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It is generally accepted that porn shouldn't be seen by children, and we even sometimes punish parents who fail to stop their children from finding porn.

How much are these laws based in science? Can a simple image cause real injury beyond mere disgust? Have there been any studies that track lives of people who were exposed to porn or other disturbing imagery as children or adolescents?

Note that I have also posted this question on parenting.SE.

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I doubt you'll be able to find enough volunteers for an experiment (though you could find some victims and talk to them) –  Jan Dvorak Aug 29 '13 at 4:32
Bounty it! You know you want to! –  user3433 Aug 30 '13 at 10:30

2 Answers 2

As I usually like to do, and sometimes may even be more accurate as to what information you truly seek than a study that involves explicitly what you're after (ironic, right?) - is to extrapolate the results from one study and apply them to your question.

This is simply a hypothesis on my part, but I think there is a certain piece of the strategy that is essentially unarguable. Focus on that.

Admittedly your question is more psychological than my moreso physiological one below. However, you do have to admit that out of many human emotions a sexual urge is as strong as if not stronger than taking a drug in many cases - it's one (one of many of course) of the strongest, most intense, and "most likely to do stupid thing with biggest risk associated with it" emotions you can feel (especially true for men at least from my male perspective).

Also, both of these ideas involve intense dopamergic involvement. In additon (with obvious inter-dependence/collinearity between this and the former variable) they both involve a reward/pleasure type seeking behavior in the subject.

Thus, I believe there is a relevant amount of overlap here. If anyone downvotes me, I believe that you simply failed to understand or read what I just described and already pointed out the potential flaws to in the paragraphs above or havn't read this whole post yet. If you do downvote me, leave a detailed response as to why. I will respond. You also fail to understand how value can be derived towards determining the exact or a better answer (perhaps down the line) to what the OP is seeking from looking at the already proven answers to related questions. Especially when these related answers are derived from a meta-analysis published this year. Credibility is a factor. Example: Several studies answering the questions around the specific question that are credible with good methodologies may be even more important than one that answers the exact question but does so in unreliable and poorly designed methodologies to the point where it may be completely unusable.

For example, I'm sure parents have other questions related to this global theme like video games and the rewards their child gets from shooting virtual people versus the rewards they'd get by doing the same in real life, drugs (very related as you'll see), their child's early obsession with some toy, thing or food, etc.

As you can probably tell, I do not believe in psychodynamic theories to a certain extent and whereby that extent is quite small. I could see the potential to want to believe while being a parent though. Kids are influenced to an extent, but it is very important to also point out to any parents out there the difference between influence vs. control.

And yes, in empirical based research I can understand the belief that generalizations (which one could argue I'm making here) are bad and inaccurate. In fact, I believe that over generalizations are a flaw in thought. However, I also believe that that does not mean there is no value to be extrapolated in this scenario. Most academia or research studies are based loosely off of other somewhat related academic literature, correct?

--end disclaimer--


Let's look at kids who take ADHD medication and whether or not they are more or less likely to then thus abuse these same drugs later on in life. As pointed out before, both of these questions involve a reward/pleasure type seeking behavior and thus also include strong temporary dopamergic affects - although, for the porn part, I believe this is mostly relevant to males as opposed to females since they are not nearly as stimulated by visual or audio cues like men are - they respond more to pretty complex emotions like "connections." I don't need to cite that either. Just ask any female you know if they think that's true.

Once again can't really argue against a beastly meta-analysis published this year. Usually we can very thoroughly conclude that these meta-analyses & their conclusions are quite close to reality (if not essentially are reality, at least on the average) unless there was some rampant design flaw in their methodologies or in a significant portion of the studies they chose to analyze.

META-ANALYSIS Stimulant Medication and Substance Use Outcomes A Meta-analysis. Kathryn L. Humphreys, MA, EdM1; Timothy Eng, BS1; Steve S. Lee, PhD1

JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(7):740-749. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1273.

Importance: Psychostimulant medication is an efficacious treatment for childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, yet controversy remains regarding potential iatrogenic effects of stimulant medication, particularly with respect to increasing susceptibility to later substance use disorders. However, stimulant treatment was previously reported to reduce the risk of substance problems.

