Spoiler Filled Theory About the Narrative of Spec Ops: The Line

So, below is a theory about how i am choosing to view the narrative of spec ops, so big massive hairy SPOILERS below

A Hollywood Reality

This is Not Reality

OK, so here is my take. Everything in the game, and I mean EVERYTHING is not happening in the real world, nor has it ever happened in the real world of Spec ops. Rather, I believe the whole "Dubai incident" is the bad dream or series of bad dreams that Walker is experiencing as repercussions from whatever happened with him and Konrad (and the radioman...more on him later) in Kabul.

You see, very early in the game it is mentioned that something went bad during an Op in Kabul when Walker was with Konrad. He dodges any reference to it and rather does not want to talk about it. This is told to us as we are introduced to the, frankly, slightly fantastical situation in Dubai.

The setting is straight out of Hollywood. Mother of all sandstorms, storms of apocalyptic power, just happened to hit one of the most exotic places on earth. It sounds, on face value, like the setting to a decent action flick. The type of movie that would star an unambiguous hero. An ALL AMERICAN HERO in large capital letters. The type of hero that Walker wants to believe he is.

My theory goes as this: Walker cannot forgive himself for whatever happened in Kabul while under Konrad's command. So in his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) riddled mind he is trying to create the PERFECT redemptive arc for himself. He places himself in a Hollywood style setting, with a Hollywood style plot situation spewing Hollywood style lines with his diverse yet all american squad.

Nice, clean and generic. He even places Konrad as the Kurtz style villain protected by "The Damned 33rd" a gleefully pulp name if ever there was one.

We even have over the top, totally unrealistic comic relief in the guise of the Radioman. He is, if i ever did see one, a Hollywood created comedic foil. Walker even comments at one point on how ridiculous the radio tower and speaker network is. He is literally taking all of those who were in his Kabul Op and recasting them, himself included.

Reality And The Baggage That Comes With It

The problem is, reality starts to butt in on this fantasy. We start to see this slowly, with the intel items where walker is clearly not the same personality reading the intel as the guy we have played to this point. When we start to receive intel in the Radioman's voice we REALLY see a difference in character between the intel and the character in the dubai incident.

This is Reality

Then, the fucking gates happen. At the height of his Macho power fantasy (remember, this is all in his head) he forges on with the righteous indignation of an AMERICAN MOVIE HERO and bombs the fuck out of everyone in sight, including civillians. THIS is reality encroaching on walkers brain. THIS is how the Kabul Op went tits up and Walker is floored. He was not supposed to see this anymore. This was his REDEMPTION story where he was the hero, what the fuck were that burned lady and kid from Kabul doing here?

So, he starts to unravel and blame Konrad as he probably did in real life and tries to push on with his power fantasy.

No go, though. Things just get really, really worse because he is trying to fix everything and his brain is trying to tell him: no, you fucked up and can't take it back. Deal with it.

So, hallucinations abound, his self doubt creeps into the tool tips during the loading screen and we revisit the helicopter scene where he says "no, we did this already." That was the nail in the coffin for me that this was all in his head and PTSD related.

Throw on top of that the stylized, twin peaks-esque conversation with Konrad and the mirrors at the end.

Did anyone else notice that the body of Konrad was considerably older looking than the vision of him talking to Walker?

I took this to show the dichotomy between reality and Walker's dream world. In reality, Kabul was many, many years ago, while Walker is trying to remember himself and Konrad as they were during that Op.

Bottom Line

The Dubai incident never really happened and all the fucked up shit is what happened to Walker and Konrad in Kabul. The Dubai incident is simply Walker trying to work through his issues. Depending on how you approached the epilogue we may even be able to say he is somewhat closer to putting these things to rest.

Taken this way I believe Spec ops: The Line can be viewed as an interesting, thought provoking and masterful exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder using the tropes and trappings of our beloved interactive media.

It also nicely juxtaposes the clean, sexy image of war we tend to idolize in movies and games (see top picture) with the truly gruesome reality of it.

It also calls into question our complacence with the "flow" or recognized trappings of our medium. It gives us our "oh shit" action moment right out of the gate with the helicopter sequence and we follow along with everything because, hey this is a game. Those guys I'm shooting must be bad because this is a game. Without hesitation, we open fire on EVERYTHING in that opening sequence. Later when we revisit that, we are perhaps sapped of our previous glee as we realize that we are totally in the wrong in our actions.

In this way, and some others (the fantastic setting and audio items) this game reminds me of Bioshock. It sets us into our familiar box of video games and then gives us a new, uncomfortable perspective to study.


