10 Years on Animal Jam - Pumaa's AJ Story

On this day 10 years ago, November 29, 2010, I created my first Animal Jam account. I was 11 years old, and joining Animal Jam marked a turning point for me. This game became the center of my life for the next four years. I was a well known player during that time, and I left a lasting mark on the game and its community, even if only a few will remember. The experiences I had and people I met formed who I am today. My goal in this post is to tell my story in this game, from beginning to end. As one of the last OG players still hanging around, I have memories of the early days that hardly anyone else has. By writing them down now, I aim to preserve the history of this game for anyone willing to read it, whether they're an old player or new. This is my tribute to Animal Jam and the blogging community.

-My First Days-

Like most early AJ players, I heard of the game through monthly advertisements in the National Geographic Kids magazine. Animal Jam Beta was released in July 2010, with the official game coming out on September 9, 2010. I knew of the game during that time, but it wasn't until November that I decided to try it out. My first moments in the game were amazing. This was in the early days of online multiplayer games, and the idea of having players from all over the world in one room was incredible to me.

The world of Jamaa immediately pulled me in. Back then, there was a strong atmosphere of mystery everywhere you went. In one of my first experiences, I met a Guide (a member of AJHQ) in Sarepia Forest by the campfire. I have vivid memories of how amazed I was when we got the spirit of Mira to erupt out of the fire. The lore of the Phantoms and Shamans fascinated me, as did the old beta items for sale in Jam Mart Clothing and Furniture, at the time the only shops in the game. AJ was practically empty, since hardly anyone knew it existed. There were about five servers in total, and none of them were ever full.

My first username was Geckoguy, and this was the name I went by until 2013. I chose this name because, at the time, I was in love with leopard geckos and wanted one as a pet. I was surprised to find AJHQ was also obsessed with geckos. The first two items I bought were the Gecko Plushie and the Gecko Banner, and I still have that banner hanging in my den to this day! The "gecko song" in Sarepia Theater was also released at this time, and it brings me instant nostalgia any time I hear it. 

I made my first online friend during this time, a girl named Budgie. This was the year I began homeschool, a change that meant I wouldn't have any real life friends for a long time. Animal Jam came into my life at the same time homeschooling did, and the friends I made on AJ became extremely important to me. I don't remember much about Budgie, but I know she was my only friend for a while.

-Early AJ Blogging-

Some of you may know that this blog, Animal Jam Community, was the second Animal Jam blog ever made. It was founded by my friend TheSlidoo on September 3, 2010, during Beta Testing. What is less known is that TheSlidoo's sister, FuzzyShyIvy, created the first AJ blog ever. Her blog, Animal Jam Rush, was created on August 9, 2010. It was Fuzzy who introduced me to the blogging world. I stumbled on her blog in early 2011 and I was immediately obsessed. I knew nothing about web design and I assumed she must be an adult. AJR was extremely well known in the tiny playerbase, and Fuzzy was like a mini celebrity. I remember seeing impostors dressed up as her iconic rabbit.

It is a shame that FuzzyShyIvy is not given the credit she deserves. Together with Slidoo, she brought the idea of blogging to Animal Jam. The two of them had come over from a larger group, the Club Penguin blogging community. Slidoo was a successful CP blogger, mainly known as an author for Monchocho and RiffyCP. Club Penguin had reached it's peak around this time, and the two siblings decided to start blogs for Animal Jam, a brand new game still in development, that they had found through the NG Kids magazine. Everything we take for granted as standards for an AJ blog began with them, even the idea of using Blogger to host your site. Their influence was massive but they didn't stick around for long. By March 2011, both Fuzzy and Slidoo had disappeared. Here's what AJR looked like after Fuzzy left:

Even though they were gone, the idea of AJ blogs was spreading. Dozens of blogs began popping up imitating these two. During this time, I was experimenting with making my own blog called "Animal Jam Explorers". One blog quickly emerged as the new front runner: Lovelost's Animal Jam Flash. Lovelost's blog was most famous for the scavenger hunt games she posted. She would publish a series of small, cropped screenshots, and whoever could find the location of all of them in Jamaa would win a huge prize. I remember swarms of Jammers searching all over the game when she posted. AJ Flash continued to dominate the blogging world throughout 2011 and into 2012.

