Night Elves and the Player Experience, Or:

Story Forum
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How to not write an MMO.

Posted on behalf of Kaylin: http://www.scrollsoflore.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1616477#post1616477

I have often struggled with condensing my thoughts in a way that clearly presents the assumptions I’m using and that goes beyond how I personally feel. What follows is my attempt to correct that both with respect to the Night Elves, and with regard to player motivations in an MMORPG generally.

With that said…

Imagine that you’re playing the sequel to a video game that had a character you really connected with. In this sequel, that character’s previous flaws have been maximally inflated and other characters in the story think they’re a joke. This character has arbitrarily lost or forgotten about much of what made them great in the first place, and on top of this, you could be a peerless savant in mastering this title’s gameplay, but no matter how well you played, the character you’re playing would still lose, lose humiliatingly, and lose just about every time they were onscreen.

Would you play that game? Would you pay $180 per year to play that game?

First, frameworks

Scott Rigby is a Ph.D. in clinical and social psychology and has summarized three human psychological needs that video games, ideally, address. They are as follows: [1]

- Competence (We control of the situation)
- Autonomy (We control our own actions)
- Relatedness (We feel like we matter to others)

This should be obvious to anyone who has ever played a video game. So we’ll start here, noting the through-line of player choice.

Next let’s add the Mimesis effect, or the tendency of a role-playing game player to role-play in a manner consistent with their role, whether that role is chosen or assigned (this effect is stronger if chosen) [2]. In World of Warcraft, roles come from the character selection screen. The Mimesis effect suggests that regardless of the reasons for choosing that role, the player will mold their behavior to it. Linking that concept to Rigby’s framework: this chosen role becomes important to a player’s enjoyment of the game.

Finally, motivations to play an online game are, among other factors, tied to a game’s story [3]. It follows that the story is a core element of game quality. It is not reasonable therefore, to offer as a defense to a poor story, the suggestion to disengage from it and focus on mechanics. The poor story still hurts the quality of the experience. As far as it relates to the story for an individual race: the race in part defines the role. That role therefore will be partially informed by the race’s history and current lore.

We now have a useful set of rules to evaluate effects on the player experience. The player’s needs are filled when they can feel competent, autonomous, and meaningful in the role of their choosing, and that story has a material impact on the fulfillment of those needs.

Now, is this being done in the story for a typical Night Elf player?

No, now let me count the ways.

Night Elf motivations are not fairly presented.

In the Vault of the Wardens, there is some banter between a Warden and a Demon Hunter. Each side passionately defends their position, laying plain their motivations so that we may better identify with the characters. This is a wonderful exception to an unfortunate rule: the Night Elves’ motivations are not fairly presented, and instead are often used to demonstrate the “wrong” opinion.

To provide the Horde’s motivation for war, the Orcs were said to need lumber and food to feed their starving population. The Night Elven position, meanwhile, was weakly presented as “the Horde hates beauty” (Stonetalon Mountains). The Leyara questline would later demonize other of the Night Elves’ motives for their investment in the faction war, having Malfurion display what appeared to be a cold, dismissive attitude towards the suffering of his own people.

More recently we have the Nightborne. The Night Elves have always had strong opinions about the use of arcane magic, and plenty of reasons to be mistrustful. These reasons, however, are reduced to simple bigotry in the current game. The Nightborne and the Blood Elves chastise the Night Elves, but the Night Elves aren’t allowed to offer a serious counterpoint.

Tyrande as a character has come to personify this problem. Her job in “A Little Patience” was to be wrong and to be corrected by Varian. Infamous and often criticized lines from this scenario would later become her greetings to the player. Val’sharah carries on the presentation of her recklessness causing problems until the end of the zone, and in Suramar, she drives the Nightborne into the Horde. Tyrande’s prior flaws have been magnified to the point where she seems to only exist in the story to be wrong. Her often-grating voice acting, which has her repeatedly shouting rash and impetuous things, only reinforces this. It’s no wonder so many Night Elf players have lost faith in this character.

To clarify, Night Elves don’t have to be “right”, but for players to be motivated, their reasons for doing things do have to be fairly presented.

Night Elves are generally incompetent

In Warcraft III there were four, roughly equal, playable factions. They are now represented primarily by Humans, Orcs, Forsaken, and the Night Elves. Each of these factions in subsequent content have either retained or increased their power and prestige.

