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: Jeffrey A.
Lives in: Ohio
When not playing AARP games I am: Drawing and painting, figuring out how things work and DIY repairing
Quotable quote: “After I put away my Sudoku, I feel happy. Content. Fulfilled, I think.”
Jeffrey A. likes to figure things out. Some days that means opening up a computer to tinker with the circuit boards—and other days it means crushing expert Sudoku with no mistakes or hints. After being pushed into early retirement from his work as a surveyor 11 years ago because of a knee replacement, the Ohio resident took to gaming and art to keep himself occupied. We talked with Jeffrey about his first Sudoku attempt, the challenges of early retirement and traveling to the moon.
How did you start playing games at AARP?
I first started playing the quizzes at the website. I played every quiz they had going! They can be pretty informative—they teach about retirement, about health. There’s a trivia category, so I’d pick, say, John Lennon or presidents. They make you actually think.
I play Sudoku at AARP, but I’d been playing it in the papers a long time. I worked as a surveyor, and another surveyor came up and asked me if I’d ever played Sudoku. I asked him what it was, and he said, “It’s a game of numbers. Nine boxes, nine rows, and you have to figure it out.” I said, “That’s easy.” But I couldn’t do it! I just guessed and made a fool of myself. I started taking it seriously right that day—it’s a good game. I love math, but it doesn’t have anything to do with math. Right now, I play with no hints. I’ve played the expert games with no notes or mistakes.
I like to figure things out. Right now, I’ve got this dog leash that is stretched out and won’t retract, so I’m trying to figure that out. I’ve taken apart computers before—it’s not that hard. The circuits, the boards, it’s all pretty fascinating. I’d like to figure out how some people get these really high scores—a lot of people will get over 300 points, and you wonder how they do it. It would be great if there was a chatroom in the game.
How have games helped you work through challenges?
I tore both my knees working and had to have them replaced. I was on my knees a whole lot in the road, clearing out in case of spikes and whatever might be there. I messed myself up; I’m not the same now and never will be. It kind of forced me into retirement. They didn’t fire me; they retired me. I came back after my surgery and showed my boss my doctor’s note on what kind of restrictions were needed, but it felt like they were sort of after me. I took their offer and left.
It was difficult at the time. I wasn’t ready to retire—I still had health payments, car payments, all of that. It was a bad deal. I played sports before I hurt my knee, lifted weights six days a week. Now it’s painful to walk. The games help—I don’t have to be standing or walking, so I’m thankful for them. They helped when I was recovering from surgery—helped me not get so anxious about not being able to get up and walk around. I was taking baby steps; it felt like I was on stilts. I was anxious about trying not to fall—guy my size, it’s not good to fall. Playing games helped relieve some of that anxiety.
What else has helped you cope with the struggles surrounding your knees?
Drawing and painting. I had this one CD about how to learn how to draw a baby. It was very detailed, and I learned a lot from it, so I started watching videos about how to draw and paint, and I got pretty good. I draw faces, people, some landscapes. It’s hard to try to re-create somebody’s face—you’ve got to turn the paper in different ways, use different strokes. It took me a while to get good at that. I like to paint too, acrylics, but it’s messy! Something to do in my old age.
I’d like to get into yoga or meditation too. Meditation would be nice because you don’t do a whole lot, but I could leave my body and go somewhere else in my mind. People do that—they go into a trance where they can go to different years or wherever they want to. You could travel to the moon—just put yourself into that mindset. It’s like a conscious dream, leaving your surroundings. It’s just an idea. I’ve tried it, but I’m not good at it yet.
Games do have a meditative effect. It helps me forget about things that might have gone wrong that day. Maybe it’s sad—there’s got to be more to life than games, right?—but it’s painful to walk. After I put away my Sudoku, I feel happy. Content. Fulfilled, I think.
Jeffrey’s pro tip: Use your hardware.
“My iPad really helps me. When I pick a number to search for, all the numbers will light up in the boxes and rows. That helps with finding out where another one should go. It takes me a long time to do it—I’m no speed demon. I search and search and search until I just get exhausted. Then finally, one will pop out, you know?”
AARP Behind the Leaderboard profiles are meant to reflect individuals’ experiences and outlooks and do not necessarily reflect AARP’s point of view.