When Games Make Breakups Even More Difficult

Having an ex in the age of Facebook is no easy thing. Between social networks and texting, it's difficult to feel as if you can completely cut ties with someone. Do you keep them as a friend? And if you do, how much do you allow yourself to read about their life without you? Do you take down pictures of your time together, or untag them? Do you delete them off your phone? There's no end to the considerations you have to take about your digital relationship with someone, and no well-defined etiquette about how to handle break-ups and exes when it comes to using technology.

Maureen O' Connor from New York Magazine describes the complicated matrix many of us have to navigate when it comes to exes thanks to social media well:

There’s the ex who “likes” everything you post. The ex who appears in automated birthday reminders. The ex who appears in your OkCupid matches. The ex whose musical taste you heed on Spotify. The ex whose new girlfriend sent a friend request. The ex you follow so you know how to win him back. The ex you follow so you know how to avoid her in person. The ex you watched deteriorate after the breakup. (Are you guilty or proud?) The ex who finally took your advice, after the breakup. (Are you frustrated or proud?) The ex whose new partner is exactly like you. (Are you flattered or creeped out?) The ex whose name appears as an autocorrection in your phone. (Are you sure you don’t talk about him incessantly? Word recognition suggests otherwise.) The ex whose new partner blogs about their sex life. The ex who still has your naked pictures. The ex who untagged every picture from your relationship. The ex you suspect is reading your e-mail. The ex you watch lead the life you’d dreamed of having together, but seeing it now, you’re so glad you didn’t.

What I don't see talked about very often are the sorts of difficulties or situations you might experience in a break-up as a gamer. It's not that break-ups are particularly difficult as a gamer, simply that, like social media, there are a number of curious things that you have to deal with if you play games. Stuff that's difficult to navigate and has no clear-cut answer. Stuff that's just as messed-up as drunk-texting someone you can't let go of.

A number of memories come to mind. There's a friend who refused to delete the alternate profile of his ex's avatar on his own Xbox, always seemingly pausing at the select screen — letting the character model wave and smile at him before snapping himself out of it and picking his own profile. I don't know if he ever got rid of it, even though I don't think that ex ever used his Xbox again. It reminds me a little of a different friend kept an ex's profile on Super Smash Bros, but he wouldn't let anyone else use it. Both of these dabble with the question of what to do with stuff that used to belong to a significant other: get rid of it or keep it? And what does it mean when you choose either of those options?

There's the friend who shared their Animal Crossing town with a girlfriend. When they broke up, the friend was more than overjoyed to boot up Animal Crossing and delete that character's house. No remorse; gone, gone.

Sometimes, you have to deal with the weirdness of no longer having a de-facto player two/co-op buddy that you go out in adventures with. Do you keep playing an in-progress game or is that too much? I have a couple of franchises that it feels like I can't return to because they're too entangled with the memory of someone I'd rather not think about.

There was one break-up I had where, gaming-wise at least, it felt like liberation: the ex hated the sound of shooting guns, especially those that were in games of that depicted modern warfare. He also didn't like the inevitable trash talk during my play time. But then, suddenly, I was free to play my favourite games without feeling guilty about it, although it feels like the judgement I underwent during that time haunts me still.

There are other instances where I've picked up an in-progress save that belonged to an ex on a shared device — which was weird because I'd gotten rid of all the stuff that reminded me of them, but there I was, basically wearing their digital skin. Like a fucked-up attempt at trying to understand someone or piece them back together by "becoming" them digitally. Technology lets you do strange things, man.

Then there's the friend who seemed to keep creating characters that looked like his ex over and over, across a number of different games. On the same level as only dating people who look like your ex, or just a quirk? I've definitely named protagonists or characters in my games off exes before, at least.

And I can't forget about Catherine, which asked me to confront the issue of infidelity to such an extent that I felt like I was obligated to talk about it with an ex I'd wronged.

I bet many of you have stories here — save files, characters or games that belong to or represent an ex. Bits of information stored somewhere that posed a strange problem for you after a break up, or affected you in some way, relationship-wise. Feel free to share your own stories if you have any: it's always good to know that you're not alone in the things you experience.

The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games.


    Thought provoking article. There was a point about 18 months into my relationship (I'm engaged now) where I was considering if my partner was the girl for me. I was happy in the relationship, but I was offered a job overseas. She wasn't in a position to follow. One of the key factors that swung it in her favor was the thought "if we were to break up, who would I play Donkey Kong Returns with"?

      Dude, that is awesome. If you've found someone that will play that with you, she's a keeper!

    The secret to long lasting relationships is to not add your partner on Facebook. Problem solved. ;)

    I was free to play my favourite games without feeling guilty about it.

    I like this.

      Or... Not have Facebook at all.

        I chose that option.

        I only signed up to Facebook in the first place because the girl I was with wanted me to get involved on there. Not sure why. Keeping tabs on me like some kind of e-collar.

