited.


The desert unarguably being that of New Mexico; the bunker, the safe observation point for one of the single most important landmarks in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

On that moment hung eternity. Time stood still. Space contracted to a pinpoint. It was as though the earth had opened and the skies split. One felt as though he had been privileged to witness the Birth of the World…[1]


The above paragraph is a direct quotation (hence the footnote) from Robert Jay Lifton’s The Broken Connection, of which you can read some of right here: <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=WPiLtmZrG...esult#PPA371,M1" target="_blank">http://books.google.com/books?id=WPiLtmZrG...esult#PPA371,M1</a>

He describes in painful detail the explosion of the nuclear bomb, the first cry of a newborn world. Robert Jay Lifton himself was a psychologist, notable for his work around the effects on war and genocide on the human condition.

Someone near him said: “It worked.”

Someone else said: “Now we are all sons of bitches.”


The famous words of Kenneth Tompkins Bainbridge, uttered directly after the successful detonation of the first nuclear bomb, the “Trinity Test.”

She stood tall and majestic. She radiated fury. She shouted: “Who has disturbed me?” But then, anger expelled, she felt the sadness beneath; she let her breath fall softly, like a sigh, like ashes floating gently on the wind.

She couldn’t understand why he chose to flirt so closely with the death of the world.


The alternative text, written from the viewpoint of the bomb itself. The direct aftermath of the explosion, the fallout, and a failure to understand why anyone would want to bring such a thing into the world.

The candy store. Everything he wanted was on the opposite side of that pane of glass. The store was decorated in bright colours, and the scents wafting out drove him crazy. He tried to rush for the door, or just get closer to the glass, but he couldn’t. She held him back with great strength. Why would she hold him back? How might he break free of her grasp? He considered violence.

They had been here before on their daily walks. She didn’t mind his screams and his shrieks, or the way he yanked painfully on her braid to make her stop. He was too little to know better.

She picked him up and hugged him: “No, baby”, she said. He was shaking. She followed his gaze toward the treats sitting on pillows behind the glass: the chocolate bar and the magnetic monopole, the It-From-Bit and the Ethical Calculus; and so many other things, deeper inside. “Maybe when you’re older, baby,” she whispered, setting him back on his feet and leading him home, “Maybe when you’re older.”

Every day thereafter, as before, she always walked him on a route that passed in front of a candy store.


John Wheeler’s It-From-Bit theory describes that "... every it--every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself- derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely--even if in some contexts indirectly--from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, _bits_."

(If we were being really analytical, Quantum theory also has things to say around (at a base level) multiple worlds existing at the same time, in alternative states.)

The Ethical Calculus “refers to any method of determining a course of action in a circumstance that is not explicitly evaluated in one's ethical code.” Not too much of a leap to state that the deployment of nuclear technology at the end of World War II was one of the biggest ethical dilemmas encountered by mankind.

The Princess is the bomb, and we are being told the story of a man so focused on the development and harnessing of an immensely destructive power that it inevitably falls out of his hands, and into the wider world. One of the pre-word books reads;

"This improvement, day by day, takes him ever-closer to finding the Princess. if she exists - she must! - she will transform him, and everyone."

It is, simultaneously, the story of a relationship so burdened by a man’s obsessive, inquisitive nature that the search for his ‘Princess’, his power is the one thing that drives them apart. More;

"Through all the nights that followed, she still loved him as though he had stayed, to comfort her and protect her, Princess be damned."

The hub, the city burst into flame at the title sequence as the brightest of lights burns in the background, could easily be seen to be Manhattan.

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Again, mentioned in the epilogue texts, and quite significantly, the placing of two very distinctive towers in the background of the attic screen.

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One of the paintings also shows a World War II era poster on the side of a building located on a busy U.S. street, as a young man stares mournfully into flame.

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The Princess, somehow harnessed and shackled, looms ominously in the sky, overshadowing everyone and everything with a threat, a power that can’t be taken back. Can’t be reversed.

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Stolen from another forum; the flags at the end of each world are nautical flags.

World 2: N
World 3: U
World 4: L
World 5: X
World 6: K

N: No
U: You are (standing into/approaching) danger
L: Stop instantly
X: Stop carrying out your intentions
K: You should stop, I have something important to communicate

The warnings directed towards a man intent on bringing an indescribable power into being.

Think about the ending. A purging wall of flame chases Tim and the princess, all the way up to the point of Tim is found lurking outside a bedroom window. At this point everything reverses; Tim is now chasing her, not following. She is now trying to trap and block Tim from ever reaching her, not aid his progression. Instead of trying to escape the hands of an aggressive knight, he is now the one figure that takes her away from Tim’s ‘ridiculous need’, his obsession with control.

And the one point that rounds all this off – in the pursuit of the eighth star, Tim finally manages to reach the upper half of the screen, and come into contact with the princess herself. What happens?

She fucking explodes.
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#2 Majora

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 01:52 AM

That's really interesting. If true it's pretty brave for him to have a concept that like 0.001% of people would ever figure out.

