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: Bob J.
Lives in: Tennessee
Games: Mahjongg, jigsaw puzzles
When not playing AARP games I am: VR (Virtual Reality) gaming, tackling house projects and spending time with family
Quotable quote: “Work hard, play hard. There’s always something that needs to be done. Someone who says, ‘I’m bored’—no, you’re not bored. You’re lazy!”
To picture how Bob J. spent some 30 years after leaving the Navy, think of Homer Simpson. “You know how he’s in that control room at the nuclear power plant? That’s me, at the power plant.” The Tennessee native retired in 2018, and though he still occasionally comes back to do contract work, most days he’s keeping himself busy in other ways. The grandfather of three talked with us about killing zombies, the relationship between gaming and work ethic, and why he’ll take math over Macbeth any day.
What’s the draw to gaming?
You follow the rules, you get better at these games. It’s a little like math. I’ve always liked math, even in school. You didn’t have to worry about how you felt or how somebody else felt. With math, there are guidelines that say, “Here’s what you do in this situation with this problem,” and you know that if you do that, it will work every time—you just need to learn the rules. In English class, they’d ask, “What was Shakespeare thinking when he had Macbeth do this?” How should I know? Shakespeare probably didn’t know what he was thinking! But then you’d tell the teacher what you think, and they’d say, “No, that’s wrong.” How can that be wrong? You don’t know what he was thinking, either.
Gaming is a way to challenge yourself, to increase your reaction skills. But most of why I like gaming is that it’s a quick time killer. For example, last week we stained our deck, and that took nearly the whole week. We’d come in on breaks, and I’d grab a cold beer, throw a towel on the chair and play a couple of games. When your beer’s gone, it’s like, “OK, I played a couple of games, I had my beer. Better get back to work.” It helps you take your mind off the bucket of stain and the paintbrush you’ve had in your hand for the last hour and a half. It calms you down.
Do you play games other than on AARP?
Oh, yeah. We have a VR room. The headset goes over your eyes, and you have two little hand controllers. It’s completely wireless, which is great. You’ve got different games—there’s a sports scramble with tennis challenges, baseball, bowling. There’s a zombie game—it’s always fun to kill the bad guys, especially the undead. Each progressive level gets harder and harder. I still haven’t gotten to the end of the game.
I love my VR room and the AARP games, but they’re different. When I was staining my deck, I’d be sweaty and the headset would fog up, so that’s out. And the VR games get pretty physical—when you set the controllers down, it’s like, “Man, I’m out of breath.” With the AARP games, they’re quick—five minutes—and rather than getting out a bunch of towels and putting them on the chair so I don’t skank up my chair when I’m watching TV, I’ll just get one towel and set it on the kitchen chair and play the AARP games.
All that gaming sounds intense—is it?
Work hard, play hard. There’s always something that needs to be done. Someone who says, “I’m bored”—no, you’re not bored. You’re lazy! There’s something you need to do, I guarantee it. I like to get stuff knocked out, and then if it looks like I’m doing pretty good and everything’s going my way, I’ll get in there, play a couple of games, then see what else I need to get done.
That’s how it was when I was working too. It makes it easier for everybody to just get the job done rather than saying, “Well, they gave us eight hours to do it, so we’ll wait until 6 o’clock to start.” Different control rooms did it different ways, but we’d get everything knocked out early.
Not to say we didn’t have a good time—work hard, play hard, right? We’d play these games online, maybe 60 or 70 of us, and we’d compete with each other during downtime. That was competitive—some of them were really good gamers, and those were the ones I’d really go after. It let us have fun together even when we weren’t in the same room. With the AARP games, you have thousands of people, so it’s hard to know who you’re competing against. But gaming can get fairly close-knit.
So that’s playing hard, but I work hard too. If you work 40 hours every week for a whole year, it’s 2,080 hours. One year I worked 2,500 hours of overtime in addition to my 2,080. The Navy prepared me for intense work. If you’re having a bad day on a submarine, you can’t just leave. And it helped with work ethic. If something goes wrong because you’ve got somebody slacking, that’s 120 people who could die.
Who else do you play games with?
My wife and daughters. One of them lives just down the road, and every time she comes over she plops down at the computer and starts playing Mahjongg. There’s a jigsaw puzzle game on there, and she got a 26,800—then I was playing on one of my breaks and got a 27,001. I took a picture of it and texted it to her like, “Gotcha!” She provides the same in return. She’ll be sending me a picture of a 27,003 one of these days, and it’ll be like, “OK, game on.” I expect I’ll be playing with my grandchildren too.
You’ve got to challenge people a little bit. I’ve played against people who then say, “This game stinks.” Then if you say, “Nah, man—you stink. You just ain’t good at it,” you’re really saying, “Get back after it.” They’ll be all, “Give me that headset—I’ll play it right now.” People like a challenge.
Bob’s pro tip: Use your scanning skills.
“When you’re playing a matching game, if you’re looking to match one particular thing—like, you’re playing Mahjongg and you see a boot and you start looking for another boot—you’re going to run out of time. But you know what? The boots are black, the eyes are green and the boxes are purple. You can scan the page for colors and shapes that match. It’s easier to do it like that.”
AARP Behind the Leaderboard profiles are meant to reflect individuals’ experiences and outlooks and do not necessarily reflect AARP’s point of view.