Thursday, January 24, 2013

Streaming Memories and 'The Sense of an Ending'

Image from PopMatters
This week at PopMatters, I talk about our memories of games, and how they might change with the proliferation of better record keeping technology.

I use Julian Barnes' novel, The Sense of an Ending to frame the discussion, as it's a book about comparing the documented past to the perceived past. In the book Tony is faced with old letters and journals he and his friends wrote during their college years. Now at retirement age, Tony struggles to reconcile his image of the past and of himself with the image portrayed by others and the historical record. Thanks to the rise and continuing ease of video game record keeping (in the form of game preservation, player data, and streaming options) it's a process that will become increasingly common for players.

You can hear some of these thoughts in the latest podcast, where we talk about what we think the new console cycle will look like. Like I said on the show, I think the biggest change won't necessarily be a raw technological one, but more of a structural shift towards increasingly social gaming experiences. "Social" will continue to be a catch-all word that means everything from multiplayer to Facebook integration, and it's things like the latter example that I see changing the way we interact with games in the coming years.

I'll put in another plug for The Sense of an Ending. Granted, it's characters can be a bit hard to relate to (white, middle-class British people are hardly the most sympathetic figures), but the way its story unfolds impressed me. Instead of a grand conflict with explicit heroes and villains, it's a contained narrative that explores the successes and failures of the main character. It's something that games like Papo & Yo and The Walking Dead do very well. A story doesn't have to be about a galactic war or the chosen hero in order to be dramatic. Framed properly, the private battles of ordinary people like Quico, Lee, and Tony are provocative.

Finally, I'm interested to hear from anyone who has already had a "sense of an ending" moment. For those people who actively revisit old games, track their playtime or achievements, or record their play sessions: how have these documents changed the way you remember your game experiences? If I'm correct about the future, it's a question we'll all be facing very soon.

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