How the $135 Billion Dollar Gaming Industry Could be the Answer to Climate Change

by Rachel Collins

Ah, video games. Somewhere between the demonization of television and the internet to the minds of society’s youth, video games were to blame. While there will always be controversy surrounding the potential benefits or pitfalls of being an avid gamer, one thing is for certain: it’s not going away. 

More than 150 million Americanscall themselves gamers and participate in the global $135 billion dollar gaming industry. And if we’re being honest, if you aren’t a gamer yourself, the chance of you knowing one is very high. But going green and gaming haven’t really made any major strides until now. 

Console and PC gaming have historically been a major drain on the environment for their massive use of plastics to create products. From consoles themselves to the more dated game cartridges (N64 anyone?) , gamers who looked to add more games to their collection and to upgrade their systems continually used and discarded large amounts of plastics at alarming rates.  Even gaming accessories, headsets, and storage components are made of extreme amounts of plastics. In 2007, Wal-Mart estimated101 million video games were sold in plastic cases.The energy needed to produce such packaging adds up to equal the greenhouse gas emissions from more than 9,000 cars.

Plastics aren’t the only culprit. According to one report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), video game consoles burn an estimated 16 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year — about the same amount consumed by the entire city of San Diego. That figure does not consider the power needed to play PC games, handheld games, and mobile games, all which consume more power than running the devices on lower power activities like making phone calls or writing in a Word document. 

Companies and gamers alike are realizing the impact they are creating on the environment and taking steps to bring about change. As technology has advanced, more and more gamers are buying digital copies of their games over physical copies. Of the 23 millioncopies of Red Dead Redemption 2sold, 17 million were digital downloads. Coupled with that, more and more gamers are looking for digital ways to store their games rather than have them take up space on bookshelves. 

Hewlett-Packard is also working on making their PC’s more environmentally friendly for gamers. The HP Firebird runs on only 350 watts of power, which is one-fifth of the energy needed to power bigger gaming computers. One executive of the company likened the change to converting a gas-guzzling SUV into a hybrid car. 

And some of the changes are even farther reaching than energy efficiency and plastic reduction. Location based virtual reality games are also incentivizing the environmentally conscious gamers. 

Does anyone remember the Pokémon Go craze to sweep the nation? As a New Yorker, I distinctly remember the hordes of people zonked into their phones mindlessly and carelessly wandering to try to “catch em all”. But little did I know the impact some of the gamers were having on our environment. It turns out, the hordes searching real neighborhoods for fictional characters rescued abandoned animals, stopped would-be robbers and even picked up trash. If augmented VR games whose goal is not to create environmental change, imagine the possibilities of what could happen if the rewards were built into the game?

While the gaming industry has a way to go, change is in the works. If every gamer made small changes to their habits, who knows the impact they could have. 

But if you’ve lost a loved one to the abyss of Red Dead Redemption 2, there’s not much hope for you. Sorry, the game is just that good 😊. 

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