Objective: To meta-analyze the longitudinal association between treatment with stimulant medication during childhood and later substance outcomes (ie, lifetime substance use and substance abuse or dependence).

Data Sources: Studies published between January 1980 and February 2012 were identified using review articles, PubMed, and pertinent listservs.

Study Selection: Studies with longitudinal designs in which medication treatment preceded the measurement of substance outcomes.

Data Extraction and Synthesis: Odds ratios were extracted or provided by the study authors. Odds ratios were obtained for lifetime use (ever used) and abuse or dependence status for alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, nicotine, and nonspecific drugs for 2565 participants from 15 different studies.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Random-effects models estimated the overall association, and potential study moderators were examined.

Results Separate random-effects analyses were conducted for each substance outcome, with the number of studies ranging from 3 to 11 for each outcome. Results suggested comparable outcomes between children with and without medication treatment history for any substance use and abuse or dependence outcome across all substance types.

Conclusions: These results provide an important update and suggest that treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder with stimulant medication neither protects nor increases the risk of later substance use disorders.

Let me get a few things straight with the question you ask and I'll loop back around to relating these this study to them.

As a precursor, which won't make too much sense until you read the rest of my post, what I'm extrapolating from this is as a child or adolescent, even with potentially addictive behaviors like taking amphetamines, pornography, playing video games where they shoot virtual people....fast & easy reward behaviors "neither protects nor increases their risk of later use disorders."

Amphetamines are very addictive and if THEY don't increase or decrease, on average, one's propensity to use them later in life...well similar types of behaviors probably won't either. And yes, that is a hypothesis, but I feel it is based in strong logic with some physiology and psychology backing.

This essentially involves addiction, which I am going to try to explain in the context of your question as the "real injury."

It is generally accepted that porn shouldn't be seen by children, and we even sometimes punish parents who fail to stop their children from finding porn.

How much are these laws based in science? Can a simple image cause real injury beyond mere disgust? Have there been any studies that track lives of people who were exposed to porn or other disturbing imagery as children or adolescents?

Although you tend to focus on imagery and injury here, I'm probably going to edit your question a bit to mention addiction as a form of injury as I feel you're leaving an important piece of that question out.

When you say "other disturbing imagery," I have a hard time coming up with many more "potential" examples of disturbing imagery unless they are outliers (like...repeatedly seeing photos of dead people or them being killed? movies that involve killing people? that whole theory that call of duty players = shoot people later on in real life theory?...repeatedly seeing pictures of spiders up close?...those disturb me actually..do you have any other examples?).

And the word disturbing is quite subjective as well...you seem to *falsely imply that porn is disturbing imagery to everyone all the time.*

I can understand why one would phrase it that way for obvious reasons as to how they are viewed as a parent by everyone else, but since I'm not a parent and I'm single - I'll take the blame for pulling out the what I believe to be the true nature of what is going on in your question "between the lines." :)

Oh man I know this statement is going to get me some great downvotes, but what about the case where quite a young boy (I'm not even going to mention an age) happens to land on a site with these images. Do you think he is always going to find these images disgusting? Related to this, here is a quote from the top answer on the parenting boards...one in which you see to paraphrase in your answer:

According to the survey, about 1/4 of the youth exposed to unwanted sexual materials were actively and extremely upset about what they saw. 17% avoided the Internet as a result of the exposure, and 6% thought about it and couldn't stop.

Without looking at the study or trying to find it admittedly, first off, this quotation does not include gender, which is a HUUUUUUUUUUGE indicator of the type of response that would be given. Was it equal gender? If so, then the results are skewed to the point of almost complete unreliability in my opinion, but you'd have to at the very least halve every number there if it was equal gender.

Then I'd at least more accurately hypothesize, 1/8th of the boys exposed to unwanted sexual materials were "actively and extremely upset."

Here's perhaps one of the best/funniest things I've ever found on StackExchange:

Next, it says "unwanted sexual materials." Ok. I've never said WTF on Stackexchange before, but if there's a time for it, it's here. So, this quote is saying the entire study consisted of children exposed to "UNWANTED sexual imagery?" But only a fourth of them found this...mmmmm....perhaps....initially......unwanted? imagery were actively and extremely upset. So I guess the other 75% that were exposed to the sexual imagery they, at least intially unwanted to see, just kept watching it and it didn't bother them?.... LOL. Now I have to go be "that guy" over at the parenting boards too.

