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Suddenly, Big Budget Games Love Horror Again

The brilliant viral teaser for Hideo Kojima's Silent Hills underscores a new trend of embracing high-end scares. But for how long?

The last person I expected to give video game horror a kick in the ass was Hideo Kojima.

P.T. opens with a door that you'll enter many times. Eventually, you'll want to stop going inside that damn door.

When it comes to promotion, there is no one quite like Kojima. His success with the Metal Gear series may have chained him to the franchise years longer than he wanted, but it's also given him the freedom to go batshit crazy.

In case you missed it, at Sony's Gamescom press conference, it revealed a playable demo for a new and mysterious game, P.T., which was available to download on the PlayStation Store. Nothing else was said about P.T., but Sony employees on Twitter immediately began prodding players to discover its secrets. Later in the day, we discovered P.T., which stands for Playable Teaser, is viral marketing for Silent Hills, a new entry in Konami's horror franchise from Kojima and genre filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.

In other words, Kojima asked Sony, a platform holder at one of the year's biggest events, to lie on stage, avoiding a huge reveal, in service of a surprise. Kojima asked Konami to let him develop a viral game demo that's purposely obtuse, in the hopes that most players will never, ever see what P.T. is hiding inside.

Game unveilings are so boring and predictable these days. A Game Informer cover here, a CG parade there. Then, we prepare for two years of weekly trailers. (I'm looking at you, Ubisoft.) There's no magic, no spectacle. Even if I have problems with Kojima's recent character and plotting choices, I always anticipate his next PR move, knowing that Kojima is the closest we have to J.J. Abrams: creatives who respect the art of mystery.

(Let me cut some Abrams haters off at the pass, too. We're talking about mystery, not answers, and a dedication to playing with audience expectation. Watch his TED talk about the "mystery box" for details.)

Kojima didn't even tease his involvement: his name was a surprise. It's unclear how hands-on Kojima will be with this new Silent Hill, given he was distant from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. But if attaching his name means the team is given the resources to give Silent Hill the revival it deserves, that's good enough for me.

Because lemme tell you, P.T. is remarkable. It might consist of walking the same hallway over and over again, but I haven't been this shaken by a game in years. Only my experiments with hastily made Oculus Rift experiments come close. I measure how well a horror game is working by how quickly I begin backing my face away from the screen, as though just a few more inches will save me from whatever is around the corner. With P.T., one sequence involved me walking down the hallway with my arm nearly covering my face. Real cool, bro.

It's unlikely Silent Hills will actually be structured like P.T. The gameplay mostly involves shuffling through two doors and a hallway. (They are very detailed hallways, however!) There are signs things aren't right, and it's clear this house has seen some evil recently. Each time, the hallway changes. The changes are, at first, subtle, but it doesn't take long before it ramps up. Sound design is critical in any horror experience, and P.T. had me itching to take one of my headphones off--anything to touch the outside world. Just as it feels P.T. will end, the hallway returns to normal, and the player feels safe. Inevitably, that safety is violated. Boo.

The cycle of safety and violation is key to horror. Players need moments to let their guard down, which gives them a breather, and provides an opportunity for the creator to surprise them. P.T.'s repetitive nature actively pulses between these two extremes, often coming right to the edge...before backing off. A shadow in the distance, a face in the window, a footstep around the corner. Most horror cannot resist the temptation to reveal its evil (hi, jump scares!), and P.T. succeeds because it thoughtfully, methodically, painfully waits to try and truly frighten.

Silent Hill deserves this, damnit. We're talking about the groundbreaking series that helped define gaming horror beyond the jump scare. I've slogged through Silent Hill: Homecoming, Downpour, and Shattered Memories. Only Shattered Memories showed any signs of life. Sorry, but I refuse to believe anyone defending Homecoming or Downpour is doing anything but reconciling the hours we've collectively wasted hoping Konami would get it right this time. It's been so long since a Silent Hill game shook us to the core that we're happy with scraps. We go back to the well over and over because we're reminded of what Silent Hill could be.

This was a game I spent time playing. Yuuuuup.

Horror is dead, long live horror.

