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Barbara M.

You’ve seen their usernames—now meet some of the real people behind the leaderboard. Like you, they play games to keep their brains active and pass the time. And like you, they have lives beyond their screen time. We talked with eight AARP gamers to find out their stories and learn who they are when they’re not logged in.

Name: Barbara M.
Username: bem1211
Lives in: Florida
Games: Pyramid Solitaire, 10x10
When not playing AARP games I am: Reading, taking photos and teaching water aerobics  
Quotable quote: “Self-improvement has got to be important to all of us, hasn’t it?”

“I don’t know why I like Pyramid Solitaire—it’s a numbers game, and I’m a words person,” says Barbara M. “I love language and accents and sentence structures—I can dwell on a good line in a book enough to read it again. I’m reading Pride and Prejudice for probably the fifth or sixth time.”

Reading Jane Austen makes sense for Barbara, a native of England who came to the United States as a GI bride after meeting her now-husband at a dance at the Red Cross Club in her hometown of Bath. “I told him I was 18—I was only 16,” she says. Fudging the numbers doesn’t fly in her game of choice, though. We talked with the Florida resident about self-improvement, developing rapport and what it means to be a serious gamer.

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Could you walk us through how you game?

I usually play first thing in the morning, after I’ve taken care of my mail and one or two other things. Once I get a score of 1,800 on Pyramid Solitaire, I go on to something else. Some days I can’t, and I’ll just leave it; most of the time I’ll get there, though. It takes me maybe 10, 15 minutes until I get there, even if it’s just 1,801. It’s just my start to the day. I play 10x10 too—I don’t take it too seriously. It’s just for fun, just to pass the time.

Pyramid I do take seriously. But keep in mind: “Serious” is not serious as such. Games are not serious things, after all—at least, not to me. For games, “serious” means playing consistently. So Pyramid is “serious”; the others I’ll just click on for a change of pace. I like the brevity of the games—you can play and then get on with something else.

I would love to be able to talk about the games with other gamers—how do some of them get such high scores every day? What’s the trick to it? I’ve probably played a thousand games, and I still haven’t found out what the clue is to getting that high score. I like the idea of being able to ask a question and get an answer from these players—there are the forums, but maybe people don’t know about them. The names that I recognize, I do wonder about them. What time they get on, how they get their scores. Just a cursory inquiry—a passing thought. It might be nice for players to establish more relationships on the site.

You’ve been an AARP member for 37 years—what has it done for you?

When we traveled by car, we enjoyed the discounts that AARP gave at various hotels. We also have our health insurance through AARP. And, of course, the games.

What activities beyond gaming do you enjoy?

I’m very involved with photography. I was going to Africa on a safari, and our neighbor asked, “What camera are you taking?” I said that I didn’t have one, and he said, “You can’t go on a safari without a camera.” He took me in hand and taught me a few things. The first picture I took was of a giraffe. I was hooked.

I’ve met so many wonderful people through photography. When you share a hobby, you have an instant rapport with people. There’s a warmth between you. You instantly start exchanging ideas of what you’ve done or what you want to do. You look at each other’s work and say, “Oh, I would like to have done that” or “How did you do it?”—that sort of thing. It’s an important feature in my life.

I belong to the Photographic Society of America; I’m in charge of study groups. When somebody wants to join a group—infrared, portrait, street scenes, nature, 3D, all sorts of categories—they get in touch with me, and I’ll place them in a group. I’ve initiated a lot of people into joining—you talk about how you do it, and they become interested. We ask that you don’t send us something that you know is good. Send us something that makes you think, Ah, there’s something wrong with this—I want help with it. It’s to help them improve their skills. Self-improvement has got to be important to all of us, hasn’t it?

Do you have a life philosophy?

I conduct a water aerobics class once a week, and I always give people a word of wisdom for the week to take away with them. I had a very simple one this week: “Happiness is not just having a lot, but giving a lot.” I try to live by the words I share with the people in my class. It helps improve our lives, I think, to consider the little things. When you get older, you have the time to relish the life you’ve had. I—touch wood—have had a very happy life. So I like to send away the people in my water aerobics class with something to think about.

I’ve also asked them to meditate while we’re doing squats in the water. Meditation can help one a great deal. I take time every day, maybe once or twice a day—more if possible—to meditate, to delve into my inner self. My mind escapes every now and again, but the idea of meditation is to pull it back. Your mind always escapes because your mind is working. To hold on to that and pull it back is the core of meditation.

Barbara’s pro tip: Practice.

“I can’t tell you how I arrived at my high scores—if I could, I’d get a better score! But my high on Pyramid Solitaire was 1,838, and that’s the game I play continually. Just playing the game helped me get there."

AARP Behind the Leaderboard profiles are meant to reflect individuals’ experiences and outlooks and do not necessarily reflect AARP’s point of view.

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