Anyways Looks like MAYBE 1/8th of the time they would be, but this is based upon a quote from the parenting boards involving a study where the researchers were either extremely bias to begin with and probably even told the children they should be disgusted by the images, or the children actually indicated they "at least initially" did not want to see the imagery...but then 75% weren't bothered by it at all...*and perhaps a percentage felt something that was the opposite of disgusting. I'm sure the researchers didn't investigate that though.*Which is something called, you know, a null hypothesis. In essence it seems there was no attempt to prove themselves wrong, which is necessary for validation of your data. Wow, what a bad study.

Back to my question:

Oh man I know this statement is going to get me some great downvotes, but what about the case where quite a young boy (I'm not even going to mention an age) happens to land on a site with these images. Do you think he is always going to find these images disgusting?

Just by looking at the research here, some of the research someone meant to prove the opposite of my point ended up proving it revealing that probably ~75% (yes, approximation) of the time...yes...unless they are excessively excessively young - they probably did not find these images disturbing. Now I think this is more accurate towards males.

However, the one citation over there essentially says "75% of those who saw the pornographic material they did not want to see, ended up watching it and not having any trouble whatsoever." Who knows, maybe it was equal gender...and maybe they even enjoyed it if it. It would be quite a powerful effect to have people watch something they don't want to watch only to have them watch the entire thing voluntarily.

The reason I mention all this is to fit in the concept of addiction as injury to your question. In fact it may be more appropriate to replace injury with addiction.

Whereby I think the word disgusting is kind of "off" in a way (unless you're a female - in which case you're not going to go browsing the internet looking for porn most likely) - and by the way I'm pretty sure you're a female (hehe) thus addiction may be a much more prominent factor. I also am focusing on porn in this model as that is what 75% of the question seems to be about (you say the word 3 times + 1 in the title)- with skirt references to other possible imagery without examples. Also, I believe porn is much more relevant of a question than other possible imagery as it's easily accessible, most people actually do want to watch it unlike other forms of disgusting imagery, already a hotly debated topic, and a multibillion dollar industry.

It is also much different than potential other types of images you seem to lump into the same group - let's use @what 's example of seeing a dead child. Really, NO ONE is going to want to see those things unless they do have some sort of serious mental disorder - so I consider those to be so much different I'm not sure how you can ask them in the same question - so let's just forget them as my analysis is already getting complicated enough. I do agree seeing an image like that is hard to get over at times, but I wouldn't consider it permanent injury. I've had my friends send be very graphic videos before...very very graphic ones & those did bother me alot, but did not permanently change me. Just was disgusted for a few days.

@What made a comment to the original poster and answer-er about this - and these paragraphs I have just written is your answer.

I'll break down your question now, and will explain the relevance of the ADHD study shortly.

**> It is generally accepted that porn shouldn't be seen by children, and

we even sometimes punish parents who fail to stop their children from finding porn.

How much are these laws based in science? Can a simple image cause real injury beyond mere disgust? Have there been any studies that track lives of people who were exposed to porn or other disturbing imagery as children or adolescents?**

1) It is generally accepted that porn shouldn't be seen by children, and we even sometimes punish parents who fail to stop their children from finding porn.

-Yes I'd generally accept and agree with that as being the social norm.

2) "How much are these laws based in science?" Well a "law" in science is essentially a fact. Gravity is a "law" for example. It is a very strong word to use. Next down is a "theory," which are generally substantially proven and have solid logic behind them. Like "string theory" about other dimensions....(sorry I couldn't think of others off the top of my head lol) Next down is a "hypothesis," which is like some of the things I've been proposing here and am about to propose. Then there's like a "debate." This isn't even really part of the scientific method. You're question is more debatable. It's like saying "Being a republican is the best way to be and thus is a law of nature."

