Can we game green?
Keeping an eye on our carbon footprint isn't always as easy as switching off and recycling. There are a lot of ways in which we use or facilitate energy that goes straight under our radar, or at least we pretend they do. The way we game is perhaps the biggest culprit of this sort for Millennials and Gen Z to contend with.
According to a 2020 study conducted by the University of Lancaster, gaming is responsible for 7% of global network demand, with 95% of that owed to content downloads. Doesn't sound like a lot, especially considering the assumed eco-friendliness of cloud gaming and digital downloads. It's all in the air, over our heads in the network. Where's the waste? Of course, in-app purchases are nothing new, mobile gaming sites and companies have been doing it for years, but recently the lines have blurred between the physicality of a console and the games themselves.
Buying a Playstation 1 or 2 back in the early 2000s required a series of high-energy procedures to get you gaming happy at home. The hardware, the duplication, the testing, the helpline, the packaging, the distribution, the fuel and of course the games. Once you break it down, it's quite intimidating to see how much energy goes into a console experience. Buying the new Playstation 5 involves all, if not more, of these steps but gives players the option to continue using physical disc copies or go completely digital. On paper that sounds like the greener option. Less production, less waste, less energy. In reality, it's a little more complicated.
According to a 2020 article in WIRED magazine: "Cloud gaming uses more energy per hour of gameplay than local gaming". This is mainly because of the incredible amounts of processing power and data needed to sustain a downloaded game across the internet. It's estimated that gaming systems in the US alone produce 5 million cars worth of carbon emissions, surpassing the entirety of West Virginia. WIRED also wrote that if 30% of the world's gamers switched to cloud gaming, carbon emissions would be up by a staggering 30%. There are pros and cons to both formats.
What to do
Gaming ethics is tricky. No matter what you do, you're very unlikely to cover all bases and live carbon-free, especially if you're a gamer. That said, there's nothing wrong with trying. If you prefer console gaming, make sure you turn it off when you're not using it, check your settings for ways to save energy in-game and recycle what you can when you decide to move on. If you're heading straight into the future, cloud all the way, then use that experience to choose games you really want to play. This technology is still in its infancy and should be treated as such. Whichever way you go, enjoy!