Imari, Japan. 2001.
JR Ralls parts his rich, full hair. Luscious lock after luscious lock bends at his touch, each strand clinging ever more tightly to his brow than the last. JR doesn’t think about what it would be like to see a bald spot in the back grow; why would such a thought as that even cross his mind?
Rather, JR has more important things to focus on. This nihon-go is kicking his ass! As he studies it, the pressure starts in one spot of his brain and slowly spreads. It expands and expands until it feels like his mind is trying to shatter his cranium, fleeing the intellectual flogging he’s been subjecting it to.
It is a feeling he’s not used to. He breezed through every subject in school with the exception of language classes, where he always struggled to obtain his "Gentleman’s C."
Then, within weeks of graduation, he made the very wise and the also very smart decision to move 8,000 miles to a small town in Japan where if he didn’t learn how to correctly say “Toire wa doko desu ka?” then he didn’t get to go to the restroom.
Learning Japanese is doubly hard for him, because the retention of information and concepts is achieved by making connections to previously absorbed ideas. When someone knows a lot about a subject, then anytime they learn something new in that field that new information can attach itself to many other data points in their mind. But when JR is studying Japanese he is trying to get the words and grammar to latch onto a mental void.
He is learning through brute will, and at the end of a day’s effort he is utterly exhausted. He doesn’t think he can push himself any harder. His first non-minimum wage job, his fist time living alone, his first time living in a foreign country: It’s a lot to have on his plate. He’s not a teenager anymore. He’s got to learn to pace himself now that he’s twenty-three.
JR puts the flash cards down. He’s earned a break. He’s earned a friggin' break! He needs to do something else, anything else. He needs to ... hey … what was that game people were talking about on USENET? Europa Universalis? The people on soc.history.what-if say it’s like Civilization but with more options! Cool! And more complexity! Awesome! And it is supposed to be much harder! Great!
JR starts a game. He tries to move an army. It kind-of-sort-of moves, but the way it does so is weird and he doesn’t like it. He tries to manage the economy but doesn’t understand how anything he does affects anything else. He tries to colonize a new piece of land, but no, he can’t do that. He can’t figure out how he can perform the simplest of actions, because EU is:
He tries the tutorial and gives up. He skims the manual and gives up. He sees if there are any pointers on the information superhighway and gives up.
Learning how to play EU can only be accomplished with some hard mental effort, and JR has had enough of that. So much of his energy is already going to studying Japanese that the idea of working for his fun sounds grotesque. He uninstalls Europa Universalis. Maybe he’ll give it another try when life gets less busy.
North Carolina, USA. 2017
“So … how do I override Item Maintenance on an auto-reorder?”
“So … where does the PO’s Header Required Date actually pull in the data field?”
“So … if I get a verbal CONF for the PO but I don’t have a tracking number, do I still need to keep it in the process schedule?”
For the last couple of weeks, JR has been interrupting his coworkers once every ten minutes or so with questions like the above. Problems that were obtuse to him were explained with a sigh and, after some head-scratching on his part, the “obvious” answer was implemented.
JR has learned new things in other jobs, but most of that learning was based upon a significant foundation of pre-existing knowledge. At this job JR is employed in a field where he has zero experience, doing a job that he has zero experience in, while using an OS he has zero experience with. JR is excited about the opportunity, and thinks it is a good career path for him, but there hasn’t been a single day in the last month when his brain hasn’t said, “Could ... could we become a ditch digger? I’m pretty sure we know how to dig a ditch.”
He has a bubbly, fuzzy feeling at the sides of his cranium. It started after a few hours of hard work and increased throughout the day. It began to lessen as he picked up his kids, drove them home, made dinner, got the kids upstairs and brushed, read a story to them, gave them hugs and kisses, got back downstairs, and did some quick cleaning and prep work for next day. But it was only fully gone when he had done all his “chores” for the day and collapsed into a comfy chair to enjoy his (maybe) fifteen minutes of spare time. And in those precious free moments he often debated with himself what game he should play.
Even though he has heard that Stellaris is the easiest game that Paradox has ever made, and even though he learned that Hearts of Iron IV had been completely streamlined, and even though Crusader Kings was a game he desperately wanted to like ... no. Just, no.
JR has tried Paradox Games a half-dozen times and he has never once gotten over the hump. He genuinely thinks that if he could push past the learning curve he will have a great time with them. But when he actually looks over any of the multiple Paradox games in his Steam library, he shakes his head.
Instead, he pulls up Zelda II: The Adventures of Link. JR has recently beaten the original Legend of Zelda for the fifth time in his life, so now it's time to beat Zelda II for the fourth. Now is not the time for Paradox. Now is not the time for his hobby to challenge him. Now is the time for his hobby to provide comfort, familiarity, and ease. And replaying his old favorites gives him exactly that.