At least, that's how I've felt lately. Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender: The Eight Pages suggested the independent scene would carry the torch, as Konami looked at Silent Hill with confused indifference and Capcom chased mainstream audiences with Resident Evil. For whatever reason, big budget games had largely given up on horror, even if the genre continues to expand elsewhere. These days, horror is big business on TV (The Strain, The Walking Dead), and has even hung out with summer blockbusters (The Conjuring).

The big test is coming in the next few years, and it'd only take a few failures to send everyone packing.

The Evil Within, the return of Shinji Mikami, arrives in October. In Mikami We Trust, but what I've seen of The Evil Within hasn't inspired much confidence. I can't quite put my finger on it. It looks like Resident Evil 4 transplanted to 2014 with lots of gore, which, on paper, sounds great, but it's mostly left me feeling uninspired.

That same month, we'll be treated to Alien: Isolation, which is essentially Creative Assembly taking lessons from Amnesia with gobs of money. The demo I played at GDC was scary as hell, but I worry the game will become trial-and-error. Death makes sense when running from creatures of the night, but in the ideal scenario, players just barely make it out alive, and never actually die. I'm curious how the game strikes that balance.

Next year, Capcom will release an updated version of its Resident Evil remake, a high point in the series. Is Capcom subtly hinting a return to its roots? After Resident Evil 6, one can only hope for change--any change.

If Nintendo has any sense, Fatal Frame 5 on Wii U will be coming before the year is up. (I doubt it.)

P.T. demonstrates a development team that knows what's possible when the horror genre is paired with the best technology has to offer. Can you imagine what it'd be like with Morpheus? Actually, I don't really want to.

Either way, Silent Hill is back.

Silent Hill is dead, long live Silent Hill.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
104 Comments
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Posted by TheBrokenPinion

Great article Patrick, I too am hoping for change in horror games, The Evil Within looks pretty good to me, I don't think it will be on the level of Dead Space or the upcoming alien game but I think it will fill my need. As for the PT demo I liked it but way to confusing it never told you anything I had no idea what to do half the time. The full game needs to be less confusing it does have a lot if potential tho.

Posted by carlfoster91

I am uber excited about this development in the gaming industry as horror is probably my favorite genre in every single medium. Comics, games, movies, film. Although I do think indies like Amnesia and Outlast helped keep horror in games alive, I think a lot of this has to do with how well The Last of Us performed. We could argue whether or not it is actually survival horror but it has elements from the genre, focused heavily on story and character, and was genuinely dread-inducing at times. I think how well it did critically and commercially told other publishers that horror is worth investing in again.

Posted by red720

I wonder if this demo will work against them, I think it may have literally scared me off buying the full game.

Maybe if there is some sort of shotgun pre-order DLC or something...

Posted by Yummylee

I am uber excited about this development in the gaming industry as horror is probably my favorite genre in every single medium. Comics, games, movies, film. Although I do think indies like Amnesia and Outlast helped keep horror in games alive, I think a lot of this has to do with how well The Last of Us performed. We could argue whether or not it is actually survival horror but it has elements from the genre, focused heavily on story and character, and was genuinely dread-inducing at times. I think how well it did critically and commercially told other publishers that horror is worth investing in again.

Yeah, I agree, and have long attributed this sudden rise of interest towards horror games at least in part to The Last of Us. While it perhaps gets to be a little too action-focussed as it goes on, it does indeed feature many elements of what a modern-day survival horror game should resemble, particularly the emphasis on resource scarcity/management and the concept of being forced to adapt within a messy situation. Plus, that one particular section when you're trying to regroup with Ellie after the elevator fell, was genuinely rather unnerving!

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Edited by burgavo

Nice read, and watching spookin was allso verry entertaining so thanx for that Scoops. I'm tentatively interested but I think we've all been burned too many times to get too exited this early in the process. I also feel that we shouldn't assume that the gameplay in pt will be indicative of the eventual game itself. It might set up some backstory for our protagonist though.

All I'm saying is don't count your chickens till the full game is out.

That said I'll be waiting to hear more on this project.

Posted by Stubee

@froggeh: dont suppose there is a video clip of that moment is there? Im nit premium :(

Posted by Fushichou187

I am uber excited about this development in the gaming industry as horror is probably my favorite genre in every single medium....I think a lot of this has to do with how well The Last of Us performed....I think how well it did critically and commercially told other publishers that horror is worth investing in again.

