Girl in the Machine
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Moon Prism Pow--Wait, no, that's not it...

Transformations in Jeanne D'Arc

To be brief, this semester has been regrettably busy for me. Mixing together a full-time internship and classes took a toll on my free time, but even after it ended near the beginning of this month, I was so worn out that I was quite lazy about coming back to GitM. Not much else to say besides “sorry.” Anyway, I’ve got my energy back, so here we go!

In the few opportunities I’ve had for gaming, I’ve been enjoying the tactical RPG Jeanne D’Arc for PSP. In terms of storyline, I wouldn’t call it mind numbingly original, but the two leading female characters keep surprising me. Jeanne is headstrong and zealous on the battlefield, and she doesn’t succumb to the patriarchy’s expectations for a woman. Her best friend Liane slid into the background early in the game, but near the middle she bursts forth with her own courage and insecurities that have kept the plot engaging.

In particular, I’d like to take a quick look at one of my favorite aspects of many games—the transformations. Jeanne and some of her allies are able to tap into ancient gems to unlock God’s power, and the first change is accompanied by an anime cut scene. The clip below contains the scene when Jeanne transforms for the first time by unknowingly activating the gem. For comparison, it also contains a scene where her ally Gilles purposefully activates his gem.



Thank goodness for a transformation scene that didn’t involve an upskirt or awkward close-up!

To me, the two transformations are essentially the same. There’s a little Sailor Moon-esque spinning, a ring of light moves from head to toe, some shiny glowing, and bam! Bad ass armor and weapons! Not bad, huh?

There’s still a small difference, though—did you catch it? Jeanne ends her transformation with her hip slightly popped in an America’s Next Top Model pose, whereas Gilles spins his phallic spear before striking an aggressive battle pose.

In the game’s defense, this is Jeanne’s first time using the gem, so she’s surely a little confused about what happened. After all, she didn’t even realize she was activating it! Gilles also has experience with the gems, so you could say he’s more likely to be ready for action.

Still, Jeanne had proven herself to be soldier material before she ever transformed. I would have imagined her immediately hefting her broadsword up and giving it a practice swing or two. She certainly didn’t hesitate to do so when the game resumed after the cut scene!

That certainly has been enough to ruin the game for me, though. While more serious, Jeanne D’Arc is about as historically accurate as a Shadow Hearts game and draws out frequent, unintended laughter. It's also got a solid battle system with nice optional stages. The skill synthesis can be a little unrewarding sometimes, but that's part of the fun. If you haven't checked it out yet and you're a fan the tactical RPG genre, you're definitely missing out!

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 Posted by Calabar
 12:00 PM + Link to this post
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Monday, April 28, 2008
The Horror Heroine Effectiveness Scale, Part 3

(Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the scale!)

How it works: For the next few weeks, I'll be serving up two rankings every Monday. Since this is a scale, we'll be going from number 10 -- the absolutely least effective Survival Horror heroine out there -- all the way to number 1 -- the greatest of the great.

6. Rebecca Chambers

Appears In: The Resident Evil series
Horror Effectiveness: Tolerably Adequate
Rationale: Poor Rebecca. She didn't ask to appear in her own game. And yet we have Resident Evil 0, a completely unneeded prequel that occurs simultaneously with the original RE (instead of, you know, providing us with any juicy information about the beginnings of Umbrella, if we still even care at this point). Ms. Chambers is a medic for STARS's inept Bravo team, and finds herself trapped on a train filled with hungry hungry zombies with only a convicted murderer named Billy Coen to help her out.

I would describe Rebecca's effectiveness in a Horror Situation with a simple "Ehh." Perhaps the only phenomenally stupid thing she does is conveniently forget to call for backup when the train is ravaged by hideous necrifying slugs, and instead opts to wander around on her own armed with a weeny little pistol and, uh, no medicine. Did I mention that she's a medic? Thank goodness for Billy Coen, the first muscley strongman on our scale that's required to rescue a heroine from carnivorous beasties every five minutes, not to mention the fact that Rebecca is, health-wise, the weakest protagonist of all the RE games . . . but, she is a medic, so for the sake of plot, I can dig it.