Basing these "suggestions" by parents in science is hard to do as that is subjective depending upon what your goal for your kids are. Maybe you're goal is to protect them as tightly as possible and you have already predefined their lives out. Maybe your goal is to put a long but tight leash around them and let them learn about the world themselves - but to try to act as a wise guide. These things relate to how you view the sexual debate among adolescents, what the schools in your area are teaching, and how you can help to provide facts about what is true and what isn't. Also, probably getting vaccinated for HPV with the Gardasil shots (takes 3 of em over the course of a while - females only) if you have daughters is probably a good idea. Learn about birth control - and by the way do real research about it as most of the time the doctors don't ever seem to know what they're talking about.

For example (I'll try to find the citation as I know people will want one for this), I found a citation a long time ago stating that if you have sex with someone as a male who has HIV and you don't and you don't wear protection, you have very, very low chance of getting the disease. For females, it's much worse No one told me that. In fact, based on that citation, EVERYONE I EVER KNEW including the sex-ed teachers had lied to me or had no freaking clue what they were talking about in regards to HIV.

I found the citation: Here it is, the link he provides for his citation is dead though although I believe it was a .gov website. This admittedly was from 2002 as well.


I've spent significant time researching this issue.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association lists some of the statistics you're looking for. A lot the odds depend on whether your partner is high risk for having AIDS or whether your partner has been diagnosed with AIDS. (Keep in mind that the below odds are said to be equal for men and women.)

1) The odds of catching it if your partner has HIV/Man to woman HIV.

It states that a heterosexual who has one incident of penile-vaginal sexual intercourse with someone in a non-high-risk group (that is someone who has not had sex with someone of the same sex, with someone who practices safe sex, or who isn't particularly sexually active) has 1 in 5 million odds of becoming infected with the virus that causes AIDS if you don't use a condom. With a condom the odds are 1 in 50 million.

But the odds are much worse if you have sexual intercourse with someone who's "high risk" (i.e. a gay or bisexual male, or a hemophiliac). The odds of contracting AIDS if you have sex with someone in this high risk group are 1 in 10,000 if you use a condom and 1 in 1,000 if you don't use a condom.

If your heterosexual partner is HIV-positive, you have a much greater chance of contracting AIDS after having sex. If you have sex with a condom, the odds of your infection are 1 in 5,000. If you don't use a condom, your odds are 1 in 500 of contracting the virus. Your odds increase, depending on how frequently you have sex with your partner.

If you have sex with someone who's HIV positive 500 times using condoms, your chances are 1 in 11 of contracting the virus. If you don't use a condom for 500 times having sexual intercourse, your odds are 2 in 3.

One report stated, "The transmission female to male is so small that its only theoretical, unlike the measurable male to female long term risk of repeated expose to the same man discussed above." Best means of safely continuing the activity: Use at least one condom at all times.

The transmission odds of the virus that causes AIDS is slight if it's being transmitted female-to-male. I found this report, "Another study [2] (which has not been universally accepted, but anyway) specifically looked at female-to-male transmission rates, and found surprisingly high rates: 3.1% per boff, with a worst-case scenario of 7.5% infection-per-boff. Note that this is Asian, and there is evidence that in Asia and Africa the virus is more readily spread through heterosexual sex than in North America (debated)." You may look at this site at http://www.aids.wustl.edu/aids/femmal.html Another report states, "The epidemiologists now believe the key factor in transmission may be damage to the protective barrier of the skin or genital tissues. Such damage allows blood cells containing the AIDS virus to pass from one person to another. The body's protective barriers may be damaged from trauma during sexual intercourse or from venereal diseases which cause ulcers, such as herpes, syphilis or chancroid. Individuals with venereal diseases such as gonorrhea also produce large amounts of infection-fighting white blood cells in their genital organs. The AIDS virus grows and concentrates in such cells. This may explain why people with untreated venereal diseases appear more likely to transmit AIDS than infected individuals who do not have additional illnesses." http://www.aegis.com/news/lt/1986/LT860702.html And another: "The efficiency of male-to-female infection of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is more than two times higher than that of female-to-male infection." http://www.womens-health.org/0javascripts/dropinnav.htm?/health/hivaids.htm http://www.indiaparenting.com/articles/data/art01_004a.shtml This site has a chart listing risk percentages that you might find useful.

2) Catching HIV with an open sore You cannot get AIDS from kissing someone. The Surgeon General's Report on AIDS indicates there are no reported cases of HIV transmission from saliva.

