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: Mary Louise H.
Lives in: North Carolina
Games: Canfield Solitaire, Golf Solitaire, Scramble Words
When not playing AARP games I am: Volunteering, playing golf and reading with my book club Quotable quote: “I have no problem relaxing now.”
Given that Mary Louise H. worked in the accounting department of AARP The Magazine, it only made sense that when she returned to college in her early 40s, she’d study accounting. “I did cost accounting and was doing exercises like, ‘You work in a factory and you’re making a dress. How much do you need to charge for this dress?’” says the North Carolina resident. “I thought to myself, I’m never going to have to figure this out.” A professor asked her what she liked to do—and that’s how Mary Louise wound up with her bachelor’s in English instead. We talked with Mary Louise about setting limits, being Type A and the pleasure of being occasionally mindless.
What’s your gaming strategy?
I try to switch it up—I pick maybe three that I like, and then I’ll go on to three more in a few months. I hope it’s engaging my mind. If I have an hour to spare, I’ll sit down and do it, or maybe I’m reading a book and I want a break, so I go do something different. My whole life is free time. I mean, not always—I have appointments, doctor’s appointments, or golf or yoga. But I have a lot of free time.
I hope I’m engaging my brain, but I do think there can be something mindless to the games. You get in this zone where you’re trying to unscramble these words—I might look at the letters and be thinking, I don’t see a thing here. But I’m still in a zone. There’s a bit of escapism, of mindlessness.
Mindlessness can be a good thing or a bad thing. When you work, you’re like, “Oh, after work, I have to do this.” “Oh, on Saturday I have to run this errand.” Now that I’m retired, I might sit down to play games and then I’m like, “Where did that hour go?”
What’s the downside about that?
Well, actually, nothing! I’m retired, I don’t have children, I don’t have grandchildren. So what the heck? It’s just that sometimes structured time lets you get more done than when you’re working with unstructured time. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. When I was working, I was in accounting. If we were trying to close out the month, sometimes we’d be there till midnight. You couldn’t just get up and leave at 5. So it’s nice that I have this luxury.
But I do set limits, or maybe it’s more about goals. Like with Word Scramble, if I get to the fourth level and I finish it, I’m done. I’m a pretty Type A person, so I like limits. I like things done a certain way and in a certain time.
A lot of Type A people find it difficult to relax—is that true of you?
I have no problem relaxing now. That was more of an issue when I was working. I’ll tell you straight up: People get on my nerves! When you work, you have to put up with it, to an extent. I don’t work anymore, and I don’t have to put up with it. If I volunteer and I don’t like it, I can quit volunteering. I love to socialize, but people can get on my nerves after a while, I’ll be honest about that. I don’t have to socialize with anybody anymore. It’s great. It’s a privilege.
The turning point for me was when I married my husband. I wasn’t on my own anymore, and that gave me so much more freedom. Someone from AARP actually set us up on a blind date. I was single, and I worked at AARP in Washington, D.C., and I was in my 30s—you’d think it’d be easy to meet men, but it wasn’t. Someone said her husband worked with somebody I’d be a good match with and gave me his number. We went out on a date in December and got engaged in January. When you’re 40 years old, you know whether it’s right.
People retire here to Pinehurst, and when I first moved to our community, someone said, “You can be as busy as you want—or not.” There’s always something to do—book clubs, I volunteer at a welcome center, I play nine-hole golf with a great group of gals. Some of the women here, I don’t know how they actually have time to do anything, they’re so involved. When I first moved here, I volunteered for quite a lot, and it got to the point where I was like, “Nah, I’m done.” I don’t need to make any more friends or socialize more than I already do. Gaming is a way to pass the time. It also helped me when my husband was in the hospital for his heart. That’s something great about my iPad; I could play games next to him while he was sleeping. It’s transportive, in a few ways.
Mary Louise’s pro tip: Don’t compare online games to the real-life versions.
“When I first moved to North Carolina, I met these women who played mahjongg, and I’m like, ‘I play online. That sounds like fun.’ But playing online and playing with people are two different things! I was flabbergasted. There are so many rules, and they change every year."
AARP Behind the Leaderboard profiles are meant to reflect individuals’ experiences and outlooks and do not necessarily reflect AARP’s point of view.