So Rebecca is just . . . okay. She's middling. She sits quite nicely at the center of our scale, since, despite briefly filling a Damsel In Distress role for Billy, she's at least active in her plot, and presumably trained to survive in said Horror Situation. She briefly appears in the original RE as well, and is actually one of the few supporting characters who survives . . . unless you decide not to save her. Then you find her headless body later in the game. Poor girl.

The Bottom Line: If you were fighting off squishy parasitic slugs in a train car with her, just chew an Herb mixture and heft your gun. You'll probably be fine.

5. Koudelka Iasant

Appears In: Koudelka (PS1, 2000), Shadow Hearts (PS2, 2001)
Horror Effectiveness: Cool and Collected
Rationale: So Koudelka the game is an interesting mix of Survival Horror and RPG -- and by interesting mix I mean a gorgeous, engaging game plagued by an unspeakably terrible and half-assed battle system. But the heroine of our story, Koudelka, the sardonic gypsy woman with psychic powers, outshines a nightmarish gameplay experience with pure sarcastic badassery. This is the part of the scale where things start looking up, folks, and I'm happy to usher in our first shining star.

Koudelka first travels to the Nemeton Monastery on the bidding of a mysterious voice in her head. On her way, she rescues the clueless Edward Plunkett from a monster, gaining a travel companion. She saves Edward's skin yet again when the two stay in the care of a seemingly friendly old couple who are also, you know, poisoning their guests' food. When she finds Bishop James O'Flaherty curled up in terror of a deadly plant monster in the monastery garden, her adventuring party is complete, and I found myself understandably shocked and awed that, in a two-man one-woman party, the lady is our fearless leader.

There's a lot to love about Koudelka. She actively explores the skin-crawling monastery with purpose instead of wandering around aimlessly. She keeps her cool in situations that have Edward and James whimpering, and even when she does show fear, she's . . . just allowed a spirit to communicate through her. I'll give you a sample of what the the spectral remnants of Nemeton Monastery have to say:
"Kill them. They cut off my fingers. They crushed my legs. They smashed my head, cut out my guts. They took everything from me. They locked me up and chopped up my body."
Spooky!

Also, it pleases me every time James tries to bully Koudelka for not being Christian, she's quick to return with a cutting remark. Sardonic gypsy woman with psychic powers doesn't need your patriarchy!

My only complaint about Koudelka is her presentation in the brilliant RPG follow-up Shadow Hearts. But I'll let you experience that for yourself.

The Bottom Line: If you were being menaced by the vengeful spirits of a blood-soaked monastery with her, just keep your cool and collect all the weapons you can before they break. She'll take care of the rest.

We're getting closer to the coveted top slots of our feature! Join me next Monday for Part 4 of the Horror Heroine Effectiveness Scale!

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:59 AM + Link to this post
  5 comments

 
Friday, April 25, 2008
Women's Gaming Community: Are We Being Heard?

1up.com has a great article up that discusses how online forums influence game makers and marketers. The idea is that important gaming folk have been discovered combing through gaming message boards and forums online in order to learn how gamers feel about certain games, marketing ideas, and game developers themselves. The article talks about several interesting examples of this phenomenon, which had me thinking about our neck of the woods. If game developers read through the typical gaming message board, do they read feminist gaming blogs as well?

Fortunately, I've had first hand experienced with that: after I wrote an article about ICED, the computer game focusing on deportation in the United States, the game developers Breakthrough left a comment under it:

Hi, We just wanted to say that we greatly appreciate your positive post. Reading comments like yours in response to our game helps us continue to do our work in an environment that doesn't seem to see that immigration is a human rights and due process issue.
Thank you again!
-Breakthrough http://www.breakthrough.tv

I had not contacted Breakthrough before or after writing the article, which indicates to me that they were actively searching for internet activity surrounding their game. They may not have come across Girl in the Machine primarily to read about feminist issues, but there are wonderful implications about this phenomenon: Breakthrough read what a feminist blog had to say about their game.

