Gaming's Environmental Toll
In last year’s indie hit Flower, you play as a flock of flowers, wistfully floating through the country landscape, collecting fellow petals, and reclaiming fallow patches of land. Developed by thatgamecompany, the game is a meditation on the renewal and rebirth of plant life, as you turn barren land fertile once again. Strange then, that to do so in a digital environment, involves an environmental cost in real life.
Flower is played on Sony’s PlayStation 3, and it—as well as other other consoles—can eat up quite a bit of power. The latest round of videogame consoles can consume as much power as roughly two new refrigerators and don’t automatically go into a sleep mode when they are idle. (You can fiddle with the power saver mode that’s buried in the options, however.) The National Resources Defense Council found that videogame consoles eat up 16 billion kilowatt-hours annually—about the same amount of electricity needed to power San Diego for year.
As a result, the videogame industry has become a target for the democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who introduced S.1696 last fall. Reviewed by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last month, the bill would require the Secretary of Energy to conduct a study of video game console energy efficiency.
This isn’t the first time that the videogame industry has been put on watch. In their annual Guide to Green Electronics, Greenpeace lambasted Nintendo for its tactics: "Nintendo scores most points on chemicals; it has put games consoles on the market that have PVC-free internal wiring. It has banned phthalates and is monitoring use of antimony and beryllium. Although it is endeavoring to eliminate the use of PVC, it has not set a timeline for its phase-out. It continues to score zero on all e-waste criteria."
Nintendo issued a response, saying “we take our environmental responsibilities seriously.” (To be fair, the Wii consumes the least amount of power, compared to the PS3 and 360.)
Personally, I am thrilled that videogames have now earned the ire of environmentalists and are being held to the same standards as everyone else. It’s another sign that videogames and the people who love them are entering into a larger public conversation. Certainly, there’s change afoot as well. Even without S.1696, there are plenty of things we videogame players can do.
First thing's first, though: Power down our systems when they’re not in use, and if possible, unplug the thing so it doesn't suck energy even while off. We shut off the lights and we should do the same for consoles.
For more tips, see Planet Green's tactics.