We always joke about what it would be like if we were to grab our old 3DS or GameCube, boot up a now-ancient Animal Crossing town, and visiting our poor abandoned villagers and the chaos they’ve been left to in our absence. But for at least one player of the original 2002 Animal Crossing, his village is just like he left it. Because he never did.
We completely devote ourselves to our little virtual worlds, obsessing over each fruit-giving tree and animal friend, until the moment we get a little bored and abandon it all. Villages we once meticulously cleaned are now weed infested and unkempt, all with a swift sense of betrayal in the air. It’s a cruel fate for the animal pals we once adored, but it’s the natural progression as we move on to other games.
One player, named Jeff, has never known this feeling. Ever since the original Animal Crossing released on the GameCube back in 2002, Jeff, also known as “jvgsjeff,” has maintained his original town, called “Forest,” for the last 17 years. Even though his playtime fluctuated over the years, from daily check-ins to monthly to weekly and so on, at no time did Jeff ever outright abandon his town. It’s a mind-bending amount of time that spans at least 10,000 hours, multiple console generations, and 16 E3 press conferences. If his town were a child, it would be licensed to drive.
“My towns are like links to the past that I can revisit at any time,” said Jeff. “My GameCube town still has most of the same villagers that it had 15 years ago. The villagers are almost like old friends, or in some cases, annoying neighbours that you’ve grown to like… sort of.” Some of Jeff’s favourite villagers include Lolly, Bob, and Rolf, but he’s not too fond of others. “Yuka is one of the worst.”
While it was originally released for the Nintendo 64 in Japan, Animal Crossing didn’t come to the West until the GameCube version. Jeff remembers the first time he saw screenshots of the then-upcoming GameCube game circulating the web back in early 2002. “They put a lot of emphasis on the included NES games, and they basically described it as a NES game compilation,” he said. "I got the game shortly after its release and it didn’t take long until I was hooked.”
“The real-time clock was something new to me, and it definitely changed how I played the game,” he said. “With Harvest Moon, you can keep going, saying ‘one more day, one more day’ and play for hours at a time. Animal Crossing was different, and playing a little bit each day certainly had its own charm.”
Nintendo wasn’t initially sure if the series’ non-traditional gameplay would work outside Japan, but it was a hit and spawned numerous sequels, one on each Nintendo console thereafter. While most players moved on, leaving their old town behind to start a new one, Jeff compounded his virtual villages.
Once City Folk released on the Wii in 2008 and New Leaf on the 3DS in 2013, he started playing them regularly without dropping the others. Although he didn’t own a DS to play Wild World when it released back in 2005, he eventually followed up with that game’s Virtual Console release on the Wii U in 2016, bringing the total number of consecutive Animal Crossing games being played to four.
“I think I’ve pretty much accomplished everything,” said Jeff. “My catalogues aren’t 100 per cent complete, because there are things that would take many years, unless you time travel (like the annual zodiac animals in New Leaf or the New Year’s shirts in City Folk).” Other than that, he’s just missing a few things in each game, like the rare mushrooms in the GameCube version that only spawn during a single early hour in a two-week span in October. “I’ve never been much of a morning player,” he said.
Jeff currently has 3,018 hours logged in New Leaf, according to his 3DS. The GameCube and Wii didn’t feature similar play time trackers, but Jeff estimates the hours he put into his GameCube town to be similar to his New Leaf hours, with City Folk sitting significantly higher due to the game’s online play. At best, a dedicated Animal Crossing fan might play through a full year, maybe even two, before quietly slipping the cartridge or disc back into its case. Only occasionally do you find a player who’s racked up thousands of hours over years. For many, playing so long eventually loses its appeal.
“I wouldn’t say it makes it lose its charm, but like with anything, you can get burned out after a while,” explains Jeff. “Taking a break from a certain game can help. But setting new goals for yourself (or your town) can also help, whether it’s redesigning a room, creating a new pattern, or making a new path around town. Finding that spark of creativity can reinvigorate your interest.”
Sometimes your villagers need to be reminded who is really in charge. Taking a more aggressive outlook can be just what you need to inspire some more interest. “Animal Crossing can get boring after long periods if you’re just going through the motions, but add some of your own ideas and your own creativity and that’s where it shines,” said Jeff.
