Is gaming bad for the environment? What can gaming do to combat global warming?

A report carried out by SaveOnEnergy has revealed which games have the largest carbon footprints, with Mojang's Minecrafttaking the top spot.

According to the report, gamers have contributed 600,000,000kg of CO2 emissions while playing Minecraft since its release in 2009.

By looking at the total number of sales, average emission rate of a games console and the average time spent playing a game, SaveOnEnergy has determined which video games contribute the most towards global warming. But can we trust their methodology?

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Which games are the best and worst for the environment?

Aside from Minecraft, SaveOnEnergy suggests that Grand Theft Auto Vand Terraria are two of the largest offenders, releasing over 100 million and 70 million kilograms of CO2, respectively.

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According to SaveOnEnergy, Kinect Adventures is the most eco-friendly best-selling video game, emitting just 2,700,000kg of CO2 from the 25 million units sold.

The Call of Duty series is heralded as an eco-friendly series by SaveOnEnergy, with Black Ops II emitting 4,235,000kg of CO2 compared to the likes of Bethesda'sThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim which has released over 25 million kilograms of CO2.

Can we trust SaveOnEnergy's report?

You could argue that the methodology used to create this report fails to grasp some key components of gaming, particularly in its lack of considering multiplayer gaming.

The best-selling Call of Duty games are only attributed the 'eco-friendly' status as the report only considers the campaign. SaveOnEnergy use's average time to complete a game in their calculations for these games, which suggests that Black Ops II player, on average, played just seven hours of the game.

By ignoring the time spent playing multiplayer games, SaveOnEnergy's report is heavily inaccurate and unfairly skewed towards singleplayer titles such as The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2.

By using the 'Hours to complete a game' metric rather than average time played, SaveOnEnergy has failed to demonstrate an adequate understanding of gaming, potentially damaging gaming's fight against the climate crisis by not addressing the actual problems outside of individual games.

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Why SaveOnEnergy's report fails to grasp the real problems

Pointing the finger at individual games for contributing towards global warming, while easy to do, is not a beneficial activity, especially when using a Kinect game as an example of what to do. In terms of putting this report into action, there are two options implicitly suggested.

The first is to tell people to buy and play fewer games. Even if people agreed to cut down on their playtime, it's likely they would consume energy elsewhere, either by watching TV or using other devices.

The second option is to push studios into creating shorter games that gamers play less of. While there are benefits to creating shorter games than the 60-hour epics we're used to, these benefits are more from a creative and gameplay perspective rather than an environmental one.

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Should we criticise Minecraft for not being environmental?

If developers created shorter games that their players only play for ten hours, while their individual carbon footprint may reduce and reports like this one won't call them out for damaging the environment, it won't reduce the time people spend playing games.

Gaming is a hobby. Once you complete a game, you don't stop playing games. No, you go to your backlog or a store to choose the next title you'll play. So if people spend less time on one game, they'll just go out to buy another game, enclosed in plastic casing, and that's the root issue.

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Gaming's plastic problem

By 2050, the UN predicts that 120 million tonnes of 'E-waste' will be produced each year. A growing percentage of this comes from gaming hardware.

Digital games do now make up a larger portion of game sales compared to physical copies clad in plastic packaging, but they are not without their problems. The extra servers needed for downloads and cloud streaming require a tremendous amount of energy to power.

What should gaming studios do? Ditch the plastic packaging for a start.

SEGA is spearheading the campaign towards waste-free gaming, announcing that its PC games will now only come in 100% recycled cardboard packaging that is also recyclable.

How can gaming help in the fight against climate change?

Aside from cutting down on e-waste, the UN has published a 'Playing for the Planet' report detailing its recommendation for how the games industry can protect the environment.

While the feasibility or impact of many of these policies is up for debate, the UN's 'green nudge' policy certainly piqued my attention as an idea that could combat global warming without being too intrusive.

Games are primarily forms of entertainment, but can also be used for education. The core demographic for gaming is still a young, more impressionable audience.

By 'nudging' players to choose more green options, whether through showing the beauty of the world through gorgeous environments based on real places, awarding players for certain green actions, or showing them the dangers and damage pollution can do, games can help shape the next generation's perception of the environment.

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