-2011 on Animal Jam-

Most Jammers nowadays would say the heyday of Animal Jam was between 2014 and 2016. As an older player, I believe 2011 was the single best year on the game. That's mostly because the trading system was released on March 31, 2011. Before that, the only way to trade was through Jam-A-Grams. Jammers would agree on a trade and then mail the items to each other, since nonmembers could also open gifts at the time. Obviously, this resulted in a TON of scamming. It was so common that you really only could trade with close friends. The trading system changed all of that. Suddenly, you could safely trade without worrying about being scammed. The concept of "rare items" quickly expanded. Since this was still the first year of Animal Jam, no items had ever been re-released. This meant holiday items from Freedom Day and Phantom Day were now super rare.

The single most desired item was the Glove. Everyone was absolutely crazy about them. Certain colors were extremely rare, and the entire trading system was based on the value of the Glove, similarly to the way Spiked Collars are today. Most of the value system is forgotten today, but I remember that a Giant Phantom was worth about the same as a gray Glove. The colored variants of the Phantom Day masks were extremely rare.

In particular, the Demon Mask was one of the rarest items in the game. One of my favorite stories is how I ended up owning one. I was pretty rare at this point, but Demon Masks were so rare that I had never heard of them. When I came across a new-looking player with one on their trade list, I assumed it was a super rare item. I figured I might as well offer a gray Glove for it, assuming they would turn me down. To my surprise, they accepted, and then they immediately left the room. At this point I was panicking, because they accepted so quickly. I thought it must have been a new item for sale that I just hadn't noticed!

I went to a large trading party with it on my list to ask some of the more knowledgeable players how much it was worth. As soon as I entered, I was getting crazy offers with combinations colored Gloves, Wizard Hats, Witch Hats, and more. It turned out I had stumbled on a super rare item! People were telling me not to rush into trading it, since there were only two known to exist in the game. I eventually settled on a deal of three very rare Phantom Day items and a green Glove (the rarest type).

Our trading community came crashing down toward the end of the year. There were rumors that AJHQ might re-release the rare items from 2010 as the holidays came around again. As Phantom Day drew near, everyone began to panic. Most of the rare items on the market were from Phantom Day, and now everyone thought those would be sold again come October. Suddenly their value became near worthless as everyone tried to trade them off for gloves. Unfortunately, I was unable to trade my Phantom Day items by the time October came. It was practically devastating. All my hundreds of hours of trading over the year went down the drain. I had lost most of my rare items overnight. I still regard that as a terrible decision from AJHQ. It began the trend of re-releasing items as soon as they became "too popular". This game could have been the perfect online collector's game, but AJHQ continually let us down. To this day I still have some of the Phantom Day items from this time. I can't bear to let them go, they still feel like rares to me.

Despite the disappointment, I still have some great memories from this time. I met some awesome people in the trading community including abercrombieprincess, snowygem101, evilmastersam, cowsandlightbulbs, naf, ferncat, awoooo3, coolspeed10, sillybandzrule, and many more. If you're curious, here's a 2011 list of the rarest Jammers compiled by cowsandlightbulbs. I'm not on there but I was probably pretty close!

-2012 and My Entrance Into Blogging-

My morale was crushed after the re-release of my rare items, and I never quite got back my rare status. I never really cared about trading after 2011. Instead, I was thrown into the blogging world. I had been working on a blog for the last year but it never took off. My life changed when I decided to visit Animal Jam Community again for old time's sake, even though it had been abandoned for a year. It was around New Year's Day 2012 when I saw TheSlidoo's new post: Authors Needed! I was shocked. I regarded Slidoo and FuzzyShyIvy as the legends of AJ blogging, but they were in the past. I never thought they would come back. And yet, here was Slidoo, looking for authors! I decided then, I was going to be an author, no matter what. It was all I wanted.