I don't quite see the connection between TLoU being a critical hit and pubs thinking "aww yeah, horror is back!"-- though I definitely can see where they would now be more open to storylines that are darker, don't necessarily tie up nice and neat, or are even "happy". I think the rise of Youtube, Twitch, and the notion of watching someone else play something as an acceptable way to consume content-- particularly in a group setting via chat room-- has played heavily into this resurgence because even though we might like to consume scary content solo, we seem to love to experience it as a group. Those types of videos garner tons of hits and drive exposure, revenue through ad partnerships, etc... Hell the main reason I jumped on the GB membership train was to watch Spookin' :)

Whatever the reason, I am super down for more horror content on consoles. PC will always be ahead of the curve I think, when it comes to the kind of experimentation I like to see in any genre-- especially horror-- but hopefully TEW, Alien: Isolation, P.T. are strong signs that major publishers are willing to put their money where their mouth is and bring more to the console space.

Posted by SVIRFNEBLIN

I thought Outlast's environment when seen through the camera was getting too photo realistic for me. Now this game is on completely another level. I watched Spookin' with scoops got a reaction similar to Patrick's GIF and I wasn't even playing. Who the hell will be able to stomach 6-12 hours of gameplay like that? Will it be Morpheus compatible for maximum heart failure potential?

Posted by MiniPato

Don't forget about Until Dawn, as cliche as that game's premise is. I thought that game was dead and gone. I wouldn't have missed it either after their laughable trailer back when it was a PS3 move game no one paid attention to. But them doing whole Heavy Rain style "anyone can die and the story moves forward" thing, it could be an interesting horror game.

With Hideo Kojima at the helm (from game design perspective) I expect we will see some really cool things from this. As much as people might hate him for this stories and characters, you can't deny his ability to make a deep and fascinating game. He always pays attention to the minute details and little easter eggs that you'll never find unless you dig deep for them. And no one quite breaks the fourth wall like he does. He knows how to get a player used to a routine, make them think "I know how this game works now" and then throw a wrench in there. Like the Psycho Mantis fight or MGS2 when you're sneaking around arsenal gear naked with an AI pantomiming as a human spewing awkwardly delivered anecdotes of alien abductions needing scissors. Or how you "beat" The Sorrow in MGS3. Kojima likes to mess with people's heads through game design and I think that shows through P.T. And PT is probably him at his most creatively liberated. It's just a teaser, not a game so he doesn't have to worry about sales. It's purposely obtuse so he is not beholden to actually making sense of anything or making the game accessible. P.T reminds why, even though I did not like MGS4 and Peace Walker, I still look forward to whatever projects Kojima works on.

Posted by Fushichou187

@minipato said:

Kojima likes to mess with people's heads through game design and I think that shows through P.T. And PT is probably him at his most creatively liberated. It's just a teaser, not a game so he doesn't have to worry about sales. It's purposely obtuse so he is not beholden to actually making sense of anything or making the game accessible. P.T reminds why, even though I did not like MGS4 and Peace Walker, I still look forward to whatever projects Kojima works on.

Totally. I think this is also in part what makes it compelling. Kojima-- or any developer really-- unchained in this fashion is probably a productive form of catharsis. I wouldn't mind seeing a collection of these types of teasers/demos from well-known devs to see what they would come up with.

Posted by DeadMonkeys

Watching this gave me a headache.

Not sure if it was because of the reticule-less first-person camera, or because I was stressed the fuck out. They paced they tension so well in this demo, it's a shame the requirements for the ending are so obtuse.

Posted by The_Nubster

Going by that small teaser the next Silent Hill game will be the kind of horror game I've been wanting to play again since SH2. Horror wise at least since I hope the puzzles aren't that vague in the final game.

Kojima has since said in an interview that he didn't expect anyone to solve it for nearly a week, and wanted people from all over the world to collaborate on it. It sounds like it was made intentionally obtuse to build excitement, so the final game should very hopefully not be like that.

Posted by JonnyAshley

That's a great point about the Resident Evil REmake. If it makes enough money it might encourage them to finally revive their magnum opus, Resident Evil 2.