Except for the Night Elves, who normally lose their engagements and whose “victories”, usually defined as “not losing as much as we could have”, are usually pushed off screen or downplayed.

In Mists of Pandaria, the Night Elves were to blame for most of the Alliance’s reversals, culminating in a moment when the leader of a “crack team” of Night Elves – who had been easily swept aside by the Horde player and a blademaster – reveals the location of the Divine Bell. This allows the Horde player to successfully infiltrate Darnassus and steal it. The Night Elves’ victories against the Horde during MOP are generally not presented. To this day there is popular misconception about who retained Ashenvale Forest after the last war with the Horde because of story decisions like these.

The problem isn’t just losing, though. In contrast to situations like the Fall of Lordaeron – where the Horde are shown to be competent in defeat – when the Night Elves lose, they lose humiliatingly. At present, media relating to the Burning of Teldrassil show members of the Horde striding triumphantly through the wreckage of a battlefield on the shores of Darkshore, before the next image strikingly shows Teldrassil aflame. The contrast in presentation could not be more evident when comparing this moment to when Sylvanas destroys an Alliance siege tower and rallies her troops with a banshee scream variant of “For the Horde!”. This treatment is unfair, but common, and it’s why the Night Elves are not respected as a competent fighting force.

Loss, and losing is not by itself a problem. Protagonists suffer reversals all of the time, and these can enhance the quality of their stories. As Franklyn Delano Roosevelt once remarked: “the harder the sacrifice, the more glorious the triumph”. The problem is that there is no triumph, no reason to expect triumph, and nothing the player can do to change this. So much then, for Rigby’s pillar of competence.

The Night Elves have lost much of their identity

Malfurion Stormrage, Tyrande Whisperwind’s husband and technically the co-leader of the Night Elves is at the same time, the leader of the Cenarion Circle. In filling this role, he often appears to not care about the playable faction, to the point where, infamously, his NPC stands motionless during Horde raids on his wife. Malfurion is generally presented as the more level headed of the Night Elven leaders, but as a neutral faction leader, he is inaccessible to the playable faction, as are most druids and the Night Elves’ natural allies from Warcraft III.

Druidism and the connection to nature firmly underlined who the Night Elves were, what motivated them, and why they were not to be crossed. The playable faction’s constructive loss of it deprives them of meaning, purpose, competence, distinctiveness, and motivation. Druidism formed the core of what the Night Elves were presented as, but most Night Elven druids have only a technical relation to the playable race, and often are not shown to care about what happens to it.

What remains of their identity: that of a savage, strong-willed matriarchal society has been twisted into a menagerie of negative gender stereotypes. Tyrande doesn’t inspire or motivate, she nags and berates. The Night Elves’ naturalism does not translate to savagery, but to a sort of gentle flower culture. Grom called the Night Elves “perfect warriors”, Garrosh regards them as “mewling”. I wouldn’t call this intentional sexism, as most other presentations of women in Warcraft don’t have these problems, but the Night Elves do.

Finally, while not a Night Elf specific problem, the Night Elves are also simultaneously shoved into human tabards and made to fit into roles that don’t suit them. I understand that they are trying to show Night Elf commitment to the Alliance, but that could have been done in a way that highlights the race’s unique strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, and provided commentary on how their culture would interact with others. Blizzard chose a method that once again weakens the Night Elves’ identity, and diminishes the meaning of the player’s choice in role.

What then about Battle for Azeroth?

At the time I’m writing this, BfA marketing materials and developer interviews [4] suggest that the Night Elves will lose Teldrassil, Darkshore, and Ashenvale, representing a final and comprehensive defeat, the end of their civilization, and the end of their reason for existing – all as a parity move for the human conquest of Capital City, in Lordaeron.

If Blizzard expects to sell Battle for Azeroth to Night Elf players, this is asking for a lot of unearned trust. I performed an analysis that, in consideration of an event’s relative impact and age, computed the probability that post-Vanilla Night Elf content will satisfy a typical Night Elf player, on an overall basis and when initial spoilers of future content suggest that they will not. Respectively, I arrived at odds of 28.94% and 7.51%. [5] I must disclaim this analysis because it is influenced by my own bias – my critics will disagree with my weights and assumptions. But, I would challenge them to, after performing a parallel analysis, sincerely argue in favor of materially different odds. At its highest, I would suggest an error rate of fifteen percent, which does not change the conclusion that the Night Elf player cannot reasonably expect good content out of Blizzard, especially when available spoilers are telling them to brace for the worst.