Boxing Blog Supplement: Video of My Second Fight

So, I have not been writing my regular boxing blogs for a while. Damn real life getting in the way, what with all that teaching and raising a child i have to do on a daily basis. Until i get writing regularly again, which will hopefully be soon, i present to you my second amateur fight. Dont worry, to screen orientation fixes itself before the first round begins. I am the guy in the blue shoes and black tank top, NOT the guy in the punisher shirt. Oh, and that is my son clapping in between rounds. Enjoy and please leave comments!

  Until next time, work the body.   

Boxing Blog #3: Sparring

First thing's first, it has been about three months since I have updated this blog. Sorry to anyone (hi mom) who have been reading this and hoped to continue to do so with regularity. I have no real excuse and despise immensely those who make a habit of using them, so let's just get to the work, shall we? 
In the intervening time, however, quite a bit has been happening. While I'm not keeping to my exercise schedule as closely as I would like, I have dropped from 240 down to 233, with the trend looking to continue steadily until I hit about 210 or 200. Now, this may seem a little counterintuitive to most of the casual boxing fans out there. After all haven't most of us grown up watching the great heavyweights like Tyson, Spinks and Holmes, great big hulking men that could seemingly decapitate an opponent with a well placed right?  What many don't realize is that boxing is at least 85% about stamina.  
This is a problem for me. You see, I used to have pretty good stamina. Most of my teens and into my twenties I was athletic, a baseball player, and walked just about anywhere, so while I was gaining weight in little spurts I was still very fit. In 2004 I then started working in my first real office job. Within a month of working as  a graphic designer, sitting on my ever softening behind for 8+ hours a day, I gained roughly 45 pounds and kept them. To make matters worse, it was all in my stomach instead of distributing evenly. This causes strain on your entire upper body as the weight pulls down on your back and shoulders, creating a ton of stress on your lungs, not to mention the impact on your legs and knees. 
There are many stamina building exercises, but there are two that are considered the holy gospel of boxing: running and sparring. 
Sparring is when two boxers strap on heavy gloves, leather headgear and basically have a practice fight. Now that might not sound so bad, even less so when I mention that amateur boxing last only three rounds at two minutes each, but unless you've actually stepped in the ring it can be difficult to explain how it feels. To get an idea you could  step around your room, moving constantly for two minutes. While doing this remember to keep your hands at about eye height, occasionally throwing out a quick left jab, remembering to keep those hands up. To top it off, have a friend hold a pillow to the side of your head while he hits it as hard as possible.  Actually, please don't do that last bit. 
The point being, boxing is not as simple as it looks. You have to constantly make sure you have the right balance and footing, control your breathing and heart rate while trying to string together punch combinations. All of this while also under fire from your opponent. Sparring not only gets that all important physical stamina to build, it is the first real mental test of a boxer.  
"I get guys in here that have twenty times the talent you do," my trainer, Chris, was telling me one day, "but they won't get in the ring with another guy. Or if they do, they fall apart after getting hit for the first few times. Some guys just can't do it." 
That's why, despite my poor stamina and fairly limited experience, my trainer works hard with me. Despite getting hit with some solid shots, despite feeling like my lungs will drop out of my ass during the third round, despite the pounding headaches afterwards, I always come at my opponent. I keep the pressure on the other guy, weather the storm and be an all around tough son of a bitch in order to get my hits in. Chris loves this and is working with me to make me a bit more agile, because stamina is something you can work at, technique is something you can learn but strength in the face of adversity is something a boxer has or doesn't no matter how hard he works. 
Next time we're going to talk a bit more in detail about specifics from my sparring matches: what I've learned, mistakes I've made and maybe even a few anecdotes. 
Till next time, work the body. 
Boxing Blog #2:  http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/aragorn546/boxing-blog-2-the-ny-daily-news-golden-gloves/30-46642/ 
Boxing Blog #1:  http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/aragorn546/boxing-blog-1/30-46438/ 
Boxing Blog #0:  http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/aragorn546/boxing-blog-0-prologue/30-46064/