3) Catching HIV if a condom breaks

The information I found states that if the condom breaks while a man is having sexual intercourse with a woman, the odds are the same as if no condom was used at all. Again, one report stated, "The transmission female to male is so small that its only theoretical, unlike the measurable male to female long term risk of repeated expose to the same man." If a woman has sex with a man who’s known to be HIV positive and the condom breaks, the woman has 1 in 500 odds of contracting the virus.

4) Catching HIV man to woman if intercourse lasts for 5 seconds.

The information from the Journal of the American Medical Association states it does not matter how long intercourse lasts. If fluids are exchanged the odds are the same. However, the odds of the man contracting HIV from a known HIV positive female during intercourse are minute.

5) Chances of catching HIV if you wash off right away.

The JAMA report found this doesn’t matter: Once HIV-infected fluid enters a person’s body, there has been no proven way to remove it. Your odds of contracting HIV if you wash off immediately after intercourse is the same as if you do not.

You may call the Center for Disease Control National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-AIDS. You may call the AIDS Clinical Trials Information Service (ACTIS) at 1-800-874-2572 or 1-800-TRIALS-A Some sources you may read:

You may take a quiz to assess your risk of acquiring HIV online. The link is http://www.thebody.com/surveys/sexsurvey.html One article discusses the results of the Journal of the American Medical Association report. The link is http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_373.html

One article from The Pulse, written by a college reporter, looks at the odds of contracting HIV. The link is http://www.finchcms.edu/students/pulse/january_1998/1.html

Information about safer sex can be found online. One site allows you to see a list of sexual activities rated from highest risk to lowest risk. The link is http://www.justlaura.com/xoom/sex/safe.html

The U.S. Surgeon General has done a recent report on AIDS. The link is http://wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/sci_data/misc/type_txt/sgrpt.asp

One report lists several types of sexual activities and their risk of transferring AIDS. The link is http://www.libchrist.com/std/2000aidsrpt.html

Another good site allows you to check forum archives. Specific questions are answered. The link is http://www.thebody.com/index.shtml

Be aware though that unless you really do know what you're talking about, you can and will eventually lose nearly all credibility with your children, no matter how benevolent or based out of love your intentions are. Since information is so ridiculously accessible now...people are starting to get actual answers that are true to all their questions...assuming they know where to look (hopefully its not yahoo answers). People are only going to get better at this skill as a human race as time goes on and true and real knowledge will be sorted from fact as peer review (computer or human based) begins to happen on everything.

Also, never try to justify credibility simply with "age/I'm older than you" as that makes you lose more credibility - it reveals you just revealed you don't know what you're talking about and have nothing else to back up what you're saying with. At the very least provide an anecdote.

Also, you Cannot confuse influence with control. In fact, there's been too many times I've seen the opposite occur where a girl/guy who has been controlled his/her whole life just thinks about doing the opposite the entire time. It's kind of like saying to someone "Do not see what's in the cookie jar, EVER." Then, REPEATING that over and over again. It's human nature to be curious, and that's a good way to set someone up for it.

If I were a parent I'd be reading more CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) - which can very easily be woven into natural conversation with anyone without them noticing - books (I like David Burns alot as other posters here know, lol) and getting more statistics/real facts, doing more research, etc. Assuming you're a parent, this sounds like what you're doing by asking questions on stackexchange - which is great. Although I think you'll see how your assumptions based upon that response were somewhat off, and in fact were kind of weird/the opposite in my post here.

3) Can a simple image cause real injury beyond mere disgust?

I am going to assume you're talking about porn here as you say it 4 other times in the question. The real injury I believe from that in regards to porn is perhaps the foot in the door phenomenon affect. In my use of the psychological concept its like once you get someone to see something once (maybe a picture of a naked female to a boy) they may seek it out more and then thus one could hypothesize that this leads to "addiction" eventually down the road. I mean I can tell you as a guy growing up...unless you have an innate problem that that exacerbates...that didn't do anything to me or anyone in (yes as young as 5th grade, and my reports are 3rd party anecdotes there btw) I knew who would talk about stuff like that non-stop. Everyone sees it, eventually gets tired of it, normally does it less and less, or gets a girlfriend. From everyone I've ever known that's what has happened - and I've heard of guys starting stupidly young. Everyone says that "but it makes them not care about their relationship or objectify women." There are alot of douche bags that are like this, but I don't think it's because they saw a picture of a naked woman at an early age, I think it's because of other factors.

