Julian Barnes’ novel, The Sense of an Ending, explores the nature of memory and how the documented past often conflicts with our personal recollection of events. The book is split between two main sections: one in which Tony is a young man who responds to romantic disappointment with a detached dry wit and one in Tony’s retirement years. With most of his life behind him, he unexpectedly receives a letter that prompts him to reevaluate his memory of those formative college years. Faced with old writings from both himself and his friends, he struggles to reconcile the immaturity, irresponsibility, and bitterness apparent in the historical record with his personal heroic recollections.
It’s an understated, narrowly-focused story about one person’s life, but the underlying concepts are universal. Our mental notion of the past is a continually shifting concept that can be upset by even the smallest piece of contrary documentation. It’s probably a good lesson to apply to all facets of life, but in the interest of starting small, let’s focus on video games. The proliferation of the Internet has provided an unprecedented opportunity to record and then access past events. Going forward, our memories of the kinds of games we play, how we play them, and the culture surrounding them will routinely bump up against the recorded past.