How do you figure all this fits in with the actual levels and time mechanics of the worlds themselves? Most of the stuff you've gotten has come from the books, what do you think the levels represent? And the castle at the end of the epilogue.
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#3 lewismistreated

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 02:01 AM

My head's a bit frazzled after going through all of the above earlier tonight, but I think the desire for reversing actions that can't be taken back is even more prominent than it initially seems. What fascinates me is that we were sold it on the back of a couple, a man and his princess, but having that exist at the same time as all this other stuff around the creation of the atomic bomb is just... mind-blowing.

Plus, I'd really like to get other people in on this. What do you think? Hopefully by the time I've awoken from a much-needed sleep, this'll be a busy hive of discussion. Or something.
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#4 Puck

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 06:30 AM

Excellent post! You've made me want to play the game and see for myself now.
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#5 parrapatheslapper

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 07:16 AM

Is there many spoilers in there?
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#6 Thumbcandy

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 08:28 AM

That's amazing. The story itself, and your interpretation. Nice work.
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#7 lewismistreated

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:07 AM

Is there many spoilers in there?


Well, I haven't revealed any of the puzzle solutions, put it that way. But there's a description of the ending sequence, as well as pictures and decriptions of post-game events.
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#8 Bojangle

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:09 AM

Great post. Very interesting to read. ^_^
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#9 roBurky

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:27 AM

Rereading the world 1 books, this really makes sense.

Tim wants, like nothing else, to find the Princess, to know her at last. For Tim this would be momentous, sparking an intense light that embraces the world, a light that reveals the secrets long kept from us, that illuminates - or materialises! - a final palace where we can exist in peace.

But how would this be percieved by the other residents of the city, in the world that flows contrariwise? The light would be intense and warm at the beginning, but then flicker down to nothing, taking the castle with it; it would be like burning down the place we've always called home, where we played so innocently as children. Destroying all hope of safety, forever.


First time I read that, it's about love - how for Tim, intense love is what he wants, but for most, love that intense would turn their lives upside-down and make things uncertain.

Read it as about the development of the atomic bomb instead. For the creators, the bomb was intended to bring peace to the world. For the rest of us, it has created a terrifying constant threat of destruction. It even describes an explosion of light, and the revealing of secrets.
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#10 lewismistreated

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:33 AM

Nice find, roBurky. I've been trying to go through as much of the game as possible to see where all of this pops up, especially with regards to the ending. The very last screen speaks of him picking up stones to find them "cold and smooth", and using these stones as the foundation of his castle. I'm sure that there's something in there, but I really don't want to try and force things into places where they don't belong. It could just as easily be a wider statement for all three strands; accepting the irreversible, and beginning anew.
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#11 Aardvark

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:39 AM

Is Braid about the atomic bomb? Yes, clearly from the text in the epilogue even ignoring everything else.
Is Braid only about the atomic bomb? No, equally clearly.
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#12 SeanR

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:41 AM

Wow.
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#13 dungavin

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:43 AM

Downloaded this on thursday and took an initial quick run through a few levels.

Lovely presentation and an interesting, initially confusing, game mechanic.

Your post revealing an entire subtext is great and am glad I read it before I continue with the game as now I'll be enjoying a narrative on an extra level than i would have previously.

Thanks. ^_^
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#14 roBurky

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 10:55 AM

Is Braid about the atomic bomb? Yes, clearly from the text in the epilogue even ignoring everything else.
Is Braid only about the atomic bomb? No, equally clearly.


Well, before I read this, I thought the epilogue was saying that the story was about obsession in general, with the different epilogue screens being seperate examples. This is the first time I've seen it suggested that the atomic bomb stuff goes beyond that one screen.
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#15 Billy Brown

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 11:02 AM

I recognised the 'we are all sons of bitches'/atomic bomb reference, but the rest of your interpretation is extremely interesting. I'm about to start a new playthrough to get the stars, so I'm looking forward to taking in the narrative with this revelation fresh in my mind.
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#16 Aardvark

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 11:24 AM

Well, before I read this, I thought the epilogue was saying that the story was about obsession in general, with the different epilogue screens being seperate examples. This is the first time I've seen it suggested that the atomic bomb stuff goes beyond that one screen.

I'd spotted the Manhattan reference in one of the books, but I think some of the other stuff may be over reaching slightly. The semaphore flags don't strike me as being specific to the bomb for example, they seem applicable to any reasonable value of Princess.
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#17 Jam_sponge

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 11:48 AM

Wow, great work Lewis.

Naysayers be damned- Braid is art. So many themes, so many different stories to be told, and all from such a haze of ambiguity... There's clearly no specific answer about what the game's actually about, and yet nearly all of the suggestions made so far have been equally mindblowing. God bless you, Mr. Blow!
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#18 electricant

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 12:20 PM

I'm sure that someone must have posted these links in the main Braid thread, but they have less chance of getting lost here. Also that thread is a lot more about how great the gameplay is.