Who's to say Breakthrough is alone in this respect? Other game developers are more than likely Googling their own games to discover the public's opinion about them. There are feminist and women's gaming blogs sprouting up and discussing popular video games every day, providing a widespread, powerful voice for women's issues in video games. The more we women blog about women's issues in games, the more likely game developers will come across them and--hopefully--take our opinions into account. This is our chance to tell them what they're doing right and what needs to be changed.

So blog on, women gamers.

--Iris Directory Logo from the Iris Gaming Network

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 1:47 PM + Link to this post
  3 comments

 
Monday, April 21, 2008
A Note from PlasmaRit

Sorry to those of you looking forward to the next installment of The Horror Effectiveness Scale--unfortunately, Bombergirl's come down with a pretty nasty bout of stomach flu, and she's unable to update this week. I'm still fit as a fiddle, so come on back this Friday for a new update by me.

Get well soon, Bombergirl!

 Posted by PlasmaRit
 10:29 PM + Link to this post
  0 comments

 
Friday, April 18, 2008
Linkfest: The Good, the Bad and teh Awesome

Hello, all! There's been interesting bits of info floating around the 'net, and when a bunch of them crop up, Linkfests are due. This week I've found links that can be easily placed in The Good, The Bad, and Teh Awesome categories. So while you're not busy with preparing for finals or spending time out in the blessed sun, give these links a click.

The Good: Crafty Rock Band

Etsy's a great place to go if you're shopping for any unique handmade items. Being a crafty gamer myself, I was delighted to see someone selling crocheted drum kit cozies for X-Box 360's Rock Band. Unfortunately, these in particular have been sold, but it's a great idea in itself: you can keep you drum kit in top quality and still play to your heart's content without driving your partner nuts from all the plastic-on-plastic drummin'. If you're crafty and a Rock Band drummer (or know someone who is), you can make your own. Imagine the possibilities! One-up mushroom drums, neon-pink drums, Metroic drums--okay, I don't even have Rock Band, and I want some Metroid drum cozies. Sweet.

The Bad: Head-Slicing or Man-Kissing?

GayGamer picked up a poll from WhatTheyPlay.com asking the question "As a parent, which would you find the most offensive in a video game?" The choices were "A graphically severed human head," "A man and woman having sex," "Multiple use of the F-word," and "Two men kissing." The most offensive was the man and woman sex with 37%, but guess which choice came next? Would it be the severed human head with the emphasis that said head was severed graphically? Sadly, no: 27% of parents answering the poll said "Two men kissing" was most offensive to them, while 26% chose the severed head. Really? Most of these parents would rather let their child watch someone's head get graphically cut off than the sight of two men kissing? They'd rather let their child watch and act of violence and hatred over and act of love and compassion (even if it's seen as immoral)? The mind, it boggles.

Teh Awesome: Frag Dolls Make World Record

Frag Dolls Kitt, Sarin, and Jam made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the "Longest continuous play of a single FPS." They played Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 for 24 hours straight, and others who participated in the marathon donated money to Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Gaming marathon? World records? Money to charity? Breaking stereotypes? Smells like awesome to me.

Plasma out.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 12:39 PM + Link to this post
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Monday, April 14, 2008
The Horror Heroine Effectiveness Scale, Part 2

(Check out Part 1 of the scale! Do it now!)

How it works: For the next few weeks, I'll be serving up two rankings every Monday. Since this is a scale, we'll be going from number 10 -- the absolutely least effective Survival Horror heroine out there -- all the way to number 1 -- the greatest of the great.

8. Alyssa Hamilton

Appears In: Clock Tower 3 (PS2, 2003)
Horror Effectiveness: Hysterically Inept
Rationale: It was difficult picking among the various and sundry Clock Tower protagonists, but in the end I felt that Ms. Hamilton was a little more deserving. Alyssa's stupidity may perhaps be best defined by her very first action of the game: while away at boarding school, she receives a letter from her mother warning her to stay away from the family mansion. Apparently, her mother's aim was to send her away until after her fifteenth birthday to keep her out of harm. Now that Mom's missing and it's mere days before Alyssa's fifteenth birthday, our plucky heroine decides it's time . . . to return to the family mansion. By herself. Days before her fifteenth birthday. Way to score those intelligence points, champ.

