One of the heroes in Paul Hubans' life is his 88-year-old grandmother, Audrey Buchanan, who helped raise him while his single mother attended college and went to work during his childhood.
Hubans, who works as an independent video game developer, says he's been a "gamer" ever since he can remember. The 33-year-old recalls asking his grandmother for help solving puzzles on his Nintendo Entertainment System when he was a young child still learning to read.
"A lot of people in my family have been subjected to video games," Hubans, who now works on art and level design for video games as a career, told TODAY Parents. "And I think my Gran is a pretty good example of that."
Hubans has fond memories of playing "Tetris" on his Nintendo Game Boy with Buchanan and remembers getting excited as a teenager in the '90s about playing "Pokemon Red and Blue," the first installments in the Pokemon video game series, by her side when his high school classmates wouldn't get on board with the new game.
But it was the 2012 Nintendo game "Animal Crossing: New Leaf," played on the 3DS console, that captured his grandmother's heart.
"At first, she was kind of like, 'What's this?'" Hubans recalled of the day in 2014 when he bought the new game for Buchanan. "She's very resistant to new things when I pitch them to her ... but she quickly fell in love with what's still her favorite game."
In 2018, Buchanan dropped her 3DS and broke it. Because Nintendo had started phasing the handheld system out, Hubans took to Reddit seeking a replacement he could purchase used. A Reddit user in Germany offered to sell Hubans a 3DS and when it arrived, Hubans sat down to move his grandma's data from the broken console to its replacement.
He was shocked at what he found.
"When I was doing the system transfer, I noticed her activity log said she had logged like 3,500 hours playing 'Animal Crossing,'" said Hubans, who shares videos about gaming on his YouTube channel.
In the "Animal Crossing" game series, which consists of five games released over nearly 20 years, players are human characters who live in a village with anthropomorphic animals, and achieve status in the game by building and developing a town over time while completing various daily tasks like picking fruit, pulling weeds and fishing.
In nearly 4,000 hours of game play, Buchanan's town was incredibly intricate and developed, and Hubans wanted to show it off to his followers.
So Hubans filmed a 30-minute YouTube video, sitting down with his grandma and asking her to walk him through her "Animal Crossing: New Leaf" town. In the video, which has been viewed by more than 11 million people, Buchanan shows structures she's created in her town, introduces viewers to the various animal characters she's encountered in the game and gives her grandson the lay of the land in her town, named "Adams," where her character's name is "Mayor Audie."
After posting the video, Hubans says his grandma developed a huge fan base. So, when Nintendo announced its newest version of the game, 2020's "Animal Crossing: New Horizons," and a special "Animal Crossing" version of the Nintendo Switch console, Hubans wasn't surprised that his followers wanted to make sure his grandma got her hands on them.
"So many people contacted me saying they wanted to send Gran one as a gift," Hubans said. "I felt like people really wanted to be a part of it. I was planning to buy it for her anyway, but I wanted to oblige people's generosity so I set up a GoFundMe to get it for her."
Hubans immediately put $50 into his GoFundMe and was shocked at how quickly the fundraiser reached $500 in contributions. The money raised left Hubans with enough to buy Buchanan the new game, the "Animal Crossing" branded Switch and some accessories like a keychain with her favorite character from the game, a squirrel named Filbert.
"It was meant to be a surprise, but Gran actually reads all the comments on my YouTube videos so she saw where I said we got her the Switch and I was going to surprise her and make a video," Hubans said.
Even though his surprise was spoiled, Hubans, who recently relocated from California to western Pennsylvania to live closer to his grandmother, filmed himself gifting Buchanan with the goodies.
The video, which shows Buchanan receiving her new Switch and trying out "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" for the first time, was posted at the beginning of April and already has close to 3 million views.
Hubans said there's a belief in the community of "Animal Crossing" fans online that Nintendo even named a character in the new game after his grandmother.
"There's an Audie character in the new game," Hubans explained. "That's her nickname and it's not a very common name. It was also the name of her mayor character in 'New Leaf.'"
"It's a wolf character," Hubans continued. "A lot of people are strongly speculating that it's a hat tip to her — sort of an homage to my grandma."
TODAY reached out to Nintendo to confirm whether or not the game's "Audie" character is named after Buchanan, but the company was unwilling to comment.
So what does Buchanan love about "Animal Crossing"?
"It's more like a dollhouse than it is a game," Buchanan told TODAY Parents. "I never had a dollhouse when I was a kid, so I guess that's why I like it."
Buchanan said she likes Nintendo's new version of her beloved game, but she still plans to play with both.
"I don't want to give up on my other one because I have it so far along," she said. "But I like the new one. I didn't think I would, but I do."
The almost-89-year-old said she's shocked at her viral fame and the way her grandson's YouTube subscribers have embraced her.
"I can't believe it," she said. "We live back in the country. It's 18 miles to a grocery store. I just can't believe people are that interested in me."
Hubans said his grandma is a special woman, and it's no surprise to him that the world loves her.
"I feel so blessed and fortunate to have someone like her in my life," he said. "She's always been a phenomenal person in my life in general ... the fact that she plays video games with me is just a bonus."