April 17, 2023
Leveling Up For The Environment
Let’s Have a Conversation About Sustainability in the Video Game Industry
If you’re a gamer who cares about the environment and you’re worried that you’ll have to choose between playing games and caring for the planet, fear not; there are gaming companies and charitable organizations who are trying to decrease the negative environmental impacts. And there’s a lot you can do, too! Read on to learn more about how gaming studios and players are leveling up for the environment.
When you think of pollution and carbon emissions, what comes to mind?
Do you picture gas-powered cars and trucks, airplanes, and big smokestacks belching thick, grey smoke into the air? No surprises there since transportation and manufacturing are two of the biggest contributors to pollution on our planet.
Did you picture someone sitting in front of their TV, controller in hand, blasting their way through a battle royale, or excitedly mashing on-screen buttons for their favourite mobile game? Probably not.
But as the global video game community has been growing year after year, the gaming industry has started drawing the attention—and ire—of environmentalist watchdogs. If you’re a gamer who cares about the environment and you’re worried that you’ll have to choose between playing games and caring for the planet, take comfort; there are gaming companies and charitable organizations who are trying to decrease the negative impact of gaming on the environment. And there’s a lot you can do, too.
The plain truth is that video games—and all electronics—are contributing to our environmental troubles. According to the Global Electronics Council, digital technologies contribute between 1.4% and 5.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with estimates suggesting this number will climb to 9% by 2025.
In the video game industry, there is the issue of consoles, cartridges, and discs using a lot of plastic and silicon, as well as materials that require mining operations, like nickel and coltan. Plus, any physical product carries the possibility of adding to the volume of a landfill. This doesn’t mean that all the studios making virtual or mobile games are off the hook, though.
One virtual commodity used by gaming studios and other businesses drawing negative attention from the environmental protection crowd is non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. For those not familiar, NFTs are unique digital assets—often images (e.g., artwork, photos, animations, etc.)— created using the same blockchain technology used in cryptocurrency production. NFTs have wildly fluctuating value, and can be sold or traded. They are an environmental concern because blockchain networks require large amounts of computing power to perform tasks, resulting in greater energy consumption. Furthermore, most of the energy consumed by these blockchain networks is generated by fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions. To put it in perspective, the amount of energy required for a single transaction on one of these blockchain networks is equivalent to the total energy consumed by an average EU resident over a four-day period.
The simple fact is that energy generation is the leading contributor to climate change, and the games we play – whether physical or virtual – consume a lot of energy. You may be asking yourself “Is there anything we can do about this?” The answer, thankfully, is yes.
Hope Is Not Lost
Playing For The Planet
Many video game studios are recognizing the growing issue of electronics’ contribution to climate change and are taking steps to reduce the impact. Since its inception at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in 2019, the Playing for the Planet alliance, an initiative facilitated by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and supported by GRID-Arendal and Playmob, has been working with the video game industry, encouraging studios to commit to:
- reducing their carbon footprints,
- making a shift to green energy,
- inserting green themes and narratives –or green “nudges”– into their games,
- offsetting emissions for internal operations and gaming devices, and
- reducing and controlling their production of plastics and e-waste.
To date, the Playing for the Planet Alliance has 44 members ranging from small studios like Oh Bi Bi to industry giants like Microsoft and Sony Interactive Entertainment.
The Green Games Revolution
Gaming studios themselves are finding creative ways to offset their contributions to climate change, educate people about the dire issues our planet is facing, and offer a helping hand when crises arise.
Massachusetts-based game studio Carbon Counts has a soon-to-be-released game called EverForest™ where the player (you!) is tasked with building a flourishing forest in-game while Carbon Counts, in conjunction with partner organizations like EarthLungs Reforestation and One Acre Fund, helps the real world’s forests flourish by planting trees on your behalf.
Game studio Breaking Walls has created a game called Away: The Survival Series where the player is positioned as a sugar glider fighting for survival, whose main obstacle is the devastating effects of climate change—extreme weather, forest fires, etc.
In late 2019, when bush fires were raging across Australia, London-based mobile game studio Space Ape added an in-game purchase to each of their games, with the promise that all proceeds would support charities working in the areas of Australia devastated by the fires. This simple in-game addition raised $120,000 in four days.
Even the NFT and cryptocurrency purveyors are doing their part, as new blockchain technologies are being developed that consume significantly less energy than their predecessors.
Then there is you!
You’ve heard about all the wonderful things video game studios and environmental organizations are doing to help the planet. And you want to do your part, too! That’s great! Here are some ideas to get you started.
Reduce Your Energy ConsumptionWhile we may want to, the reality is that we can’t play games all the time. When you’re not playing, give your consoles and computers a rest by powering them down. If you’re in the middle of installing an update or downloading a game, by all means put your device in standby mode until the download is completed. But if your device is not being used at all and it’s either fully on or on standby, it is needlessly consuming energy. And for those of you who are PC gamers, the same goes for your monitors. Computer monitors are responsible for about a quarter of a computer’s energy consumption, and you may be surprised to know that they consume just as much power when running in screensaver mode.
Don’t Forget Reuse and Recycle
When you’ve lost interest in your old consoles, games, and accessories, don’t throw them in the trash—donate them or sell them! Old consoles, games, and accessories are valuable to lots of people, and you can potentially earn some money from the sale, while giving your devices a new life. Or you’ll be helping a charity with your donation. If your gaming equipment is beyond repair, take it to a location that recycles electronics responsibly, rather than tossing it out.
If you’re a console or PC gamer, buy digital versions of your games wherever possible. This saves on the resources required to make the game discs or cartridges, as well as the plastic cases—not to mention the reduced carbon footprint when a product doesn’t require shipping. Also, as mentioned earlier, less physical material means less material potentially destined for a landfill.
Help the Environment in Other Ways
Remember—your care for the environment doesn’t begin and end with your gaming practices. Reducing energy consumption in the home (i.e., turning the thermostat down a couple of degrees in the winter and up a couple of degrees in the summer) is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Avoiding unnecessary purchases will help reduce clutter in your home as well as the landfill. If it works for you, choosing a more plant-based diet is better for your health and the environment. Reducing plastic use with small gestures like drinking from a refillable bottle or using reusable containers instead of plastic wrap for leftovers can make a difference. And one really effective way to help our planet is by supporting businesses that use environmentally sustainable practices.
From giant, multinational electronics corporations to individual gamers, if all of us do our part–not only in big gestures but in small sacrifices, too—we can collectively contribute to repairing the damage to our irreplaceable planet while still enjoying our digital space battles, pellet chomping, and potato harvesting.