From there, Alyssa's time-traveling, ghost-pacifying, and Magical Girl archery exploits more than showcase what she's truly made of. A cornerstone of Clock Tower gameplay is squealingly running away from big dudes who want to kill you, and Alyssa does mostly this, and if she's so much as lightly breathed upon by one of her adversaries she undergoes Panic Mode. In this state of mind, our brave protagonist goes into utter hysterics, flailing about this way and that with blurry vision, stumbling all over the place on rubbery legs, and crashing into shit. It's a wonder she stays alive at all.

But stay alive she does. I have to give her credit here for being able to fight back. Her pursuers are about thirty times as incompetent as she is. You'd think charging around and hauling huge weapons of bloody annihilation would give them the edge, but, time and time again, this skinny little teenager bests them in what could be best described as wacky pranks. For example, there's a puddle on the ground. Alyssa flips a switch. A bumbling serial killer steps in said puddle and gets a nasty little shock. Congratulations, you're in a Looney Tunes short!

And while I'm glad that Alyssa can more or less hold her own in boss fights, the Magical Girl archery aspect of it leaves much to be desired.

The Bottom Line: If you were carousing through the bombed streets of London with her, you'd be better off wrestling the disgruntled ghosts with your bare hands.

7. Miku Hinasaki

Appears In: Fatal Frame (PS2, 2001), Fatal Frame III (PS2, 2005)
Horror Effectiveness: Understandably Petrified
Rationale: Due to the cookie-cutter nature of Fatal Frame protagonists, it's safe to say that Miku represents her fellow spectral photographers as a whole. The Fatal Frame series has been a favorite of mine for years now, and I still think that the first game ranks as one of the most terrifying gaming experiences of all time. Fatal Frame's success rests in its skin-crawling atmosphere, part of which owes a lot to protagonist Miku's scared-stiff countenance throughout. She's understandably petrified, navigating the bloody halls of the Himuro Mansion with nothing but a spectral camera to defend her, whimpering and trembling through every cutscene, and all the while as the player you know that, even though you're low on film and there's three ghosts chasing you and they have gouged-out eyes and they're screaming, "My eeeyeees, my eeeeyyeeees," you can't. Run. Away. The fuckers will chase you all over the mansion.

Ooh, goosebumps! That's the core of it, though. I like Miku. She has a lot going for her that many female horror protagonists don't: she went to the mansion intentionally to rescue her missing brother instead of just tripping upon it or getting kidnapped; despite being scared out of her wits she has the capability and the willpower to fight back; and she never crumbles in shuffling panic when things get out of hand.

Miku rounds off the "Incompetent to Not-as-Skilled" end of our scale quite nicely. Though she does fight back, she finds the Camera Obscura completely by accident, rendering her completely helpless if otherwise. And though she takes up much of her time in the game whimpering and quaking in her schoolgirl skirt, it feels realistic rather than comical and degrading (see also: Panic Mode).

The Bottom Line: If you were exploring the gory underbelly of a haunted old mansion with her, you'd best stick close and ask for doubles of the cool pictures she takes.

That's all for now! Please check back next Monday for part 3 of the Horror Heroine Effectiveness Scale!

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 8:01 AM + Link to this post
  2 comments

 
Friday, April 11, 2008
Asperger's and "Video Game Addiction"


A recent study conducted has concluded that those players with signs of "video game addiction" have symptoms similar to those with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. This study comes to us from the psychology professors Drs. John Charlton and Ian Danforth, who presented their findings at the British Psychological Society's Annual conference on April 3, 2008. Naturally, I am skeptical of most studies conducted about video games, so it's important to get to the bare bones of each one that crops up. Why don't we filter this study through my patented GitM Study Bullshit Filter:

Who were the Subjects?
Charlton and Danforth used a total of 391 subjects, 86% of whom were male. They are also identified as "computer game players," but that's pretty much it. There is no indication of an age bracket or any other description of these people. While the size of the subject pool is better than a lot of studies I've seen concerning video games, it's still not large enough to justify any findings, in my opinion.

