Breaking up sucks. It sucks even more when you weigh external factors. Who gets the cat? Who gets the friend group? Who gets to keep the video games? If you’re currently struggling with that last question, we’ve collected some expert advice that might help you.
A tweet from Vice editor Sara David kicked off some discussion among Kotaku staff about this topic a couple weeks ago.
Yes, like furniture, cookware, and vacation tchotchkes, video games are very real possessions that merit very real consideration. You wouldn’t take the wedding china on your way out the door without asking, right? Video games should be treated with the same care. Things are muddled even further by the high prices of modern consoles—and by the existence of save data, which might contain hundreds of hours of memories.
Kotaku reached out to some Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) for advice. Short of buying two of everything (in this economy?), here’s how to make the split as painless as possible.
If your shared game library is largely disc-based, you’ll have an easier time divvying up games than couples with purely digital collections will. “Practically speaking, the best strategy is putting all the games together in a pile and taking turns going back and forth picking each game,” Nicole Arzt, LMFT, an advisory board member for Family Enthusiast, told me over email.
As for who gets to choose first, you’ll want to make that as emotionless and impartial as possible. Flip a coin, or play rock-paper-scissors. Above all, as you’re hammering such things out, remember to follow the cardinal rule: “Understand that you and your partner (or soon to be ex-partner) both have an equal passion for gaming, which means being tolerant and cordial,” said Arzt. “Do your best to stay civil.”
“We’ve all heard stories of people who’ve gone through really bitter breakups,” Dave Grammer, LMFT, a Los Angeles-based family therapist, told me over the phone. “Ultimately, it really is very similar to every other relationship—and, in the conversation, trying to be empathetic and understanding where the other person is coming from.”
Let’s say your soon-to-be ex went all St. Vincent and poured 300 hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Sure, you may like the game. You’ve knocked out a few dozen shrines, maybe conquered two or three Divine Beasts. You enjoy playing, but clearly, the game means more to this person you’ve shared a chunk of your life with. In such cases, relent. Let them take it.
That also means tamping down on vindictive urges, the behavior that Grammer calls “I’m just going to take this thing you love and break it.” Yes, emotions run hot in a breakup, but when those emotions cool, it’s more likely than not that you’ll feel remorse about acting hurtfully. If your partner chooses The Outer Worlds as their first pick, and you know they also love Breath of the Wild, don’t take it just to get back at them. Instead, base your choices on which games mean most to you.
“At the end of the day, remember that being a good person with integrity matters more than a game,” said Arzt. ”Games can always be replaced and repurchased.”
“You can be in an abusive relationship that doesn’t ever get physical,” said Grammer. “If a person is comfortable taking away possessions or holding them ransom or threatening them or things like that, that’s emotional abuse.”
In such cases, you can tuck handheld consoles into a bolt bag, in the event you need to grab it and get out. (For those in such situations, know you’re not alone. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is reachable all day, every day, at 1-800-799-7233.) While there are certainly more essential items to grab—meds, a passport, a prepaid cell phone—if video games mean a lot to you, don’t let anyone trivialize your passion. Self-care is imperative at all times, and more so when you’re going through the trauma of escaping an abusive relationship.
“You can’t really put an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4 into your overnight bag,” said Grammer. Your partner will certainly notice a missing console of that size. “But a Switch can be dropped in there with just the cord. You can just bolt. And maybe you’ve got to buy a new dock, but you can at least play.”
Look, odds are good that you’re already sharing a Netflix or an HBO Go password or seven. With some finagling, you can technically do the same for modern digital game libraries. That said, if you’re planning on trying it, only do so with someone you trust deeply and plan on staying friends with.
Before you can set up shared accounts, you’ll need two consoles. (To be sure, new consoles aren’t cheap, but it beats repurchasing an entire game library. For best results, scour the market for used or refurbished options.) From there, it’s largely a matter of designating “primary consoles” for each platform. If multiple platforms are in question, we recommend splitting them up, so one person doesn’t hold the keys to all primary consoles.
Xbox One: You can only be signed into one console at a time, so you might have to do some coordinating over text or such, but at least you’ll have access to your full shared digital library. For extra security, if you’re logging in on a console that’s not your primary console, you can set up a six-digit PIN. Create a PIN and share it with each other.
There’s also the matter of Xbox’s cloud sync, which automatically loads an account’s save data on whatever console you’re playing. In most cases, the cloud sync is enormously helpful. In the case of trying to share a library of games with an ex? Not so much. If you’re playing a game that allows for multiple save slots, like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, coordinate things and decide whose data lives on slot 1 or 2 or 5. If you’re playing a game with just one file, you’ll simply have to take turns.