        Either way, when things soured and we went our separate ways, I was still privy to all the sickeningly sweet stuff with her new girlfriend. Instead of unfriending, I took stock of the whole damned mess of baby pictures, pictures of food, 3am cries for help, invites to games, mafia/werewolves/farms, requests to support 'causes' which have 50,000 'supporters' and raised $15, quizzes to find out what fucking muppet baby I am, and 'pokes' and all that assorted nonsense from people I barely knew, let alone cared about... All those weirdos who go, "Shit, that chick I'm friend-zoned with is friends with some new guy! I have to face-stalk them obsessively to make sure they're not a threat!" and invites from people I've spoken to ONCE over the phone at work...

        I wrote Facebook off entirely and am MUCH better off for it.

        Good point! I think I have an account, with a single friend! And I used it all of zero times so far.

    I've always (until my current partner) steered clear of women who play video games, i prefer a partner that makes me do something outside of my own hobby so that the relationship is kept interesting.

    but my theory would be to delete everything associated with them if you were wronged, if its an amicable thing... and you remained friends.... then maybe not... but you would have to get rid of the data before you're new partner found out.

    personally when im wronged I burn everything, its amazing how relieving it is to watch everything burn, cloths, photo's, jewellery, letters, presents.
    Mind you its very fitting as for most of my relationships I’ve been the one "burnt", i don’t hold grudges or keep in touch after they go south, burn everything, get wasted and move on.

    life’s to short to hold grudges or cry over what could have been, usually its best to trade up anyway :D

      Very similar to what I do. Although I had this one relationship almost two years ago where she pranked me and filled my wardrobe with home-made confetti of her favourite colour. It was fun at the time, but finding the confetti a year and a half after the breakup and 5 or 6 moves was getting to be a bit much. So I cleaned house, collected it all and burned it away.

      As creepy as it sounds, fire cleansing rituals go waaayy back. We might not be invoking deities anymore, but fire still burns.


    Not a big deal, delete all content and remove them from contacts.

    Mmmm, thought provoking article from a writer that rivals Orson Welles.

    Deleting my ex from Animal Crossing was a pain I was avoiding for ages purely because her character had become a mule character; dumping everything she had in her storage out on the floor took ages, and the guilt the game put on me for deleting a character didnt help, but once gone: :D

    As awkward as this is, a specific example in the article reminded me. How do you delete the damn Xbox user profiles again? I can't for the life of me remember and this is the third time this has happened!

    Thankfully this time the erstwhile inamorata chose an avatar that was the exact opposite of her. So yeah. Doing it wrong can be a blessing in disguise.

      It's under Settings > Xbox > Storage medium... or something like that.

    "I have a couple of franchises that it feels like I can’t return to because they’re too entangled with the memory of someone I’d rather not think about."

    Cyberspace is now a 'place' as much as any other place I can't go to without thinking about the things I got up to with certain people there. Certain movie theatres, the lookout point on top of Mt. Cootha, that restaurant, that bar, that college, that particular spot at the mall, where she turned and had that smile... That corner where the same girl wouldn't look up because it'd mean acknowledging that I was there, and this town is way too small to never speak to someone again.

    Video games have that now. MUSHing holds certain cherished memories for me that I'll never go linger in again. I can't quest in Westfall without thinking about that crazy chick I met up with who quested there with me then confessed True Love, which resulted in a disaster of epic proportions. (Complete with accidentally-erased 000 police calls, resultant federal police investigation, and a faked Interpol investigation, alongside genuine fears of assassination and arguments with fake diplomats. I'm never dating 'crazy' again.)

    Virtual space is just as real in our heads as real space, when it comes to how it's stored in memories, I suspect. This is probably the reason WoW still has millions upon millions of subscribers - it's basically 'home'. The place which is always there for you and never really changes, and all your stuff from ten years ago is still stowed in the wardrobes/bank.

    IMHO the problem here is that alot of people use video games as a way to escape the bad parts of their life instead of an entertainment avenue. I relish breaking up with someone because it usually means I'll spent more time outside taking everything in instead of hiding indoors trying to bury my head in whatever game I'm playing at the time.

    By the time I usually come back and start playing games again (sometimes it's months, this time I think I may have kicked it altogether) what's left of the ex (in regards to save files etc) is usually not worth thinking about and/or it doesn't register anymore.

    Last edited 23/07/13 4:38 pm

    I've still got my ex's account on my xbox, but as it signs into mine automatically, I've never really thought about it until now.
    In terms of games I never play any more, it's the lego ones. She wasn't much of a gamer, but we had a lot of fun playing them together, I bought them all, and now they just sit there. I don't want to play them now she's not around. Although, that might be just because they're terribly boring single player.

    Out of the list of weird exes, I have to say the worst kind is the one that cheated on you and then felt compelled to unload her guilt on you several years later...
    Even a stalker ex cant beat that for emotional damage.

    Yea I know the feeling about games - I can never actually finish Ni-No-Kuni because it reminds me to much of my ex....Pity cause its such a great game.

    Um... part of breaking up is moving on. You can't move on if you still hold on to them, or let them affect what you do or don't play. They have an account? Delete it. They played co-op on a game, finish it or get another partner. You can't move on while still letting them linger in ways

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