With Teldrassil itself gone, I would go further in that conclusion: the Night Elves are dead. Their death is the spectacular culmination of a development strategy that sought to provide a player experience not simply contrary but adverse to the fundamental underlying psychology of why people play video games at all. It is a comprehensive case study of what NOT to do in an MMO.

Conclusion

While I have attempted to take a more clinical approach with this, my motivation to research, draft, and edit this came obviously from a deep feeling of betrayal. I’ve been a Warcraft fan for over fifteen years, over half of my life. Night Elves brought me into the franchise, and my belief that they’d never be portrayed well again took me out. I didn’t want to leave, and I would have paid that subscription fee again in a heartbeat if I turned out to be wrong. With Battle for Azeroth, it appears, unfortunately, that I wasn’t.

The Night Elven experience violates all three pillars of Rigby’s framework. It attacks competence directly by presenting an incompetent race as the role it asks the player to take. It erodes autonomy by attacking the identity of that role, fusing and subordinating it with other roles. It also diminishes relatedness by presenting Night Elf motivations as the “wrong” opinion within the overall story.

That story helps to inform the role. According to the Mimesis effect, players, regardless of their reasons for assuming it, will usually assume and naturally play that role. It is also not reasonable to disregard the impact of the story on the overall game, as a game’s story has been demonstrated to have a significant effect on player motivations to play. In the case of the Night Elves, avoidable decisions in the game’s story give reasons for Night Elf players to disengage from the franchise, as I had.

On the off chance that someone from Blizzard may read this: I still hope, even though I shouldn’t, that I’m wrong about Battle for Azeroth. I hope that one day if I were to ask “why should I buy your game?”, you will be able to point me to treatment better than what I’ve seen – not in a tweet or in a developer interview – but by being able to point me to content that I will enjoy. But I don’t understand, at this moment, why you believe this is fun.

Footnotes

[1]https://www.teachthought.com/learning/why-people-play-video-games/

[2] https://ciigar.csc.ncsu.edu/files/bib/Dominguez2016-MimesisEffect.pdf

[3] http://web.csulb.edu/journals/jecr/issues/20083/paper4.pdf

[4] https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/hnewman/2018/01/30/battle-for-azeroth-questions-answered-why-warcraft-players-wont-see-void-bears/&refURL=http://www.scrollsoflore.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1616477&referrer=http://www.scrollsoflore.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1616477#65f3b34736cd

See comments on land disputes with the Trolls and Tauren.

[5]http://www.scrollsoflore.com/forums/showpost.php?p=1616119&postcount=68
Til?
tl;dr: Blizzard can't write Night Elves.
I feel the same way as you, even though this probably won't make me stop playing. It's really sad. After the losses we had since cata I couldn't believe this when I saw BfA.
so many people adore the night elves

its such a terrible, terrible shame that blizzard does not
02/06/2018 07:42 PMPosted by Stalairne
so many people adore the night elves

its such a terrible, terrible shame that blizzard does not
The sad thing is, I don't think the people writing dislike the actual Night Elves.

They dislike the hippy stereotype elves, which they wouldn't even be if they were written right.
02/06/2018 07:49 PMPosted by Kharinak
02/06/2018 07:42 PMPosted by Stalairne
so many people adore the night elves

its such a terrible, terrible shame that blizzard does not
The sad thing is, I don't think the people writing dislike the actual Night Elves.