There is an interview on Gamasutra with David Hellman regarding the development and changing art style of the game (some great concept screenshots too):
http://www.gamasutra...creating_a_.php

His website also has lots of stuff on the game:
http://www.davidhellman.net/
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#19 Comrade

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 12:23 PM

Putting "braid" and "nuclear" into Google seems to imply that "Braid" might actually be a nuclear physics term. God knows I can't make head nor tails of it though.
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#20 Majora

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 12:28 PM

I just went and read all the pre-world books with this in mind and I don't think the princess can solely represent the bomb. There are numerous references to the princess in the world 2 books where I think you would have to really stretch.
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#21 lewismistreated

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 12:34 PM

My interpretation of it was a little more base; a braid being a pattern created by three or more interwoven strands or threads. Hence why that one particular paragraph in which the one female voice is split into three caught my attention.

It's also the absolute proof, if ever such a thing was needed that something like Braid can be any number of things; stylistically, a homage to 2D platformers of old, the play on the hero/princess stories we've been sold any number of times over the years, the take on jealously and obsession... I presented my argument the way that I did because it's the one angle that I don't think has been commented on yet, and I'm of the opinion that there is sufficient evidence to support it.
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#22 lewismistreated

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 12:35 PM

I just went and read all the pre-world books with this in mind and I don't think the princess can solely represent the bomb. There are numerous references to the princess in the world 2 books where I think you would have to really stretch.


Absolutely, the references made to her differ wildly in tone and meaning throughout the game. But see above; I'm trying to pick out the one strand out of a number that could (legitimately, and with good enough reason) be pulled.
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#23 Aardvark

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 01:31 PM

Putting "braid" and "nuclear" into Google seems to imply that "Braid" might actually be a nuclear physics term. God knows I can't make head nor tails of it though.

Well the paper that comes top is to do with modelling the world lines of a number of particles undergoing Brownian motion as a single braid. I was expecting to find a link about preons and loop quantum gravity.

The initial idea LQD and some other quantum gravity theories was to model space-time as a network of discrete points connected together into a network, rather than as the continuous thing it appears to be at the macroscopic scale, and model particles as things at those points. This is quite a hard thing to do, but it does solve a lot of problems in physics, it gets rid of all those annoying infinities that have to be carefully brushed under the carpet, but leaves you with two distinct things, the space-time graph and the particles at its points. Other people have realised that instead of modelling the particles at things at the points of the graph they could model the particles themselves as braids within the graph.

They've had rather limited success so far, but it's a really neat idea.
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#24 Shep

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 02:13 PM

Just a half-baked theory (I'm sat at work, and can't really research the other books to see how it fits, but reading roBurky's quotes from world 2 set the cogs in motion)

Imagine that Tim is a person who perceives all time in reverse ... what would an apocalyptic nuclear event look like to him? He'd be going from a bleak and dark aftermath, to the nice fluffy pre-nuclear world. Or, as it says in the world 2 into:

For Tim this would be momentous, sparking an intense light that embraces the world, a light that reveals the secrets long kept from us, that illuminates - or materialises! - a final palace where we can exist in peace.


Meanwhile, for the rest of us, who perceive time "normally" (or, from Tim's point of view, "contrariwise"):

But how would this be percieved by the other residents of the city, in the world that flows contrariwise? The light would be intense and warm at the beginning, but then flicker down to nothing, taking the castle with it; it would be like burning down the place we've always called home, where we played so innocently as children. Destroying all hope of safety, forever.


So, my theory is, Tim is somebody doomed to experience time in reverse (hence the confusion about women falling in love with him, when they're really falling *out* of love with him). And I'm sticking with this mad, half-backed theory until a better one comes along.... (probably some time later today)
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#25 Strawp

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 03:59 PM

Oh man, thanks for this. tl;dr at the moment, but I will when I get home. I am one of the people who only realised the story when I got to the end.
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#26 roBurky

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 04:04 PM

Shep: That quote I posted was from World 1, where time does flow in reverse. That's why it talks about Tim flowing contrary to everyone else.
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#27 dood

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 04:57 PM

Excellent stuff Lewis! :lol: Good read! :)
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#28 macosx

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 07:29 PM

Yeah great stuff. I didnt enjoy the demo, but I enjoyed reading about it.
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#29 Jolly

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 08:17 PM

Have you got any ideas on how the castle would fit into this interpretation? Why is the princess always in another castle? Why is she never in yours? Whats with the castle at the end?

I've looked into this myself, and there was an area in the Pacific called "Castle Bravo" that they used for testing hydrogen bombs in the fifties that resulted in contamination of nearby islands, but that seems a little weak for a theme that runs so far throughout the game.

Any ideas on the reoccuring wine too?

Sterling work on the theory :huh: ; I was left totally bemused by the end, but this thread has reignited my interest ten fold. I started work on practicing speed runs today while checking the story over for other ideas, theories and links ;)

EDIT: The testing was codenamed "Operation Castle" by the way - otherwise that really is a weak link!
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#30 Darragh

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 09:00 PM

Excellent post, very interesting read. I'd noticed the stuff about the princess being referred to in a number of different ways (particularly in the epilogue), but had never looked at it from that perspective.
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