Edited by Ghost_Cat

I bet Sony is now looking at the numbers in terms of downloads and stream/gameplay views, and preparing a fat suitcase full of cash for Kojima and Del Toro. By the way, is 7780s an actual studio? I can't seem to find anything on it, and the studio's name isn't even on the P.T. website (except on the browser tab from the meta data).

Posted by Puika

Horror games of this production quality + Rift or Morpheus = Heart attack land all over the World.

Posted by Fushichou187

So here's something really interesting; Kojima revealed (can't remember to which media outlet) that 7780 is the total square kilometer area of Shizuoka prefecture in Japan. Shizuoka (静岡) lit. means "quiet hills"-- you can see where I'm going with this-- and has often been used as a nickname for the Silent Hill series in Japan.

Here is the crazy, perhaps unintentionally so, coincidence:

If you were to apply goroawase (語呂合わせ, word play) to the reading of 7780 you could feasibly come up with Shichi-na-ba-re, (死地なバレー) which could be loosely translated as "Point-of-Death Valley" or "Place-to-die Valley". Pretty awesome with how that contrasts with the numbers intended reference to "quiet hills", as well as reflecting the dual realities we often encounter in the SH series.

I bet Sony is now looking at the numbers in terms of downloads and stream/gameplay views, and preparing a fat suitcase full of cash for Kojima and Del Toro. By the way, is 7780s an actual studio? I can't seem to find anything on it, and the studio's name isn't even on the P.T. website (except on the browser tab from the meta data).

Posted by Fruger

one game = they're back!!

Posted by Yummylee

@fruger: ...More like five. Six if you were to count the Resident Evil remake HD port.

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Posted by Marokai

More or less what I was thinking when I was watching Patrick play P.T. was "Holy shit, this is what horror games have been missing for me lately; actual fucking great production value."

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Edited by bananaz

For some reason, I'm imagining Sega making a first-person Sonic the Hedgehog demo. You're running and running through a looping factory environment. You can go pretty fast. Then, eventually, you collect a ring. "WTF?" A counter ticks up to 50 rings, you start glowing and moving faster, and you can now bust through a wall to reveal a linear path with robotic enemies. I need to think better things.

Edited by Yummylee

@marokai: Alien: Isolation certainly looks like it's got some money behind it at least. That is if it doesn't somehow pull a Colonial Marines...

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Edited by AdequatelyPrepared

I'm not looking at The Evil Within for some really creepy horror, that can be left to the Silent Hills and Amnesias. I'm looking for some cool monster and environment designs, maybe some mind-bending sequences, and some solid third person shooting, and it seems that Evil Within will deliver on those fronts. Basically the same reasons I love Dead Space 2.

Posted by Sor_Eddie

@yummylee: Yeah, I always thought Downpour was underrated. It definitely has far more of an eastern-european vibe to the horror, and it at least attempted to some refreshing, exciting things with the series, even if the opening 45 minutes or so really feels like an Alan Wake fangame.

Posted by Redbullet685

I understand why the demo was made the way it was so that it would be very hard and tedious for anyone to figure out how to finish it (and I like that), but since we've now found out what the real product is, I'd like to see the demo reimagined in a way that's straightforward. Like I want to show people this and see their reactions, but at some point the demo goes from really creepy and legitimately amazing to frustrating and tedious. It just becomes no longer interesting to play or watch.

But it's an effective demo nonetheless. Super excited to see what comes of Silent Hills.

Posted by SharkMan

yeah, that spooking with scoops scared the shit out of me, most creepy thing i've ever seen out of a video game.

Posted by divergence

I think this is actually pretty brilliant. I've never played a Silent Hill game and I'm really interested in this one.

Posted by golguin

I love horror games (Favorites being Fatal Frame 2, Silent Hill 3, and Resident Evil Remake for the GC) so here's hoping this new Silent Hill is good.

Posted by bybeach

I'll play Silent Hills, perhaps sooner than MGS5. Unfortunately, marking MGS5 for pc really put the bait on the hook for me. But actually it looks like I am going to get 2 of these Japanese horror games.

