Stage 1: "hmmmm maybe I can try flight simulation, looks interesting!" After buying FSX Gold, and few hours in default C172 controlled with keyboard, he founds that main strength of FSX is an endless possibilities, the whole world is in your hand. No use of flaps, GPS, mouse as yoke, not to mention flight plans, VORs... ...
Stage 2: "C172 is boring, let me see all other planes in FSX." Flew Maule, Cub, Baron... but all planes seems boring because he doesn't know for navigation, ATC, procedures, approaches, plates. "Wow, Boeing 737, 747, Airbus!!! Must try them!" He took B737, placed it on a runway, hit F4 and pulled up at 180kts IAS, just to realist at 5000ft AGL that he probably wanted to retract the gears like in the real world. Finding for a shortcut in the menus, exited, pressed G, and realized that his Boeing is already going 300kts... In complete panic he pressed F1 with a thought "damn, this is hard, now I can see why real world pilots have good pay checks".
Stage 3: Few months has passed and our fellow simmer has discovered the world of flaps, default flight plans via GPS gauge, and finally FsPassengers. HE also wanted to change some of the engine sounds, so he decided to buy TSS 737 soundpack and FsPassengers. He thought "well I didn't planned to spend this money, I doubt I spent it wisely".
Stage 4: After few months of pretty scary flights with FsPassengers, following flight path of a DIRECT flight plan, all via heading know on MCP, few crashes because of guessing vREF, is it 120, 160 or 180 , and using rudder commands on keyboard, he decided to buy a good controller (joystick or saitek yoke). Stage 4 in short:
Stage 5: After discovering the new level of immersion with the flight controller, he somehow founds himself on AVSIM, strangled in the world of flight simmers that use phrases he never heard of, like VOR, ILS, SID, STAR, Derated, Plate, Airway, V1, VR, V2, Acceleration Height, Localiser, Approach Mode, FMC... And he also started using default ATC, and found that vectored approaches are addictive and fun, and that is very cool that ATC will guide you to ILS feather, it's waaaay easier to find the runway that way with hand flying on approach.
Also he is starting to lurk flight sim shops for various addons, ORBX, Pro Flight Emulator, few sound packs, few more complex airplanes. Hmmm a Saitek Pro Flight yoke? Bought! Stage 6: the era of tutorials, youtube videos, questions on AVSIM started! After few days of digging what above mentioned phrases are, his reaction was exactly:
Bought PMDG NGX with a pleasure, to move from default planes to something more complex, but the amount of information in this stage is kililng him. At least he learned about ILS approaches, rotate & landing speed, VOR-to-VOR flight plans, and using the autopilot in GPS mode, all with following ATC. In that stage, our fellow flight simmer founds himself in the flight simming paradise, without or that fancy mumbo jumbo that people on AVSIM use. He was in stage 6 mode for a quite long, it was so addictive and yet not complicated. At the end of Stage 6, he decided to try some checklist addons to add more immersion.
Stage 7: After couple of years stuck in Stage 6, he entered next stage, also called "Breakthrough stage", the toughest stage in his flight simming life. All that aircraft systems, procedures, autopilot modes, flight plans, FMC, aahhhhhhh! Watched tutorials, videos, countless hours spent on AVSIM, and yet he founds himself going back to Stage 6 quite often. Months have passed, he slowly started to get new things, and form the view what is it like to be a real world pilot. On every NGX practice flight, he discovered new procedure, autopilot mode, or term. Suddenly he founds himself finishing the full flight with SIDs and STARs, full flight plans, full checklists, procedures, programmed FMC. First thought was "OMG, this is so amazing, I will never go back to default planes, never!". Months has passed and he was amazed by this stage, and with every new information. Stage 8: this is the stage in which OP is now. The stage called flight simming heaven. Good performance in FSX, never below 30fps, AI traffic, NGX, FS2CREW, PFPX, FSGRW. From time to time the world of flight simming will hit him with some new stuff and terms, but he will not run to learn about them, because he's sure that he is now a advanced simmer. He must learn to use the plates, but he simply don't care because he don't need them, PFE and PFPX did all the job, with or without SIDs and STARs. Already thinking to switch to Prepar3D, but he will wait for v3.0.
Stage 9: is there stage 9? Is it online flying for VA, or that feeling when you go to pro flight simulator and show the instructor that you know everything?!
P.S. I didn't mentioned that between Stage 2 and Stage 8 our flight simmer will be stuck also in the world of tweaking FSX, CTD's, freezes...