Summer has rolled around and even though I still have summer work to keep me occupied, it seems like I have more time to indulge in various hobbies. An old hobby (or time-waster) I’ve come back to is the computer game Medieval Total War. This game lets you control the economy, army and diplomacy of various medieval kingdoms. The obsession-inducing part of MTW is the battle map. The battle map allows you to see and control your entire army on the battlefield. So if you have a thousand guys in your army, you *really* can control a thousand little dudes. No one-on-one battles like World of Warcraft: you can be Richard the Lionheart, Saladin or Genghis Khan (when the Mongols turn up and reduce Asia Minor to ashes and skull-piles).
My new hobby is gardening. Our landlord recently moved out and gave us free reign to garden away in our small backyard. Growing up, the tasks of weeding and planting were sentences of hard labor for crimes committed by the Hardy buys. All of a sudden I am doing those same tasks voluntarily.
It occurred to me that these pursuits have something in common, even though one is fairly antisocial and the other involves lots of swearing and arguing with one’s spouse. (Actually either could have those drawbacks…) Both offer the illusion of control with no real consequences. In Medieval Total War, if my kingdom fails or my family is killed in battle, what have I really lost? I can build cities, defeat nations and expand my empire in just an hour or two. Real life rarely has that sort of selfish gratification. Gardening is the same, with less pixels. I plant, water and weed as needed, and I have control over what happens in my own little ecosystem. Unless Coco digs up the hostas.
We don’t control much, really. The world can be a pretty uncertain place. Gardens and computer games let us control what we can, and feel better about what we can’t.