Video Games and Climate Collapse

Waypoint and many members of this forum have clearly addressed the human cost of the game industry, but I haven’t seen much discussion about its environmental impact anywhere. I think this is strange considering that many critics oppose crypto-integration into games along environmental lines. I have at times, while reading about labor violations and abusive workplace practices, wondered if the video games capital-i Industry should exist. When considering the environmental cost of any electronic game, it exasperates those thoughts.

The only thing I’ve read on this topic is the following article a friend linked me:

I hope to get my hands on the book sooner rather than later. The excerpts in the article highlight a lot of concerns I’ve been considering and bring up some alarming information! I don’t subscribe to the notion that if all of us simply recycle we’ll solve global warming or anything like that, and I don’t want to imply something similar about buying/playing video games. But the impacts of climate change are real and they are horrific, and I believe it’s worth while to interrogate how our personal lives are related to its causes.

I’d love to have a thread for us to share articles/podcasts/books/etc. exploring the video game industry’s relationship with environmental issues, and have some thoughtful discussion about it! What are your thoughts about the problems and solutions in this article? Can video games go green? If they can’t, what should be done? Is this even worth discussing in light of all other crimes against nature happening right now?

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I’ll come back later for more comments but just wanted to drop here this link. It’s a Waypoint article from 2019 (!) that touches on some of the same subjects, moving freely between hardware, software, games and the stories they tell.

Since then we got a whole new generation of consoles and energy-intensive cloud gaming has become a reality. And while other industries are at the very least starting to acknowledge that things needs to change in face of the climate crisis, gaming is really just marching on.

I wonder if this attitude is connected with the escapist aspect of gaming. When it comes to games, we often play to de-stress and find relief from life and world problems. And gaming companies may be reluctant to remind us that these problems even exist.

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I’ll have to read this article(s), but as a quick comment, everyone should be very skeptical of any company claiming to be carbon neutral currently. If what that company means by “carbon neutral” is “doing whatever and then buying carbon offsets”… I don’t trust like that. Carbon offsets often don’t do anything to improve the climate crisis. Many carbon credits are linked to causes that don’t actually do much of anything. Even if they do help, with this nebulous and unclear measurement of that, it’s hard to imagine that these offsets could counteract the sheer amount of pollution these companies are putting out. Some people argue they actually make the environment worse because it gives companies a free pass to pollute however much they want. Carbon neutrality is a dream, but most companies claiming to be carbon neutral are far from it.

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Eurogamer has done some interesting reports on this. In this two-part feature they discuss first the claims made by gaming companies about their energy use and the complications of estimating it, then they go into the digital infrastructure itself, like the cost of downloading games versus streaming versus physical.

One final thing that I think is lacking from most discussions is the cost of production itself. How much energy goes into molding plastic, crafting the CPU and GPU’s and putting it all in a big shiny box for us? Maybe it’s negligible compared to the lifetime energy use? I don’t know! But it’s certainly one thing I think of whenever there are complaints about a generation being too long and how companies can’t wait to make us replace our current boxes with a new one (it’s also how many western countries greenwash our carbon impact since most production is outsourced to countries in Asia, Africa and South America).

Not to mention, as per part 2 in the linked article, that the PS5 draws 50% more power in-game compared to the PS4. Unless we – the entire gaming community and industry – change what we value in games, the push for more power consumption to push even better graphics and simulations will always be the aim for companies. Our computing hardware is orders of magnitude more efficient than thirty years ago, but perfectly following Jevons paradox this efficiency only makes us use even more.


To be pessimistic, market forces are not going to make gaming or any industry “green” by themselves. Coordinated action in form of regulations (for example, constantly decreasing limits on total power use rather than promoting only efficiency – the two should go in tandem) and a global change away from consumption is required. The end result of that action would by necessity limit how and what we play. As end users – nay, citizens – we can only prepare for and promote such a change.

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Another blog I remember from a month back is this, a straightforward calculation of whether 8K resolutions will ever be required. Spoiler: they won’t, but the 4x increase in pixels to 4K increases the required power draw by a similar amount. Something to keep in mind as TV and console manufacturers begin hyping up the next generation, cheered on by hardware enthusiasts.