I sent in my application and anxiously waited for the results. I had gone all out, describing in my app how much I loved AJC and AJ Rush over the past year, and how it was my dream to be a part of it. Meanwhile, Slidoo had updated the blog with a new design. I was fascinated, it looked so good. I had struggled to build a website for so long, and here was Slidoo creating this custom theme so effortlessly. A few days passed, and then the decision day came.

I was practically shaking when I saw the Authors Announced post, and my name was at the top! Out of 50 applications, Slidoo had picked me as well as his friend Swurve to be the authors. He laid out a plan to resume blogging, and we were going to take 2012 by storm. Some of my favorite memories are from these days, everything seemed magical and the possibilities were endless. Animal Jam Flash was slowing down, and it felt like we were going to be the new biggest blog. Here's the funny banner Slidoo had up to celebrate reopening:

Meanwhile, FuzzyShyIvy had reopened Animal Jam Flash! It was thrilling to see someone I had looked up to so much come back, and this time around I was one of her peers, being an author for her brother. Our two blogs had a bit of competition, since we started posting again at the same time. AJR still had more views but we were catching up.

I was still very young and immature, so my early posts were definitely not great. But Slidoo saw potential in me and I was improving quickly. 2012 was a period of rapid growth for us, and soon we were getting more than 1000 views every day. Animal Jam was still small enough that this was a huge number. All of a sudden I was getting recognized by random Jammers as one of the biggest bloggers!

Unfortunately, we were not a committed enough group for this to last. Slidoo was on Animal Jam less and less often, and the various other authors came and went without posting consistently. I tried to keep things updated, but without a leader I lost motivation. Animal Jam Rush was drying up at the same time. It felt like our group was dying. By the end of 2012, Animal Jam Community had been yet again abandoned.

-The Shamans/Alphas Incident-

This is a story that probably deserves it's own blog post, but I'll give an overview here. There are some things I did during this time that I'm really not proud of. I was young and sometimes very brash (ask any of my old friends lol). Being raised in a conservative Christian household, I had a very specific view of the world, which lead me to make a blog post that changed not only my Animal Jam career but Animal Jam itself.

Some of you may know that Alphas were formerly named Shamans, and that this was changed in 2012. What very few people know is that I am responsible for this change. In mid 2012, I posted on my blog Animal Jam Explorers about how the term "Shaman" is actually a religious word and AJHQ should stop using it if they want to be welcoming to people from all religions. My post quickly blew up and had over a hundred comments from people arguing one way or another.

Within a week or two, AJHQ started changing the word Shaman to Alpha all over their website. My friend Sheesh4 was the first to break the news on her blog Animal Jam Insiders. This change caused a huge backlash and my post received even more comments from people claiming that I was ruining Animal Jam's lore.

This all happened around the same time that an up-and-coming AJ blog, Snowyclaw's Animal Jam Spirit, was starting something called the "Jamaasian Movement". This was based on the idea that Jamaa was losing its lore and mystery, and AJHQ needed to stop changing things so much. My post and the change it caused made me enemy number one for a lot of Snowyclaw's fans. You can see Snowy's post here, I'm mentioned a couple times in the comments as "Gecko". Snowy's fans spread a lot of negativity, and that was the beginning of a resentment I had against Snowyclaw that took a long time to go away.

The fighting was unfortunate because in reality I supported most of the Jamaasian Movement's goals. I also missed the lore of the old days, it was really just the name that bothered me. While I regret making such a big deal about it, I actually am proud that I helped revitalize Animal Jam's lore. You have to understand, the main reason AJHQ had been shying away from mentioning the Shamans was because of the religious connotation. As soon as the name Alpha was used, we saw the return of lore as the heart of Jamaa. This is commonly credited to the Jamaasian Movement, and rightfully so, but I think my posts had a hand in it as well.