PlayStation 4: As with Xbox One, an account can only be signed into one PS4 at the same time. Still, you can download any games for which you have a digital license on multiple machines. Just open up the library (all the way to the right on the console’s menu) and go to the “purchased” section to see a full list of titles associated with the account.
Save data is transferable, but it doesn’t happen automatically—and you can only do so if the account is signed up for PS Plus, Sony’s paid online service. On the first console, hover over a particular game’s app box from the main page, hit the Options button, and go to “upload/download save data,” and select “upload all.” To get your data on the second console, go through the same steps, but select “download all” instead.
Nintendo Switch: You can login with your Nintendo account on another Switch and play all of the purchased games affiliated with that account. To access your games, you need only find them on the eShop and hit the “Redownload” button. You’ll be prompted to type in the account password, and that’s that. The download will begin. Other accounts on the secondary Switch won’t be able to play those games. (However, all accounts on the designated primary Switch will be able to.) But as soon as the primary Switch begins playing any game online, the user playing the secondary Switch will get booted from whatever game they were playing.
Moving save data between consoles is somewhat of a pain. For starters, both consoles have to be near each other—a tall order for two people who might not want to be in the same room for prolonged periods. Moving save data is also a one-way street. The transfer process won’t leave a copy on the origin console, so you’ll need to decide who gets to keep the Super Mario Odyssey endgame file and who has to restart from the Cap Kingdom’s moonlit hills. Treat save data like you’d treat individual games: Take turns choosing.
In general, two people sharing a single Xbox Live, PSN, or Switch Online account is going to be a very tricky situation, since sharing an account across two different systems means you can’t game simultaneously, and if the other person signs in from their system they could end up booting you out of your game. You should only plan on sharing the accounts temporarily as you finish up whatever games you were playing on them, and move towards using separate accounts as quickly as is feasible.
If and when disagreements arise, don’t try to “win” them like you would a tequila-fueled barroom debate. Instead, practice active listening. “In an argument, or in a conversation, person B does not try to formulate a response to Person A,” Grammer said. “They only focus on what a person is saying, and then they kind of reflect back.”
In practice, this means laser-focusing on what a person is saying, openly acknowledging why they’re upset or frustrated, and trying to come up with a solution. (“We both like Breath of the Wild, so why don’t you take the copy today, and you can Venmo me half the cost of a new copy.”) This also means bringing up any issues that upset or frustrate you—and expecting your partner to respond in kind. Active listening only works if the conversation is a two-way street.
“Ultimately, when using this kind of format for having these conversations, it gives the best chance for compromise and for understanding,” said Grammer.
Not counting $2,200 limited editions, game consoles cost much more than any individual game. That can cause some obvious issues. Start by considering the situation—and then consider being the bigger person.
“If I’m the one leaving, maybe I say, ‘You know what? I need to get out of this relationship. I can’t take it anymore. But I’ll let you keep the Switch. You know, there’s a give and take,” said Grammer.
Things are more complicated in a conscious uncoupling. Whether you have every console on the market or are trying to figure out who gets the PS4 Pro, you should strive to make the choice as impartial as possible. One way to do that is to decree that the console goes to whomever has used it more, based on pure hour count.
The Switch, for example, will tell you how much time each user has spent playing specific video games in one neat place. Just open up an account’s player page (found on the top left of the home menu) and scroll down to “play activity.” You can see how many hours that particular user has put into each game.
It’s a bit more tedious on the Xbox One. First, go to My Games and Apps. Hit the menu button and select “Go to Official Club.” Head over to the Progress page and scroll down to the Stats section. This should show you the hour count for every game. You could probably beat a whole game in the amount of time it’ll take you to go through and add up each game for each user, but at least you’ll walk away with an accurate number.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to see a total hour count on PS4.
You might think buying your partner out of their share might be a fair solution. Maybe you split the cost of an Xbox One S when it came out, so you’re willing to pony up $150, take the console, and call it a day. But money is a common enough stressor in non-stressful situations. It’s best to avoid bringing up the topic during a breakup. Plus, consider how much you’d get by reselling a console at, say, your local GameStop, and use that as a benchmark for how much a console is worth.
“The person who goes asking for that thirty-five dollars is... trying to be difficult,” said Grammer.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons poses a unique challenge: Each console is limited to one island. Each island can support up to eight houses (Animal Crossing for “save file”), tied to accounts on the console. The catch is that, as of yet, you can’t port islands between different Switch consoles. So whoever gets the Switch gets the island. Once a user account is removed from the Switch, their character will also be removed from the Animal Crossing island.
For the person who loses out, look at it this way: You get the opportunity to start a brand-new island from the ground up, in your image alone. For some people, that’s as worthy an endeavor as any.