One of his ideas is known as “pitfall pandemonium.” It’s a death trap designed for the worst of neighbours. “I’ll dig holes to trap all of the outside villagers in a certain area. Then, I bury a large field of pitfall seeds. Set the villagers free into the field of pits and enjoy the mayhem.” It’s as fresh as when he first popped off the packaging.
In 2011, Jeff started his own blog featuring posts going over a day or week in each of his towns. “I had seen a thread on Animal Crossing Community where people had shared their blogs and journals,” said Jeff. “I checked a few out, and I liked the idea.” Blog posts make the day-to-day activities intriguing and engaging, while highlighting cool finds and ridiculous villager musings. The blog currently features over 2,500 posts completely dedicated to Jeff’s ongoing adventures in Animal Crossing.
An excerpt from one of Jeff’s blog posts. Image: Nintendo (jvgsjeff)
Some of the rarer events and tasks are opportunities for Jeff to guide other players, but it’s also a look at many of his accomplishments. “The first time I shot down the UFO in City Folk was a really cool moment, and the Metroid may have been my most prized possession. I had to shoot down 19 UFOs before I got it.”
While Jeff only started his own blog in 2011, he was part of an America Online forum discussing the series back in 2006. “I think that’s what the Animal Crossing bug bit me, so to speak,” recalled Jeff. “One day everyone was discussing how they had their houses decorated. Rather than just describe my house, I used a TV capture card I had on my computer to record a video and I uploaded it to YouTube. That was the start of me sharing my town with the world, nearly five years before I started the blog.”
Committing to such a lengthy project speaks to the temperament of a person. “I’m a quiet person, not very social, and I keep to myself most of the time,” said Jeff. “I think the game is a great fit for introverts like myself.” With the blog and YouTube channel, Jeff has created his own online community that actively enjoys his content. “Some may feel an attachment to my villagers or town, and just enjoy keeping up to see what’s new,” he said. “It’s an overwhelmingly positive fan base overall. That’s a big part of what makes it so fun to share my town updates.”
Repetition can be a challenging hurdle to overcome, especially when you’re someone like Jeff who has saved 113 million bells in his New Leaf bank. “Sure, there have been times where I may have been in a rut and perhaps didn’t feel like playing on a certain day but did it anyway for the blog,” Jeff said. “But following a schedule keeps me from going too long without playing a certain game. And without that, it would be easy for one week to turn into a month or more.”
When asked if he had considered stopping the blog— or quitting playing Animal Crossing in general, Jeff remained confident that he could carry on. “There have been times when I was doing too much and needed to scale back,” he said. “My New Leaf blog was updated daily at first, but after a while, as you’ve seen more and more of the game, it’s harder to find interesting things to write about. Most of my blogs are just weekly updates now, but I’m sure I’ll be back to daily updates when Animal Crossing for Switch comes out.”
With Animal Crossing set to debut on Switch this year, Jeff has a few thoughts about what he’d like to see. “I’d also like to see automatic bell stacking, I’d like to see grass wear eliminated or at least made optional, and I’d love to see a path-making tool,” he said. “New Leaf was a step in the right direction but I’d like to see things go further. One suggestion I had is to have a fossil-identifying class (or part-time job) that would let you eventually learn to identify fossils on your own, instead of having to take them all to Blathers. A separate tool menu would also be great. As for more adventurous changes, I’d like to be able to roam town in full 3D.”
With E3 2019 right around the corner, the full unveiling of Animal Crossing on Switch is likely just a few days away. Jeff, as you might imagine, is excited for the future. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing Animal Crossing completely,” he said. “I think I’ll be a fan for life.”
But sometimes, things do come to an end. “I think my most cherished moments have been in online play in City Folk,” the Wii game, Jeff said. “I had so many good times and late nights spent playing until the wee hours of the morning. If I had to pick a single moment, I might go with the final night before Nintendo pulled the plug on online play. I had some friends over for one last hurrah in my town. We tried to do lots of the things that we had done many times in the past (play museum tag, sumo, word games, taking a tour of town) and at the end, we said goodbye at the town fountain as I closed the gate for the last time.”
Michael Koczwara is a freelance writer who fears for the impending time sink of Animal Crossing on Switch. He can be found on Twitter @SuperZambezi.