It’d been a year and five months since I last booted up Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I know this because one shocked villager recounted the days when I approached them with my disheveled hair. My home away from home was exactly the way I’d left it. Aside from a couple of pesky weeds, a mailbox bursting at the seams, and cockroaches scuttering about my home and, lingering nearby, the house of my ex.
Animal Crossing provided socialisation without socialising during the pandemic for everyone, including myself. I was able to go to virtual concerts, plan play dates with friends, and grow closer with my then-partner through virtual dates while on lockdown. I won’t trouble you with the details of the breakup — just know it was rough.
I dropped playing the game, in part because I no longer felt enjoyment playing the loop that the game once provided me, but also because, in the fallout of my breakup, it became a painful reminder of all the good times we shared together.
But while I have since moved on in real life, Animal Crossing remains the last vestige of our relationship. With Animal Crossing’s newest DLC and free content, I was eager to get back into the game. but I also saw it as an opportunity to finally allow myself to move on virtually as and reach new horizons, both in-game and in real life.
Sadly, in the aftermath of the breakup, I removed their account from my Nintendo Switch and was at a loss for how to delete their house without deleting my entire island in the process. In searching for a solution for my first-world problem, the ever-reliable GameFAQs provided the proper steps to receive virtual closure and pull the final curtain on my gamer pain.
Before I began the deletion process, I made one last trip inside their abandoned home. Apparently, they had the forethought to remove their favourite items from my island to theirs because all that was left of the single-room house were two seahorses, a spindle, and a singular cockroach scuttering about.
When I rebooted the game to begin the deletion, rather than seeing my character’s face, I saw my ex’s. The surprise was surreal, and I felt awash with the same kind of desire to avert my eyes as I would if our paths crossed. Luckily, unlike in real life, I was able to quickly delete their data.
I was greeted by Tom Nook under a single spotlight as he guided me through the process. Despite the game’s candidness about the gravity of deleting a resident’s island data, there was a finality to fireside chat with Nook as I deleted my ex’s save data. In an almost laughable bluntness, Nook told me this decision was one for an adult and not a child. In deleting their data, my original islanders who once doted on our relationship would no longer remember them.
After my breakup, I got comments on two fronts: from islanders in the game and family members missing my ex and asking about them. So there was something of a newfound sense of control in being able to not only say it’s over but also to delete even the memories of the. But I committed myself to the decision, and with a simple click of a button, it was done. Nook flashed me a smile, and for some reason, I felt happy the tanuki seemed to sign off on my decision.
Like a Thanos snap, their house vanished, with only their flowers, gate, and the easter decorations they said they unironically enjoyed remaining as the last bit of evidence they were ever here.
Finding closure with my ex through Animal Crossing was a surreal experience. I used Animal Crossing to grow closer to someone, which was reflected in real life. Hell, the more than 400 screenshots felt like looking through a scrapbook of memories I shared with my ex that I now must purge through as well. But in doing so, I was able to reminisce about the beauty of sharing time with someone. If not for the game, I would never have seen a side of them only fully realised in the way they designed their house, as they saw value in items I would discard, and would think to mail me items that made them think of me.
I’m not saying this experience makes me think people should separate the time they share with a significant other and video games, rather the opposite. Somehow, the blunt language used in games was therapeutic. The language around deleting their save file became a means for me to come to terms and symbolically move on with my life and my island.
Video games like Animal Crossing came at the right time, for me and many others. The eventual need to remove my ex’s house and wipe her memory from my island doesn’t erase the way the game brought us closer during lockdown. I can’t overwrite that save data in my mind palace. There was something beautiful about having my island be an extension of myself and how I liked shaping my world alongside my ex, either in similarity or in contrast. But now, it was time to focus on reshaping my own island without them in it.
Of course, in true Animal Crossing fashion, the game was quick to alert me to a visitor who might be curious about moving in. Their passion for poetry and games hit a little too close to home, so I had to give them the curb. It’s too soon, Isabelle. Can’t you see I’m still in mourning? Don’t spring things like that on me while I’m having a moment.
When I went back to confirm the house was truly gone, I saw that the custom design of a rose, their favourite flower, remained on the grass in front of where their house once was. I think I’ll leave it there.