It means that for 4K resolution television screens, for any reasonable viewing distance and screen size combination, we have already achieved a ‘pixel structure’ that is basically indistinguishable to the average viewer with 20/20 vision.

Edit: Oh, I didn’t realize it was part of a blog called Greening the Games Industry – written by Ben Abraham even, who the article in the opening post talks about! Guess I’ll add it to my RSS feed.

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People like to criticise Nintendo for not making any statements or promises on the matter, but in the end, their platform draws 15W of power as opposed to their competitors with a magnitude more. Also playable as a handheld which means no TV to also draw extra power. And people will say, well, the Switch doesn’t look as good as the others, to which I say, what’s more important?

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This is a huge component to environmental conservation that isn’t talked about nearly enough. In short, the manufacturing of a new complex product uses vast amounts of electricity in manufacturing, incredible environmental damage in mining raw material, and significant CO2 emissions in the transport through the retail channel. Basically, the largest impact one can have on the environment is by keeping your existing stuff in good working order and using them for as long as possible. The power draw of consoles over the lifetime of use is small potatoes compared to this (especially if you live in an area with mostly carbon free power sources like hydro-electric or nuclear), and should be focused on more.

It’s good that the older consoles are still being supported, and they should continue to be going forward imo. Not only do they allow for gaming to be more accessible, they also ensure that the consoles remain in use rather than get consigned to the landfill or the sketchy racket that is electronic recycling.

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It’s still extremely difficult to have these conversations in this corner of media given how reactionary it is, particularly a very loud and vicious segment of the audience for video games. It’s a deeply embedded problem, and I don’t really know what to do about it. I think we just keep pushing back.

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This is entirely tangential to the topic of discussion, but for those not familiar, the Ben Abraham of “Digital Games After Climate Change” is a pioneer of Permanent Death in Far Cry 2 blogging back in the day as well as a founder of Critical Distance.

This is a huge angle that I felt was missing from the Waypoint article. Cloud gaming is surely power hungry but it also means that we could keep playing new games with devices we already own— old consoles, tablets, TVS —without buying new consoles every few years.

Microsoft surely seem to think that this is the direction we are moving toward. They will probably keep making new X-boxes for a while but almost every Xbox out there can already run Xcloud no problems. (The price to pay for this trade is of course the rise of the subscription model and end of ownership of games but that’s a whole other topic).

And while data centers are absolutely power hungry beasts, they can be (and are often already) powered by renewable energy and make hardware usage much more efficient than… building and distributing millions of consoles?

(On a personal note: I don’t play a lot, but the existence of cloud gaming convinced me not to buy a new generation console and buy a month or two from a cloud platform when something that I really want to play comes out)

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I feel like this tweet basically sums up my opinion on this issue.

Making gaming green is an issue that requires a lot of work from a lot of different levels of the industry. We need games and games consoles and accessories to be made from less plastics, more environmentally-friendly materials mined/farmed and produced by people who are not being exploited for their labour. We need the factories, the studios, and our homes to be powered by more renewable energy sources (and hence the issue extends beyond just what gaming companies should do). We’d probably also do well to eliminate the parts of nerd culture that are obsessed with producing and collecting enormous amounts of plastic tat, I dread thinking of how Funko Pops will outlive us all in landfills for centuries.

But the most environmentally-friendly console produced and powered with the most renewable energy source will still not be green if we are producing as many prestige games as we currently are. The environmental and human cost of the games industry as it exists is not sustainable.

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I think about this a lot: is there a way you can smuggle in “less” under the guise of an appealing sort of “different?” Obviously we need to arrive at “less” as a society, but I think (and I’m talking America here) we’ve shown that it’s a big lift to get people to work with less. Jimmy Carter told people to put on a sweater and voters ran him out of town on a rail. If anything, “gamers” (in the pejorative sense of the word) are even worse. I think tools like UE5’s procedural asset generation are a step in the right direction (and I’ve been wondering if there’s a way to be able to generate a well-chosen subset of procedurally generated assets to test manually) but I feel like you need a lot more than that to solve this problem. Ideally you’d have a whole generation of games that are like “These 10 people each made a healthy living wage on four-day work weeks and ate dinner with their families every night and here’s this cool thing they did”

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