Boxing Blog #2: The NY Daily news Golden Gloves

The importance of having a goal cannot be understated. As gamers we understand that perhaps better than others. We are constantly driven by very specific goals: "Save president Ronnie", "Kill Kefka" or the classic "Would you kindly pick up that wrench." 
My current goal is to reach the NY Daily News Golden Gloves. Let me be clear, my goal isn't to win the gloves (though that would be nice), just to reach the first round. If I can get myself  to the level of receiving my amateur licence and qualifying for the gloves I'd be happy.  
Growing up in Brooklyn, the Daily News was the paper of choice in my house. My father was a city worker and we were squarely in the working class, what Daily News founder  J.M. Patterson called the "Sweenys".  The middle class has always been the target audience for the Daily News, writing at an accessible level without pandering to the lowest common denominator like the "Post" or "Newsday." Don't misunderstand, my father was highly educated, and yes we would get the NY Times on occasion, but that would always be for special sections like the science times or the book review. We appreciated getting our news in the serious and straightforward manner that the news used to offer. 
This focus on the working class, the heart blood of New York City, is precisely why the Daily News began the Golden Gloves tournament back in 1927.  
You see, boxing used to be the sport of the downtrodden, the sport of the immigrant worker in this city, the same people reading the daily news each day on the docks, behind a lunch counter or riveting steel. You can actually use a history of the Golden Gloves as a timeline to show how different ethnic groups rose in status through the years in NYC. In the early days it was primarily the Irish and Italians (of which I am a half each), switching to Jewish pugilists about ten years later. African Americans hav      e had a strong presence for a large block of time as well, until they too were supplanted by latino and hispanic boxers in modern times. If you follow heavyweight boxing in the past five years you may be wondering where the hell all of the eastern european boxers are coming from. Well, here's your explanation, they are the new up and coming working class.  
Judging from my classes we should be seeing an influx of either Asian, Indian or perhaps Haitian boxers in the next ten years as I have noticed more and more working class families in these groups. It fascinates me, this symbiotic relationship between boxing and immigration. 
Anyhow, while growing up, boxing was a staple in the household and the Golden Gloves was a part of that. While we rarely went to the actual bouts, I would pour over any information from the beginning of the tournament to the last fight. I'd read interviews with fighters, enraptured by the tapestry of stories each one had. Many of them were family men. A surprising amount were teachers, which always surprised me as a kid. I would try to imagine my 6th grade science teacher in a boxing ring and would laugh my head off. 
It was something we discussed, my father and I, for as long as I could remember. Over breakfast in the 3rd grade, in the car to my job during my senior year of high school,  
    sitting in a hospital room during my college years after one of his operations to remove a cancerous mass. The golden gloves was a steady narrative thread entwined completely in the story of our relationship, and for that it holds a dear, dear place in my heart.  
I want to be a part of that. When my son is old enough to discuss the Gloves, I want to be able to tell him about the time his father fought in the tournament.  I can taste it in the back of my throat and I curse my late start. At 29 years I have very limited time to make this a reality. Most of all I continually kick myself for not doing this while in college, when my father was still alive to see it happen.  
To be part of such a rich history is my ultimate goal, one which I intend to reach no matter what. 
For a very well written full history of the NY Daily News Golden Gloves go to this link:  http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more_sports/goldengloves/history/index.html
A little bit of housekeeping: today was my training session with the coach. On top of that I did a battery of ab exercises. Pretty successful in staying away from soda, only had one glass today. Lots of water.  

 Also, the image adding tools on this site SUCKS. Just let me do straight HTML dammit
Until next time, work the body.

Boxing Blog #1

Well, here's where I actually put my goals and schedule down on paper.  I guess I should put down my vital stats first: 
Age: 29 
Height: 5'7" 
Weight: 240lbs. 
My workout schedule for the week, starting next monday:  
Mon: Short night Jog,  Bicycle crunch, Vertical leg crunch,  
Wed: Jump rope, Side obliques 
Fri: Afternoon Jog, Bicycle crunchVertical leg crunch,   
Sat: Jump rope, Side obliques  
On top of these, there will be either one or two days spent at the gym training with my coach. I will fill those in as it goes. 
This is a very easy, beginners style exercise calender.  within two weeks I want to increase my days jogging to three and ad more ab exercises. 
I will be cutting out soda and simply drink water. 
Tommorow: Boxing blog #2: a brief history of the NY golden gloves.