They dislike the hippy stereotype elves, which they wouldn't even be if they were written right.


i think it might be a matter of perception?

perhaps the blizzard devs, because of their perspective (or they think they just know better, cough) believe that the night elves are doing okay and we just dont have the means of viewing them like they do, like how malfurion and tyrande are objectively very strong or how azshara had a really big empire forever ago

following that line of logic, its easy to see why the devs worf the hell out of the night elves constantly; cause they have malfurion, so its okay, cause if he got really angry hoo boy the horde would regret it! if tyrande or maiev got serious, the horde would be terrified!

but because its a view of the internal writing team as opposed to a solid canon within the game world it functionally doesnt exist, despite it being really super cool when they brought it up at the last dev meeting, and if they just had a few more hours in the day theyd put it in!

or maybe im wrong and presuming too much good will on their part and ions just a sexist monster taking out all his incel rage on the only matriarchal race in the game

shrug
I really feel that way and probably most of my posts reflect that. With all honesty, and eventhough I already prepurchased BfA, I don't think I will be playing it unless proven that Night Elves will have a better treatment and not our common fist pump moments Blizzard likes to give us.
I grow more disattached to this game with each patch and expansion and all because of the weight of multiple and repeated presentation of the only race that keep me playing. Moreso when the characters that brought me to this game are constantly shown with a bad light. Tyrande was all I left of them. Cenarius was dead after WC3 so I had accepted that. When He was brought back to life I was so disappointed to see him underused and inactive towards the destruction of Kalimdor forests. The same goes for Malfurion who even dismisses any talk or argument about the faction war. So now with Tyrande, She is just a shell of what we were presented back in WC3. She was a victim to different writers POV who didnt know what to do with her so easiest thing was to use her as a plot to further any other race agenda (Humans or Orcs).
So I understand Kaylin's post that there is a time that what you get is simply not worthy anymore and it is sad because you know there is a lot of potential to deliver a fun engaging game that is able to please everyone if done correctly.
It's not about victories of defeats but the way Blizzard keeps on showing and explaining them that keeps driving some players away.
I think a large part of this is as Stalairne said, a miscommunication problem. The sad part is we have never seen a blue post, a Night Elf based question in a dev interview, or even offhand remarks on the subject.

I don't think we'll ever get any clarification or explanation why night elf players feel they regularly get their faces shoved into the mud, denied fist-pump moments, or an explanation on why they should care about Anduin's confidence problems. Why he should 'rule' over them, care about 'honorable' combat, give up the laughably unfair advantage of being able to fight at night. Or even why giving up the fight for Kalimdor and capturing Fantasy-Detroit (Undercity) so they can squat in Stormwind's ghetto, and why the rest of the Alliance should matter to them outside of player's head-canon.

I don't think Night Elf players are the audience that the Writers want to write stories for, WC3 Night elves don't do Lawful Good Overdrive during the daylight and lose so that Varian can look good. The current incarnation of them are a disgrace compared to what we fell in love with.
Oh, that's nice. I'm depressed about my chosen race again.
Transmit my thanks to Kyalin for this very in-depth post.
If you think about it, the basic tenets of night elf culture has been disseminated to two horde races. One we just got as an allied race. The Nightborne.

The Nightborne are what the night elves were and could’ve been if they hadn’t given up their magical heritage. They have an important ancient city from their past. They are far more proactive than the night elves. They also formed an alliance with the blood elves.

The second race is the Zandalari. The Zandalari are the noble savages. They are fierce proud warriors, and from what I have seen of their animations they bear a regal and authoritarian stance. They look like what the night elves should’ve loooked like, savages that would tear your face off.

What we are left with is the night elves. Purple humans that aren’t savage, they have no magical prowess. They don’t control their own lands any more. They bow down to a human king with a lifespan shorter than the lint in Tyrandes bellybutton.
02/06/2018 09:24 PMPosted by Myasol
If you think about it, the basic tenets of night elf culture has been disseminated to two horde races. One we just got as an allied race. The Nightborne.

The Nightborne are what the night elves were and could’ve been if they hadn’t given up their magical heritage. They have an important ancient city from their past. They are far more proactive than the night elves. They also formed an alliance with the blood elves.

The second race is the Zandalari. The Zandalari are the noble savages. They are fierce proud warriors, and from what I have seen of their animations they bear a regal and authoritarian stance. They look like what the night elves should’ve loooked like, savages that would tear your face off.

What we are left with is the night elves. Purple humans that aren’t savage, they have no magical prowess. They don’t control their own lands any more. They bow down to a human king with a lifespan shorter than the lint in Tyrandes bellybutton.

Purple humans with arguably the silliest animations of any and every playable race.
02/06/2018 09:27 PMPosted by Resìleaf
02/06/2018 09:24 PMPosted by Myasol
If you think about it, the basic tenets of night elf culture has been disseminated to two horde races. One we just got as an allied race. The Nightborne.

