The video game industry uses massive amounts of energy to develop, produce, and sustain the games we love.
In the past few years, the demand for new games has skyrocketed, and the environmental footprint of gaming has increased — hardware sales grew 45% in August alone, and the gamers alone consumed 75 billion kilowatt-hours globally in the last year.
The demand for video games increasing, and climate-conscious gamers should begin to respond to the impact that their favorite past-time has on the environment.
So, here are a few ways gamers can aim for sustainability.
The Climate Crisis in a Nutshell
To understand the impact gaming has on the environment, it is essential to understand the wider issue of climate change. Luckily, widespread public interest has made data on climate change publicly available, and climate-advocacy groups are always publishing new research and projections.
Unlike the massively popular Fallout series— where a climate apocalypse is caused by nuclear war — our current climate crisis is caused by our own, everyday activities. These activities require energy, which is produced by the burning of fossil fuels. This has created a thicker atmospheric blanket around our planet, which blocks heat from escaping.
We’re already beginning to feel the effects of climate change and, as temperatures continue to rise, we will see heavier rainfalls, more extreme weather events, and a rise in sea levels. These effects will be disastrous for both human and animal life, and will likely disrupt the way we live for generations.
The Impact of Gaming
Games like Battlefield 2042 — an FPS where players must also negotiate extreme weather events caused by climate change — are a testament to the increasing public awareness about climate change and the way it will change our lives. However, what many folks don’t realize is that gaming itself contributes to climate change.
A recent report from the Copenhagen Center for Energy Efficiency found that a single gamer can use over 1,100 kWh annually — much of which comes from consoles left in sleep mode. Additionally, researchers found that improved graphics cards, higher-resolution displays, and widespread streaming have increased energy usage in gaming by 7000% since 1970.
Games also produce significant amounts of electronic waste (e-waste). When our laptops, PCs, consoles, or phones outlive their usefulness, they are typically sent abroad to trash dumps where toxic components damage the local environment and contribute to the wider issue of climate change.
Clearly, gaming has a sustainability issue. Luckily, the gaming industry is already making a swift response, as developers actively set off their carbon emissions and treat e-waste with the same ire as they do waste profits. But what can individual gamers do to make an impact?
What Can Gamers Do?
No one is saying that gamers are responsible for climate change — especially when 70% of all climate emissions are attributable to 100 fossil fuel companies. However, climate-conscious gamers can make a real impact in our fight against the climate crisis.
Here are a few steps gamers can take to reduce their environmental impact and support climate-conscious initiatives in the gaming industry.
Repair and Upgrade
Sustainability is all about finding environmentally friendly solutions to environmental issues — and one of the biggest issues in gaming is the ever-increasing demands new games places upon hardware. Any gamer who has been at it for more than a decade knows the pain of using outdated hardware and has felt the desire to fully replace a PC or console.
However, you don’t necessarily need to buy an entirely new PC to stay up to date. Instead, small tweaks to your current setup will generate the improvements you need and will help you ensure your gaming sessions remain sustainable.
Before browsing online for new RAM, you should double-check your current disk space and delete any unused items — this will speed up your PC and will allow you to download new games and updates. Once you’ve undertaken a serious cleaning session, you can start to think about upgrades to your RAM, GPU, and CPU.
While upgrades will require carbon costs from the mining of materials and shipping, it’s still far more energy-efficient than buying an entirely new gaming PC. By making small changes to your PC, you can keep the hardware’s carbon cost low, and can take pride in an upgraded setup that rivals the sustainability of the Argo.
Donate or Recycle
Gamers who are committed to a sustainable lifestyle should aim to live a zero-waste lifestyle. This means you should consider how your gaming hobby affects the wider environment and should plan ahead if you plan to upgrade to a new PC or console.
Of course, many games that run on old consoles have great replay value (Elder Scrolls Oblivion, I’m looking at you), so you might want to keep that PS2 in a cupboard somewhere. However, most folks will send their devices to the trash when an upgrade comes in.
To mitigate the negative effect your gaming waste has on the environment, you should participate in the second-hand economy. This means that you should look to sell or donate your old gaming hardware. If you can’t find anyone to take your PC or console, you should participate in recycling programs that specialize in e-waste.
Download More Often
The days of collecting disks are largely over. Almost all major gaming platforms allow users to download games straight onto the console, and Steam means PC users can cut out carbon emissions from shipping and handling.
The trend towards downloading content is good for gamers and the environment. Gamers get their games sooner, and the video game industry will cut down on carbon emissions as fewer resources are used in the production, shipping, and scrapping of disks.
However, if you are a collector or Steelbook lover, you shouldn’t feel bad about the occasional purchase of a hard copy. The total impact of disk production and shipping is minimal in comparison to the massive carbon emissions produced by transport, food, and agriculture, and a single individual’s modest collection of prized games is unlikely to make much of an overall impact.
Gamers have grown up solving complex problems. We’ve opened ancient puzzles in Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider, have navigated complex political tensions in The Elder Scrolls series, and have developed serious critical thinking skills in games like Starcraft. Seeing as climate change is the world’s greatest threat, it makes sense that gamers should play their part in combating it.
The best way to get involved in climate change is to join local communities of climate-conscious organizations. There are nearly 200 registered climate-advocacy groups, so you can join a group that suits your interests and location. Member organizations work on a range of issues from agricultural waste to increasing the support for renewables — as a gamer with diverse skills, you’re certain to find a good fit.
If you played any RPGs like The Witcher, Fallout: New Vegas, or Life is Strange then you understand how your actions affect those around you in unpredictable ways. You can leverage this insight to influence your wider community and can make a real difference in the fight against climate change.
You might be thinking that this seems like a stretch, but researchers find that community organizers who advocate for renewable energy systems like solar panels are 63% more effective if they actually own a solar panel. In addition, surveys show that folks who know someone who abstains from flying are more likely to fly less as a result.
As a gamer, you already have the tools necessary to make your gaming sustainable. Survival games like No Man Sky have taught you the value of sourcing sustainable materials, and games like Minecraft are a testament to the power of collaboration in problem-solving. Now, it’s your job to use these skills in the real world to help us overcome our greatest challenge: climate change.