Kojima reputably hates the box he has found himself in with MGS. Even taken with a grain of salt, this does give him a way out to other projects. Smart, really.

Edited by Sinusoidal

The entirety of horror - not just games - needs a kick in the ass. The genre relies on age-old tropes that just aren't effective anymore. I can't remember the last time a jump scare did anything for me other than make me roll my eyes. Torture porn completely played out its hand over the course of a couple of Saw movies. Horror-comedy really hasn't seen anything better since Evil Dead 2 (maybe Army of Darkness.)

Just about the only innovative horror movie to come out in the past 20 years was The Cabin in the Woods, and that's only because it was a very intentional subversion of the nigh-beaten-to-death tropes. Which is a huge spoiler and the entire point of the movie.

I really hope this game is good. Guillermo del Toro is a decent director, and Kojima is certifiable, but I'm not sure I trust them to give horror the re-invention it so badly requires.

Posted by Dizzyhippos

@fruger said:

one game = they're back!!

in fairness that one game did have the most buzz coming out of (depending on who you ask) the 2nd or 3rd biggest industry event of the year.

I am glad to see these games coming back now that the tech has finally reached the point where you can truly be fooled by how good everything looks. I just hope the same thing doesn't happen again with the few good ones getting buried in a mudslide of mediocrity.

Edited by John1912

Ugh JJ Abrams....Awful Star Trek remakes....The man can start off a season of a new show and make it pretty fucking amazing....Then it turns to a downward slide of trash, like opps we forgot to write season 2! Let me wipe my ass with this script for every season after!

I also loved Downpour! It had great atmosphere! The rain was a interesting twist, it gave reason to run and hide indoors and explore. The town actually felt lived in with the side quests. I felt like a voyeur trespassing in someones home exploring for clues. That game is really underrated imo.

Edited by ripelivejam

the beer makes the gif lol

e: i'm blind and thought the dualshock 4 was a beer. guess i know what's on my mind. ;)

Posted by ripelivejam

the beer makes the gif lol

@john1912 said:

Ugh JJ Abrams....Awful Star Trek remakes....The man can start off a season of a new show and make it pretty fucking amazing....Then it turns to a downward slide of trash, like opps we forgot to write season 2! Let me wipe my ass with this script for every season after!

lost was pretty rad until season 6 yo, and i can understand why people were satisfied with the last season even if i personally wasn't.

Posted by Klarion18
@pabba said:

I'm so glad I got to watch you play PT because I'll never be brave enough to hallway-run my way through it!

I second this statement fully! I almost wanted to turn off the video too!

Posted by Jazz

@yummylee said:

Shattered Memories is quite possibly one of the best games in the Silent Hill series.

I'd go so far as to say that it's one of the best narrative games I've ever played - especially the Wii version. The fact that it gets ignored or derided because you can't a) shoot things or b) kill enemies annoys me. Granted it has it's faults..the escape sequences are dicey but it's pure psychological horror.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

The best parts of Spookin with P.T was when he first noticed that "thing" up stairs and Patrick was like "oh my fucking god, there is something up there"! and then later when he caught a site of the ghost lady in the shadows but wasn't sure if he really did see something.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

@stubee said:

@froggeh: dont suppose there is a video clip of that moment is there? Im nit premium :(

You can watch the Quick Look Solo of it.

Edited by DrBeardface

@jazz said:

@yummylee said:

Shattered Memories is quite possibly one of the best games in the Silent Hill series.

I'd go so far as to say that it's one of the best narrative games I've ever played - especially the Wii version. The fact that it gets ignored or derided because you can't a) shoot things or b) kill enemies annoys me. Granted it has it's faults..the escape sequences are dicey but it's pure psychological horror.

I thought the Wii controls actually helped it. There were some interesting ways they used the motion stuff to immerse the player. And yes, that story was a total mindscrew, really enjoyed it.

Posted by HurricaneIvan29

@patrickklepek: Death makes sense when running from creatures of the night, but in the ideal scenario, players just barely make it out alive, and never actually die. I'm curious how the game strikes that balance.