The Nightborne are what the night elves were and could’ve been if they hadn’t given up their magical heritage. They have an important ancient city from their past. They are far more proactive than the night elves. They also formed an alliance with the blood elves.

The second race is the Zandalari. The Zandalari are the noble savages. They are fierce proud warriors, and from what I have seen of their animations they bear a regal and authoritarian stance. They look like what the night elves should’ve loooked like, savages that would tear your face off.

What we are left with is the night elves. Purple humans that aren’t savage, they have no magical prowess. They don’t control their own lands any more. They bow down to a human king with a lifespan shorter than the lint in Tyrandes bellybutton.

Purple humans with arguably the silliest animations of any and every playable race.


Hey, that bounce is a thing of adorable beauty! And the silly overly dramatic "cheer".
02/06/2018 06:23 PMPosted by Anyaceltica
At the time I’m writing this, BfA marketing materials and developer interviews [4] suggest that the Night Elves will lose Teldrassil, Darkshore, and Ashenvale


I'm holding out hope that this isn't true. The Blizzcon demo routed Alliance ships to Darkshore so I assume the Night Elves have some presence there.

https://i.imgur.com/MpLAK4f.jpg

Teldrassil is gone, but hopefully the Nelves get to hold onto their remaining territory. I think they could really use a win to help them feel good again.

Assuming of course that "win" doesn't come in the form of ALP 2.0.

*fingers crossed*
It's honestly becoming more and more clear to me that if the storyline doesn't somehow further Stormwind in some form, then it doesn't make it into the game.

As it stands right now, with the information we have, Teldrassil burns, and fingers point at the horde, so what does the Alliance do? Go to conquer former human lands!

This is a real smack in the face, it comes off as "Aww you lost your home.. well.. suck it up and help us take back "our" territory, that'll make you feel better right!"

Blizzard doesn't -want- to write anyone into a position of power that could be perceived as above or better than Stormwind and its King, and it's plain to see that in how they have dumbed down night elves, and how they treat the other factions in the alliance.

Capital cities and and major landmarks are pure proof of this idea. Stormwind got the alliances main Harbor to northrend in Wrath, despite Ironforge being just as close to the water as Stormwind was, and having the possibility of having something like a Submarine Pen type of harbor dug into the rock, who got the 2nd alliance boat to northrend? Menethil Harbor, another human/stormwind town. Also noting that Stormwind is further away from Northrend than BOTH Ironforge and Darnassus.

Come Cata, where did the Only portals to the new zones go? Stormwind.
In cata we also saw Stormwind and Orgrimar damaged somewhat by Deathwing, Stormwind losing its park and so forth, as well as the dwarven dam in Loch Modan.

Into MoP We see Stormwind get the first parts of its restoration done, the portal to pandaria placed there, and nothing done to the rest of the damaged world.

Further on, skipping WoD and into legion we now see Stormwind rebuilt, a Brand new monument to their dead king, the city as a whole expanded and revamped, and the only portal to Broken Isles Dalaran placed there.

Now take a look around the rest of the Alliance world:
The dwarves dam, nothing done with it, not even attempts to make it look like its under reconstruction.
Gnomeregan, Still just an instance with no sign of them doing Anything new for the Gnomes.
Ironforge and Darnassus. Ironforge recieves no updates changes or transportation options. Darnassus, gets the Worgen tree in cata, but no transportation or other visual updates.

Looking back at Cata, what factions took the brunt of the damage from that expansion? Horde zones and the Night Elves.

Elwynn is geographically unchanged, Duskwood unchanged, Westfall gained a perminate tornado and an Upgraded Sentinel Hill. the only real damage suffered beyond Stormwind itself (Which again is one of the only things to be repaired) are "neutral" zones, Strangelthorn and Badlands got the brunt of things.

On the other hand, Auberdine destroyed, yes a new town is built, but the entire zone of Darkshore is changed/damaged, Ashenvale now has a giant volcano taking up a decent portion of it, and the horde have moved taken over even more of it. Feathermoon stronghold destroyed and rebuilt, Hyjal on fire, Azshara given to the horde.