-2013 and Jammer Central-

With AJC essentially dead, I decided to focus on my own blog. Being an author was exciting but I wanted more; I wanted to learn how to design a website, and have complete control over a blog. My name had been tainted by the Shamans ordeal, and I decided I wanted a fresh start. I changed my username to BlueGecko, and I changed the name of my blog to Jammer Central

In addition, I was quickly becoming very good at editing CSS. During my time at AJC, Slidoo had explained to me how he made his blog look so cool. It turned out he had self-taught himself basic coding in order to customize his blog and make it look more like an official Animal Jam site. I worked hard to learn CSS, reading tutorials and studying the source code on AJC to see what Slidoo had changed. In addition, I learned how to use Paint.Net to create graphics. Pretty soon I knew as much as Slidoo, and I had a fully customized blog. This was the old custom header I made for my blog:

While I loved being a blog administrator, posting never came easy to me. I was frustrated with what AJ blogging had become. In the past, new items came with the updates every Friday. Now, new items were being released every day. The new trend was for blogs to post the new item every morning around 4 am. Animal Jam Spirit was the blog to popularize this, and they were quickly becoming the most popular AJ blog ever. 

As a small blogger now, I had to find a niche. I decided to post the new items as well as a side topic on each blog post. These side topics ranged from photos of AJ ads from old NG Kids magazines to small stories about the old days on Animal Jam. It sounded like a good idea but I struggled with motivation. Going from a "mainstream" blog like AJC to my own small blog was frustrating. Posts like this one show the frustration I was going through.

I did, however, make some really great friends during this time with other smaller bloggers. Kinyonga, Sheesh4, and Misterchunkybuddy stuck with me for years and I miss those guys. In particular, Kinyonga and I shared a passion for photography. I had been an amateur photographer for a while at that point, and Kinyonga was just starting out. I was able to give her some tips, which is ironic in retrospect. Today, Kinyonga is an incredible photographer, meanwhile I dropped the hobby long ago. We kept up with each other on email up until a few years ago when I moved to a new state (sorry Kiny...).

In May 2013 I created a new account, Pumaa. This is the name I would go on to be best known as, but there are still some people around who remember me as "geckoguy". As a side note, my original account is still renamed BlueGecko. At the time you were only allowed one name change, so I created a whole new account for Pumaa.

As the year progressed I became more frustrated with Jammer Central. Although it had over 100,000 views, it just couldn't compete with the over 2,000,000 views Animal Jam Spirit had. I started to really regret letting AJC die.

-Animal Jam Community's peak, 2013-2015-

In summer 2013, Slidoo and I reconnected. We both wanted to revive Animal Jam Community, but we had entirely different ideas on how to do it. Slidoo wanted to create a forum that would replace the blog, while I still believed in the old blogging formula. I thought we just needed to hire a committed group and we'd have a real shot at becoming the biggest blog. We tried out the forum idea, which still exists but it was quickly abandoned.

By September, we had come to the agreement that it was time to reopen the blog. Slidoo made me the new head author, and we set out to hire extra authors to make sure the posts never dried up. With a gung-ho mentality, we set out to revive this community. This time around, I actually managed to stay committed. I posted every morning, and my writing skills were worlds better now that I had a couple years of experience. Slidoo was still very busy so I decided to try my hand at designing a new theme. I put my all into it, incorporating skills I had learned from Jammer Central as well as some of Slidoo's old ideas for AJC. The end result was a version of the design we still have today, it has lasted all these years! Here's what the website looked like during the Jamaalidays 2013:

Slidoo was impressed with my CSS and graphics skills, and so he made me an admin and Co-Owner of the blog! I felt like my dreams we coming to fruition. I was now in charge of a major Animal Jam blog. 2014 would be the year that AJC really took off.