Boxing Blog #0: Prologue

So, part of the whole quest system is to blog a certain amount. While I could just attempt to spam the system like so many here, I decided to try and actually create content that people might actually enjoy.  
Also, This month I'm actually starting boxing training again. Boxing is something that I used to watch religiously with my father and which I was always fascinated by. I didn't actually even consider becoming a boxer until 2002 , when I became obsessed with Victorious Boxers. I became so involved that I hunted down the original manga and anime that it was based on. I'm going to do a separate post on that series a little later, I just wanted to make some sort of gaming connection right up front. 
So, why should you care? Well, whenever there is a problem to tackle, people on the internet crowd source ( a term I despise, it just reeks of hipster). My problem in the past when trying to get myself into competition form is that  I could not keep myself on track. Between joggin, eating rite and exercising outside of the gym i would always fail within a year and just give up. 
So here's the solution: each day I will post here about what I eat, what exercises I do and so on. For those following me all I ask is that you hold me to task. If i don't post here then it's up to you guys to P.M. me, post derogatory comments and so on to spur me toward my ultimate goal of getting into my first real amateur bout.  
This is essentially what the Weight Watchers program is, except this way I can harness the power of giant bomb for a positive reason, instead of just figuring out the latest ARG. 
To reward you guys, each of my blogs will not only have my info, I will also post boxing related writing here as well. It may be a non-fiction piece, it may be a link to someone else article or it may be a short story about the sport that I have written, but I will always make sure and write something for those who chose to follow and help me toward this goal. 
Tomorrow's Blog: I will post my stats, some pics, my exercise & gym schedule, what I ate and some entertaining boxing writing. 
Till then, work the body.

XBL: A requiem

By Mike Amari 
So, it seems that seven years have passed.  With all of the things that should remind me of the passing years; getting married, having a child, moving from home etc.., it seems odd that on of my first "oh shit, time is passing" moments as an adult came about because of Xbox live. 
When XBL first hit I was still an undergrad switching majors from forensic science to creative writing. Working as a computer sales/repair slave for staples was sucking the life out of me and I was three or so months away from ending a four year relationship.  I was still living at home, though that was no a bad thing, and working as the only video game writer on my college campus.  
Writing for that paper is inextricably bound to my memories of XBL. You see, the Editor in chief at the time always saved full page slots for what he called "hard news" items (with such hard hitting topics as "offices extend hours" and "student rally ineffectual"), relegating us entertainment scabs to quarter, or when he felt particularly magnanimous a full half page spot. I would harp about this, but he would always say "it's a newspaper, so we give news the space." It was difficult to fit a monthly review column in a quarter page, so when XBL was set to hit I made sure I had it day one and was ready with my notepad for a feature article that I figured he would never run but would write anyway.  
So, that night I played Mechassault until my eyes bled, sampled some demos that came with the service and noodled my way into every cranny of the then grand spanking new service. My feature covered the game, the critical addition of live voice chat, a rundown of the bugs and hiccups as well as an extensive opinion section where I opined on how this could very well be where everything is going, but there would need to be a lot of tuning and growing. 
It was optimistic, full of energy and four full tabloid pages long. I finished it the same night that XBL launched (the deadline for that month's issue was noon the next day) sometime around four or five a.m. and almost didn't email it to the editor. I figured he would simple kill the piece, as he hadn't asked for it, and it would fill too many pages. 
He loved it. He was not a gamer, he was a political science major who thought activism was the only thing worth discussing. For some reason he really latched on the implications of a widespread, mass market online matching system. We talked about not so much the actual game play, but what could happen if they successfully integrated the social aspects of the friends list with a fully digital marketplace.  
Mostly we were skeptical because the idea of buying purely digital content was unprecedented (and around this time Valve was making every mistake possible with it's development of steam) and social networking sites were cumbersome (friendster was the prevailing service at the time) and obnoxious (myspace was just starting to gain momentum, while facebook was still a dating service for college students.) It seemed like XBL would be a great toy for the niche, but it would never hit critical mass. 
So it is that when I think of the early days of XBL I don't just think of the service, or the games. I think of my time as a writer, then editor, then editor in chief of that school paper. I think of the warm nights spent with old girlfriends. I think of my failed attempts at publication, of my late night conversations online during bouts of Not It in mechassault with friends on the other side of the country.  I think of very specific years of my life whenever I see that mechassault or Ghost Recon box sitting on my shelf, the same way we think of past times when listening to songs or reading familiar books.
This is the ultimate test of anything as an art form. For a product to lodge itself into our subconscious, to bind itself to the very fabric of our life experiences means that it has elevated itself from simple product to something more. This is why i can say without reservation or embarrassment that I am fully mourning the passing of XBL. It has been replaced by the fully evolved XBLA, delivering on many of those seemingly impossible promises that I talked about in a college basement all those years ago. It's as if a large chunk of my life has been laid to rest. I feel like this is our generation's "M.A.S.H." final episode. 
XBL is dead, long live XBLA.