What was the Equipment?
None of the article's I've perused about this study mention any of the equipment Charlton and Danforth used. As far as I could tell, the study was either an interview or a survey, as the subjects were "questioned." There is also no mention of what those questions were, only that said questions were asked to determine whether these subjects showed any degree of "video game addiction," and the relationships between said addiction, "high engagement, and personality."

What was the Subjects' Task?

Considering this study was not an experiment but rather an interview/survey, the subjects only had to answer questions. As for how many, there's no way to tell in the article; it focuses much more of its attention on the results found rather than the process of the study itself.

What are the Results?

Charlton and Danforth claim that the data they found "supports the idea that people who are heavily involved in game playing may be nearer to autistic spectrum disorders than people who have no interest in gaming." They also note that those subjects found to have symptoms of "video game addiction" do not themselves have Asperger's, but that they share similar traits, such as "finding it easier to empathize with computer systems than other people."

What was the Point?

Honestly, there really doesn't seem to be--didn't we already know that people who spend a gross amount of time playing video games aren't socially savvy? First of all, the idea of "video game addiction" has not been accepted as a real disorder, so the basis of the study itself is unfounded. Second, Charlton and Danforth made no definitive link between video game addiction and Asperger's, even stating in the article itself that none of their subjects fit the criterion for diagnosis of Asperger's. The only reason for the existence of this study that I can see is to stigmatize video games even more now that other studies are dispelling the link between video games and violent behavior.

This study seems to imply that playing more video games will give you Asperger's. It doesn't even entertain the idea that, maybe, those people will Asperger's-like symptoms are attracted to not only video games but other forms of entertainment that don't involve direct human interaction. Overall, Charlton and Danforth's study told us nothing new about video games and sure as hell won't cause me to lose any sleep.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 2:01 PM + Link to this post
  3 comments

 
Monday, April 7, 2008
The Horror Heroine Effectiveness Scale, Part 1

As I'm sure you all know, we here at Girl in the Machine frickin' love Survival Horror games. They've twisted our minds and given us goosebumps since the golden days of our youth, and in the end we just can't get enough. There's been a recent drought of Survival Horror on the consoles lately, and as we try to cope we've put together a handy dandy scale of our favorite (and most hated) ladies of horror. It's the Horror Heroine Effectiveness Scale, ranking the capability of female protagonists so you don't have to!

How it works: For the next few weeks, I'll be serving up two rankings every Monday. Since this is a scale, we'll be going from number 10 -- the absolutely least effective SH heroine out there -- all the way to number 1 -- the greatest of the great. I hope you all enjoy this little feature, and don't forget to check out our first scale, the Scale of RPG Heroines!

Let's begin!

10. Fiona Belli

Appears In: Haunting Ground (PS2, 2005)
Horror Effectiveness: Flailingly Useless
Rationale: I wish I could say I picked up Haunting Ground by mistake. Perhaps I was distracted by something shiny, or just aching for a horror fix, or maybe my eye was gushing blood and I desperately needed to slap something over it. In any case, not only is Haunting Ground a frustrating trainwreck of a game, its heroine, Fiona, just can't keep herself from pissing me off every five minutes. HG began as an iteration of the Clock Tower series, so its gameplay mechanics are pretty much the same: a big scary guy chases you, and you run like the motherfucking dickens. It doesn't help Fiona's case that she's trussed up in a shirt closely related to a sausage casing, or that the game developers lovingly animated her disproportionate pair of mams to go sproi-oi-oing every time she takes a step. I'm being perfectly serious here, by the way -- the boob physics are so over-the-top that she could be walking on a trampoline.

No wonder it's so difficult for her to get away. In every cutscene, Fiona whimpers and trips over her own feet and backs herself into every possible corner she can find, completely ignoring the ample radius of empty space surrounding her attacker. The smartest character in the game is her German Shepherd companion, Hewie, who could probably qualify for MENSA compared to Fiona's squealy panic and overwhelming idiocy.

The Bottom Line: If you were trapped in an abandoned castle with her, you'd be better off getting help from a blobby patch of green mold stuck to the wall.