At this point, AJ YouTubers were starting to compete with blogs for popularity. Julian2 was the most well known Jammer in the game. I knew that YouTube was going to replace blogs at some point, and so I made plans to focus on making a YouTube channel. I was also becoming best friends with an aspiring YouTuber, BubbleGumBee. Our senses of humor were a great match and some of my favorite Animal Jam memories are from hanging out with her. She became arguably the best video editor in the AJ community and she even taught me how to edit using Sony Vegas Pro. It is one of my biggest regrets that I never really got my channel started. My priority was on the blog, and I just didn't push myself to go out of my comfort zone with video creation. Sadly, I lost contact with BubbleGumBee in 2015 and I haven't been able to find her since. Online friendships can be a great thing for a while, but they hardly ever last.

2014 came with explosive growth for Animal Jam Community. We went from 5000 views per month in 2013 to a peak of over 100,000 views per month! We were consistently either the second or third most viewed AJ blog. I put my heart into AJC and worked on it every day. One of my most successful ideas was the comment contest: every month, I'd have a contest for whoever could post the most comments. The winner would get a pile of rares. The extra interaction helped the blog show up in searches, and before I new it we surpassed 1,000,000 views! We also added a new author, Arcticstar, who turned out to be an incredible addition to the team. She was one of the only authors we ever had who posted regularly and long term. 

With a solid author team in place, by late 2014 I began to step away from the blog. In retrospect it seems crazy, I was finally running a hugely popular blog, which had been my dream for years. Unfortunately, that success just came too late for me. I had been growing out of Animal Jam for a long time, and I was starting to lose interest in posting about it. Slidoo and most of my other OG friends were pretty much gone by this point, and I began to feel like a fish out of water. I was a relic of an older period of AJ. I struggled to keep up with the changes on Animal Jam, and the truth is I just didn't care anymore. Everything new in the game seemed boring to me. By 2015, I had quit Animal Jam for good.

The last change I made before checking out was to make Arcticstar an administrator. I told her she was free to add authors and keep the blog updated however she thinks is best. I completely expected the blog to die quickly.

-The After Years-

It was four years later, in 2019, when I finally worked up the courage to visit AJC again. I was shocked to find that Arcticstar and her author team had kept the blog alive all these years! Arctic, if you ever see this, I am so thankful for all the time you put into this site after I abandoned it. When I came back, I made a couple posts (here and here) where I said I'd like to fix up the blog and give it some closure. The quality of posts had gone sharply downhill with some of the newer authors, and I just wanted this special place to remain intact for us to come back to and reminisce. I suggested I'd delete the worse-quality posts, which caused a bit of controversy. I still haven't gotten around to it. My interference apparently caused the posting to finally dry up with the last authors quitting. I feel a little guilty, but at the same time all good things come to an end.

Around that time, Slidoo also made a surprise reappearance, something that I still can hardly believe happened. He didn't stick around to reply to my comments, but that's Slidoo for you! (If you ever see this post, leave a comment with your email so we can talk!)

There are still a bunch of old friends I'd love to reconnect with. I've been trying to get a hold of BubbleGumBee but she is as elusive as ever (she posted this lovely parody of David Blaine, though). And the rest of you, comment below if you want to catch up. :)

In the end, my time on Animal Jam and this blog was imperfect. I still kind of regret spending so much of my life here. I'm sure my brain would be healthier if I spent that time outside making friends in person, but I am who I am today because of this unusual background. All the drama and competition and challenges, plus the friendships, run through my mind pretty regularly. Some days I feel like this all was a fantasy world I lived in as a child and now, as an adult, I have to adjust to the real world.

There are a few moments in your life that are turning points that change you forever. Ten years ago, joining Animal Jam was one of them. Now, as a 21 year old adult, I'm about to go through another. At the end of this year, I'm leaving home to go chase my dreams in a new city. Almost everything in my life is about to change. At some point, I will hopefully have enough new friends and experiences that this online world will seem insignificant. As an old man, I might hardly remember it. Maybe I'll never talk to my old friends again. If that happens, I hope this post gives closure to anyone who might remember me or my work. Or, maybe, some of us will find each other in the real word someday. Either way, this is the end of an era for me. Thanks you to the Community for all the memories.

~Pumaa, aka geckoguy~

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