And now here we are come BfA, and the devs have chosen to Destroy Teldrassil/Darnassus, do who knows what to the other night elf zones, and leave a race that had proven more than capable of defending itself and its lands to be a broken and defeated refugee race living in the Great and Powerful human captial.

Have I missed a few things? Probably, I am not perfect after all.

Am I exaggerating? Not in the slightest.

A lot of not MOST of the people who play night elves that have any enjoyment of the lore is upset (Some to the point of walking away from WoW entirely) because their favorite race is not only not shown any attention, they are systematically used as a punching bag every time they need to make the horde or some other villain, like Ragnaros take center stage, or be propped up as a "Big and Powerful" entity.

I fully expect come BfA, Teldrassil will get the Bronze Dragon NPC treatment, and then be forgotten about by the Devs/Writers. Tyrande will forever be housed in the Embassy in Stormwind, and Malfurion will be gone untill the next time something big draws him out to be useful for 30 seconds of the plot.

But, for some idiotic reason I hold out hope that I am wrong.
NEVes died in vanilla.

Choosing to dawn blue instead of red made them become hippies instead of nature’s perfect warriors to represent a good too shoes alliance race they lost their savagery and just want to end the threat on the local flowers

Instead in cata they tried to give the savage role to worgen instead of back to the nelves, and failed horribly

Nelves should have joined the Horde.

There with the race of people who helped defend their forests from Archimonde they’d be free to be nature’s wrath and make for better faction tension than the horde and forsaken

The alliance should have gotten forsaken so they could have gotten their own tension, and a realistic reason why when new forsaken are raised they continue to fight (why are they killing their own friends and family)

But no. Let’s make the forsaken have weird relationships with their living counterparts, and spay nelves
02/07/2018 03:47 AMPosted by Thundro
The alliance should have gotten forsaken so they could have gotten their own tension, and a realistic reason why when new forsaken are raised they continue to fight (why are they killing their own friends and family)

But no. Let’s make the forsaken have weird relationships with their living counterparts, and spay nelves


I'm all for Night Elves not being part of the Alliance in the first place (atleast, not at the start of when WoW launched), however claiming Forsaken to be in the Alliance instead is ludicrous considering what had just transpired in WC3: TFT.
Establish 3 credible academic sources. Don't address any of the topics raised by those sources in relation to World of Warcraft. Since these topic had nothing to do with the argument made, my assumption is that they're a shallow attempt to establish credibility. Probably even worked for alot of people.

Once we get past the "sources," the rest is just bald assertions only supported by controversial half readings of the lore. Any one of which taken alone would be immediately disputed by the very people who agree with it. One of them, amusingly, was primarily supported by an example that the original author admits disagrees with her.

It'll get a lot of support though because it taps into a real and justified feeling that the Night Elves are getting the shaft next expansion. Which is the saddest part of all of this. A real problem, and a fake argument trying to direct it into her petty list of ongoing complaints.
02/07/2018 05:20 AMPosted by Fondant
Establish 3 credible academic sources. Don't address any of the topics raised by those sources in relation to World of Warcraft. Since these topic had nothing to do with the argument made, my assumption is that they're a shallow attempt to establish credibility. Probably even worked for alot of people.

Once we get past the "sources," the rest is just bald assertions only supported by controversial half readings of the lore. Any one of which taken alone would be immediately disputed by the very people who agree with it. One of them, amusingly, was primarily supported by an example that the original author admits disagrees with her.

It'll get a lot of support though because it taps into a real and justified feeling that the Night Elves are getting the shaft next expansion. Which is the saddest part of all of this. A real problem, and a fake argument trying to direct it into her petty list of ongoing complaints.


Please shut up. everyone knows if you played Warcraft 3 and then play WoW they are a completely different race.
02/07/2018 05:43 AMPosted by Xanlennicon
Please shut up. everyone knows if you played Warcraft 3 and then play WoW they are a completely different race.


Which is fine, but what does that have to do with Scott Rigby, PhD's, three qualifiers that make up a good game?

I mean, don't get me wrong. My post had a clear undertone of the scorn I feel for people who agree with things they like to hear without giving it any real thought. And your post proving that scorn is legitimate is nice. But what would make me even happier is if, instead of lashing out like a spoiled child, you try to read and process what is being told to you. In both the original post and my response.

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