Every time that Carter, a longtime Animal Crossing: New Horizons player, wants to build a bridge on the island he shares with his partner, he is thwarted. The problem isn’t a lack of bells, or the restrictions of Tom Nook. Instead, Carter is running into a bureaucratic pickle: His partner is considered the island owner by the game, and she doesn’t play Animal Crossing anymore.
“She was the general visionary in the beginning,” Carter told Polygon over Twitter. Carter took care of logistics like acquiring the best villagers, turnip trading, and unlocking Nook upgrades. Carter’s partner handled aesthetics and the general layout of the island. But after that honeymoon period, she quit the game. Months later, he’s still playing, and she isn’t.
“She insists that it’s fine for me to log in on her account and make whatever changes I need to, but I’m reluctant to do it any more than absolutely necessary just because I’m a very anxious person by nature,” said Carter.
As it turns out, many New Horizons players find themselves in a similar predicament. Animal Crossing lets you share an island with a handful of people, and each one gets their own residence on the island. Except after a year of updates, some pals have abandoned their shared games — leaving some users with a save file full of reminders and obstacles created by a person who isn’t in the picture anymore.
For many players still engaged in the game, the other players moving on isn’t a problem, as long as they have permission to switch accounts to build bridges or ramps. Some people even use the added accounts to get extra recipes from Celeste, or take advantage of the extra storage room in the abandoned homes.
One New Horizons fan, Mel, told Polygon that her husband abandoned the game after a single day.
“I’ve been pretty annoyed by his tent on my island,” she told Polygon. His tent went up on her island in July, and stayed an eyesore on her island for seven months. “I finally deleted his account today and feel very happy about it.”
Others keep the homes as a kind of shrine, an act of love toward the people in their lives.
“I have two nephews who have homes on the island, but they haven’t picked up the game in almost a year,” said Ika, a longtime player, in a Twitter conversation with Polygon.
She also collects special event items for them, like the Halloween character Jack’s robe and fishing tournament items, even though she’s aware they may never return to the game. If they do, they’ll find that she has customized each villager’s yard, dedicated to their interests. The youngest nephew has a small gym beside his home, with a patio space for a doghouse and plush. The oldest has a zen garden designed into his yard.
“I still collect DIYs and leave the ones I already know on one side of the island and once they’ve piled up, I log into their character’s and learn some of the DIYs in case they ever decide to log back in so they’re more or less up to date with the latest DIYs,” Ika said.
Carter knows the feeling. “Occasionally I will try to lure [my partner] back in by making romantic gestures in-game, like leaving rainbow balloons and dinosaur toys outside her house,” he says. “Which doesn’t make any sense because she’d have to log in before she would see them anyway, but I still do it.”
New Horizons has continued to receive updates in the year since its launch, and future updates will likely continue throughout 2021. Perhaps those new elements will lure back the players who have dropped the game, and they may see the care packages and tokens left behind by their loved ones over the months.