9. Jennifer

Appears In: Rule of Rose (PS2, 2006)
Horror Effectiveness: Pitifully Incompetent
Rationale: Rule of Rose is a horrible, awful, terrible game, but it has a lot of style and the plot is deliciously insane. As far as its protagonist goes, I think this picture of Jennifer pretty much sums it up. Our heroine spends basically all of the game hunched over in numbed horror, knees knocking, her eyebrows drawn up as if they're being tugged by fishing line. The lightest of blows nearly cripples her, causing her to stagger back in a recoil that takes, oh, about five minutes. Ah, but Jennifer fights back! Yes, armed with her deadly dessert fork, she throws an arm over her eyes and stabs blindly at the air, hoping against hope that she'll maybe nick something just a little bit. Don't worry, though -- she soon upgrades to a fruit knife!

Okay, so eventually she gets her trembling hands on a magnum, but, as far as aim goes, you'd be better off trying to throw a basketball through a horseshoe, not to mention the gun can only hold one bullet at a time. And our poor unlucky heroine just can't get a break, what with fainting like a delicate Victorian noblewoman every other cutscene. Like Fiona, she's accompanied by an intelligent canine pal (this time a Labrador Retriever named Brown), and I have a sneaking suspicion that the dog is probably better off on his own.

The Bottom Line: If you were trapped with her on a flying zeppelin full of little demon girls, you'd be better off ditching her for the dog and saving all of the biscuits for yourself.

That's it for today! Stop on by next Monday for Part 2 of the Horror Heroine Effectniveness Scale!

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:58 AM + Link to this post
  3 comments

 
Friday, April 4, 2008
First Friday Drinking Game


Oookay, folks--April is here! The weather's finally getting warmer and the end of the school year is fast approaching for us student-types. Unfortunately, these warmer days are divided by sad bouts of anti-cavorting rain. What to do on days like these? Why, have a round of First Friday Drinking game of course!

Thanks to its ten-year anniversary, Final Fantasy VII games and movies have been popping up everywhere, including the recent release of Crisis Core for the PSP. Many longtime fans of the original FF VII have found many great things about these new additions--as well as an equal amount of things to drink to. I've compiled a list of rules you and all your friends can follow while you enjoy your favorite (or least favorite) showcase of the FF VII universe.

Fun Tip: Turn out the lights and add a green glowstick to your favorite mixed drink for that authentic Mako feel! (Note: Drinking the liquid from said glowstick will also add to that authentic Mako feel but is not recommended. Trips to the Life Stream may result.)

Anyway, onto the rules:

1 drink every time a Shinra employee does something wacky
1 drink for each time someone crashes through a church roof (stack FF VII media for ultimate effect!)
2 drinks every time Hojo speaks in his Crazy Old Man Scientist voice
3 drinks every time Zach sounds a little too much like Tidus ("I'm trying, I'm trying!")
1 drink for every censored cuss word
1 drink for every hilarious translation error
2 drinks for "This guy are sick"
2 drinks every time a friend is surprised Sephiroth isn't the main villain of FF VII
1 drink for every word you realize you've been mispronouncing all this time (no drinks if you still think you're right)
2 drinks if it's a name
1 drink for every character you encounter named "[color] the [synonym of same color]"
1 drink each time Vincent poses in a badass way in DoC
1 drink every time Lucrecia says "I'm sorry"
1 drink for each zipper found on your favorite character's outfit
1 drink for every materia that looks as big as someone's head (or bigger!)
1 drink every time post-experiment Cloud needs to be saved
2 drinks if he's in a wheelchair

And finally:

Finish your drink when Tifa, a competently skilled fighter, engages in a slap fight with Scarlett

Warning: Excessive drinking during gameplay may result in lingering doubts about your past and the realization that you're not as awesome as you thought you were. Play with caution!

Think I forgot something? Suggest a rule in the comments section!

What drinking games do YOU want to play every month? If there is any genre or specific game you want featured in FFDG, drop me a line at PlasmaRit at gmail dot com.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 12:39 PM + Link to this post
  3 comments

 
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