Clearing my ex’s Animal Crossing Island data shut me down

Tom Nook smiles warmly in a dark room with a single spotlight shining above his head.  His text reads:

Who would have thought Tom Nook would be a great therapist. Screenshot: Nintendo / Kotaku

It has been a year and five months since I last started Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I know this because a shocked villager told the story of the days I walked towards them with my tousled hair. My home away from home was exactly as I had left it. Except for a few pesky weeds, a bursting mailbox, and cockroaches buzzing around my house and near my ex’s house.

Animal Crossing provided socialization without socializing for everyone, including me, during the pandemic. I was able to attend virtual concerts, plan game dates with friends and grow closer with my partner at the time through virtual dates during the lockdown. I’m not going to bother you with the details of the breakup – just know it was tough.

Continue reading: Animal Crossing’s Happy Home Paradise DLC is not only worth buying, it’s a must-have!

I stopped playing the game, partly because I no longer had fun playing the loop that the game once offered me, but also because after my breakup it became a painful reminder of all the good times, that we spent together.

But while I’ve moved on in real life since then, Animal Crossing remains the last holdover of our relationship. With the latest DLC and free content from Animal Crossing, I was dying to get back into the game. But I also saw it as an opportunity to finally allow myself to move on virtually and reach new horizons, both in game and in real life.

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A bare Animal Crossing room has only a single bed, two seahorses in containers, and a roaming cockroach.

Separation is difficult.Screenshot: Nintendo / Kotaku

Unfortunately, after the breakup, I removed her account from my Nintendo Switch and didn’t know how to delete her house without deleting my entire island in the process. Looking for a solution to my first world problem, always reliable GameFAQs provided the right steps to get a virtual degree and draw the final curtain on my gamer pain.

Before starting the deletion process, I made one final trip to their abandoned home. Apparently they intended to bring their favorite pieces from my island to theirs, because all that remained of the one-room house were two seahorses, a spindle and a single cockroach.

When I restarted the game to begin deleting, I saw my ex’s face, not my character. The surprise was surreal, and I flooded myself with the same urge to look away as if our paths were changing would cross. Fortunately, unlike in real life, I was able to erase your data quickly.

I was greeted under a single spotlight by Tom Nook as he led me through the process. Despite the game’s openness about the severity of wiping a resident’s island data, the fireside chat with Nook was final when I wiped my ex’s save data. In an almost ridiculous directness, Nook told me that this decision was one for an adult, not a child. If they erased their data, my original islanders, who were once mad about our relationship, would no longer remember them.

After my breakup, I got comments on two fronts: from islanders in the game and family members who miss my ex and ask about them. So it was something of a newfound feeling of control, not just being able to say it was over, but even being able to erase the memories of them. But I committed to the decision and with a simple push of a button it was done. Nook gave me a smile and for some reason I was happy that the tanuki seemed to confirm my decision.

In the moonlight, a white tiger approaches an Animal Crossing character on the island's shore to ask him a question.

It didn’t help that my ex and I were pretty sure Bianca was trying to become our third. Screenshot: Nintendo / Kotaku

Like a Thanos snapshot, their house vanished, only their flowers, gate, and Easter decorations that they said they enjoyed unironically staying as the final piece of evidence that they were ever here.

Graduating my ex through Animal Crossing was a surreal experience. I used Animal Crossing to get closer to someone, which was reflected in real life. Hell, the 400+ screenshots felt like I was browsing a scrapbook of memories that I shared with my ex that I now have to dig through too. But I was able to remember how nice it is to share time with someone. Without the game, I would never have seen a side of them that was fully realized only in the way they designed their house, as they saw value in items that I would throw away and would think of it to me Sending items that made them think of me.

I’m not saying this experience makes me separate the time they share with a significant other from video games, rather the opposite. Somehow the blunt language used in games was therapeutic. The language around deleting your saved file became a means for me to find my way around and symbolically get 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 erase her memory from my island doesn’t erase the way the game brought us closer during the lockdown. I cannot overwrite this saved data in my mind palace. There was something nice about my island being an extension of myself and how I liked to shape my world together with my ex, either in resemblance or as a contrast. But now it was time to focus on remodeling my own island without it.

Of course, in true Animal Crossing fashion, the game quickly drew my attention to a visitor who might be curious to move in. Their passion for poetry and games hit a little too close to my home, so I had to let them off the curb. It’s too early, Isabelle. Can’t you see that I’m still grieving Don’t get me infected with such things while I have a moment.

When I went back to confirm that the house had really disappeared, I saw that the custom design of a rose, her favorite flower, had remained on the grass in front of her house. I think I’ll leave it at that.

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