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Can video games save the planet?

  • Some of the biggest names in the video game industry have pledged to ‘green gaming’ during the recent UN Climate Change Summi
  • Microsoft, Sony Interactive Entertainment and others made commitments as part of the ‘Playing for the Planet Alliance’

Minecraft partnered with an NGO last year to revive coral reefs off the coast of Mexico
Minecraft partnered with an NGO last year to revive coral reefs off the coast of Mexico (Photo: Alamy)

In a 2018 report titled Green Gaming: Energy Efficiency Without Performance Compromise, researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US came up with some interesting insights on the energy consumption associated with computer gaming. The team at Berkeley Lab conducted a scientific analysis of energy use across current gaming platforms and game types—testing 37 games across 26 different systems .

The study, sponsored by the California Energy Commission, found that computer gaming accounted for about 5% of all residential energy use in California—the same amount as 10 million new refrigerators. With more than 2.5 billion video gamers around the world, the report said the gaming industry and gamers were “missing out on potential ways to save energy" and lower greenhouse emissions due to the lack of reliable energy data.

Now, some of the biggest names in the gaming industry have pledged to use their platforms to act on climate change. According to a UN Environment Programme press release, commitments from 21 companies, as part of the “Playing for the Planet Alliance", in the video-game industry will result in a “30 million tonne reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030".

These commitments, announced on the sidelines of the UN secretary general’s Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September, include plans to plant millions of trees, incorporate “green nudges" in game design and improvements in energy management, packaging and device recycling. Nudging aims to change user behaviour without using force or incentives.

Microsoft will be certifying some Xbox consoles as carbon neutral.
Microsoft will be certifying some Xbox consoles as carbon neutral.

Microsoft, maker of the best-selling Xbox gaming consoles, “will announce the expansion of its operational commitment to carbon neutrality, made in 2012, into its devices and gaming work". As part of a pilot, the company will certify around 825,000 Xbox consoles as carbon neutral.

Apart from setting a new target to reduce its supply chain emissions by 30% by 2030, the company will try to engage gamers in real-life sustainability efforts through its Minecraft “Build a Better World" initiative. Minecraft, a sandbox video game that allows players to build things in a 3D world, has more than 100 million users worldwide.

In 2018, around World Oceans Day, Minecraft had released a new game pack update—Update Aquatic—that allowed players to build coral reefs in the virtual world. Some of these in-game designs were then recreated into real-life underwater sculptures made from BioRock, a revolutionary technology that promotes the growth of natural coral reefs. These sculptures were placed on the seabed off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico, as part of a partnership between the game’s developers, Mojang, and a non-governmental organization, The Nature Conservancy.

Sony Interactive Entertainment will unveil new plans to use energy-efficient technology to introduce a new power-suspend mode in its next generation of PlayStation consoles. Cloud gaming service Google Stadia, which is expected to be launched in November, will not only produce a new sustainable game development guide but also fund research into how “green nudges" can be incorporated into game play, the release states.

In India, Reliance Games, the developer of Little Singham, has pledged to generate awareness among youngsters by making them ambassadors of climate change with the help of in-game events and initiatives. China’s biggest independent gaming platform, iDreamSky, will also include “green nudges" in its games.

French video-game company Ubisoft, publisher of hit titles Ghost Recon, Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, will develop in-game green themes and source materials from eco-friendly factories. Sports Interactive, maker of the hugely popular Football Manager series, has committed to eliminating 20 tonnes of packaging by replacing plastic with a recycled alternative for all future releases of the game. It will start with Football Manager 2020, which launches in November.

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