Yes, those are all anecdotes but I have collected alot of them. Also, this substantiates my hypothesis about in relation to the ADHD medication and not being any more or less likely to abuse any substance later on in life.

Now if you mean the image of, say, a dead child, then from doing research on a bunch of other topics, and experiencing it for myself actually several times - it's not going to cause a "real injury" where they are mentally unstable by seeing a simple image once or even a 15 minute video involving a "cup and some girls" (bothered me for a week, no scars tho). If it does permanently, then they have an underlying condition that needs to be treated.

Have there been any studies that track lives of people who were exposed to porn or other > disturbing imagery as children or adolescents?

First off, you're lumping porn and disturbing imagery together again. You can't do that. You must realize to distinguish the difference between the terms based on mostly gender and then subjectivity to an extent. Otherwise, if you want to solve an issue you won't get to the true core of it's nature as blindspots will block your vision from the answers your seeking which may not even exist - but even the lack of the existance to an answer is an answer :)

But back down to ground, I'm extrapolating the answer is no from my hypothesis. I do know said study would be uncommon to find - and many uncommon to find studies lack good methodology and have flaws. One about porn would be easier to find than one about seeing "disturbing" (which is subjective and thus hard to define in research) pictures or images later on in life.

Even though I strongly feel my hypothesis about the extrapolation from my ADHD medication meta-analysis study was pretty globally conclusive about risk/reward behaviors on average showing no correlation between developing those patterns later in life or not developing them,

If you guys do demand real extremely specific citations I can provide them though. I felt getting my points across would be substiative, but I can research too.

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So I cross posted this question to Parenting Stack Exchange, and here's what I got.

In short, people who have viewed porn as adolescents have more sex and greater risk of sexually transmitted disease. And some of the kids who have stumbled upon porn on the Internet became averse to the Internet and some others developed unwanted recurring thoughts about the material they had seen.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Imagine your child has been abused and murdered. And now you stumble upon a very graphic image documenting the deed on an imageboard like 4chan (where I in fact stumbled upon images of child pornography in the "random" section). How do you think that image would affect you? I'm pretty sure it would shock you to the core and never leave your mind again ever. I don't understand why you focus on pornography as the only harmful kind of image. –  what Aug 29 '13 at 16:11
@Ansis, if you read my review of that one study the guy quoted and you paraphrased as "And some of the kids who have stumbled upon porn on the Internet became averse to the Internet and some others developed unwanted recurring thoughts about the material they had seen." You'll see the study has some serious flaws. –  user3433 Aug 30 '13 at 9:19
@AnsisMalins Actually, the bulk of my response is that "porn most often depicts intimate relationships in a highly unrealistic fashion, and therefore can be confusing or misleading to children". The Psychology Today blog, and the findings from the survey of children exposed to "unwanted" porn, were merely added to provide some additional areas of concern. Taal is right that there are flaws in the study, but its a bit problematic to do proper controlled scientific studies on this without running afould of major ethical concerns. –  Beofett Aug 30 '13 at 12:09
@Beofett if they are highly inaccurate and could be argued as extremely, extremely skewed to the point where I can use them to actually cite my own opposing viewpoint - then I believe they should have never been published in the first place, but they certainly shouldn't be cited or repeated by anyone. There are problems with figuring out the answers to these questions - and I actually pointed out all of those problems so that perhaps some researcher in the future can take note of and account for them. I wish you did not delete my informative post at parenting as it will cause misinformation –  user3433 Aug 30 '13 at 21:24
@Taal As I said on parenting, a long, rambling diatribe that in no way addresses the question, and instead is filled with completely random and irrelevant information, should not be posted as an answer. If you think my answer will cause "misinformation", please feel free to post your own answer. Then you can self-declare "victory" through altered screenshots of video games to your heart's content :) Just be sure to post an actual answer, and not an off-topic lecture. –  Beofett Aug 30 '13 at 23:03

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