From your memory, has there ever been a game that after a death (say from a chase scene) backs off just enough and intentionally lets them live, to achieve what you said in your quote? I feel like this would be a strong tool for horror games as it would give the player the horror of the chase (knowing/thinking that they've died from this before) while keeping them on the edge because the game intentionally is JUST BARELY staying a stride behind them (without the users knowledge of intention).

Edited by Brodehouse

@patrickklepek:

Death makes sense when running from creatures of the night, but in the ideal scenario, players just barely make it out alive, and never actually die. I'm curious how the game strikes that balance.

This is very true. However, something horror games, or at least that specific brand of late 90s survival horror games, have to think about is the player considering the metagame, or the long-term game. I wrote an article a couple years ago about how when games make resource management critical and crucial to being able to complete the game, it incentivizes the player to 'test' areas and rerun them perfectly in order to conserve as many resources as possible. When players 'barely make it out alive', those old Resident Evils would train you to reload your last save and tackle the area again, now with foresight. This obviously kills the verisimilitude. A degree of randomization would somewhat deal with this, and add a sense of diversity, however it could lead to some scenarios that seem completely unfair. Horror should be threatening, not intrinsically unfair.

Sorry, but I refuse to believe anyone defending Homecoming or Downpour is doing anything but reconciling the hours we've collectively wasted hoping Konami would get it right this time.

Homecoming and Downpour, at their worst, are completely serviceable games. If they were not called Silent Hill, you would approach them more reasonably than to say that anyone who doesn't think they're completely without merit is just 'reconciling' and lying to themselves. That's a really obnoxious tact to take.

Posted by NoodleUnit

Horror was sorely missed last generation. I'm ecstatic for its return to the spotlight. ^_^

Posted by Sunjammer

Shattered Memories was a stellar game. One of the best in the Wii library, easily. As for Silent Hill I found the series just crawled way too far up its own ass after 2. The "lore" of Silent Hill makes no sense, goes nowhere and worse of all, just isn't interesting.

What I'm hoping Silent Hills might be is a Twilight Zone type anthology game. Investigating different "cases" in a fictional "weird" setting. Give the writers more freedom to work, rather than try to shoehorn everything into some big overarching gobbledegok.

PT is a collection of vignettes, mostly cobbled together from references to other media. Regardless I thought it was technically *very* well made. Sexy hallway action.

Sidenote: No, JJ Abrams does not get a pass "because of mysteries" (though I suspect Lindelof is far more guilty here). Mystery design is a real thing practised by people with a real ability. It was called Weird Fiction once and it was practiced by some incredible authors. Plain obstruction of the audience's capacity to process events is not cool or awesome or artsy or anything. It just makes me tune out and go do something with my life that has value.

Posted by Grace_Omega

To me, Shattered Memories justified the identity crisis the franchise has gone through in recent years. I know a lot of people think of it as little more than an interesting curiosity, but I feel absolutely head over heels in love with it, to the point that I rank it as my second favourite game.

Now, that said. Am I excited that the series appears to be back in the hands of developers who actually know how to be scary? Hell fucking yes, I am.

Posted by hapgood

Posted by Invader_DooMest

Did anyone ever get a white screen when they finished the first time w/o teaser ending?

Posted by Fushichou187

@invader_doomest: Do you mean like a white "error" screen with some nonsense written in a number of different languages or just a blank white screen? The former I've seen, the latter nope.

Posted by Chapelzero

No, no they don't, and no, it's not sudden.

Posted by tescovee

Nice write up, sad thing is the "teaser trailer" seems more interesting to me then the actual game its promoting. Some thing that is 2-5 hours: does some thing really well, sounds far more appealing than some thing that is 100+ hours... Then again I work 45+ hours a week so my time is limited. I have So many games on the back burner that i never get to because the idea of starting something that I know will take 80+ hours is daunting.

Posted by Mr_Creeper

Amazing article, @PatrickKlepek. This demo alone has me contemplating getting a PlayStation 4 finally. So glad I got a new computer the day before this thing was release, or else I might have seriously ended up with a PS4 instead...

Posted by Dussck

@hapgood: I've laughed my ass off when I saw that ladies reaction (screaming with your arms stretched to the screen, really? No one does that.) Although, Patrick's reaction is also way beyond anything I'll ever do, guess I'm suffering in silence (and sighing alot).

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