Video Games Are Part Of Climate Change, Too

Video Games Are Part Of Climate Change, Too

It’s hot in the Northern Hemisphere! I don’t just mean in the sense that I am sweating while my window AC unit does its best to gasp cool air into my apartment; I mean that it’s historically hot. Last month was the warmest June ever in North America. In honour of the increasingly agonising heat death of the planet, this week’s Splitscreen podcast is about hot stuff.

To begin the episode, Ash Parrish, Mike Fahey, and I talk about our favourite and least favourite fire levels in games, including Asphodel from Hades, Hot Top Volcano from Diddy Kong Racing, and that one stretch of road in Red Dead Redemption 2 where horses spontaneously combust. We also get controversial: Fahey says that vanilla World of Warcraft’s Molten Core raid was actually bad, and I make the audacious claim that Norfair from Super Metroid is good, but the Norfair level in Smash Bros is bad.

Then we move on to a lighter topic: Climate change. We discuss both games about climate change and the industry’s efforts to curb it. Suffice it to say, the industry could be doing a much, much better job. Perhaps it still can, but there’s not a whole lot of time left.

We close out the episode with hot takes on hot topics, which results in Fahey ranting about how fighting game characters who use or get hit with fire should be permanently burned and hairless. The true final frontier of video game realism.

Get the MP3 here and check out an excerpt below.

Nathan: Games themselves — the gaming industry as a whole — is honestly pretty environmentally destructive. In 2019, you had a lot of companies commit to changing their ways on this front. Major examples include Sony and Microsoft, who both want to become carbon negative or to leave no environmental footprint by 2050 and 2030, respectively. And it’s like, cool. You want a cookie?

Fahey: I would like to announce right now that I would like to become completely carbon negative by 2062.

Nathan: I plan to become carbon negative by dying in 60 years.

Ash: I plan on becoming carbon negative by telling my partner — whoever that might be at the time — to compost me. Send me up to one of those body farms in Portland. Turn me into dirt.

Nathan: There we go, we have our plans. But yeah, this arises from multiple angles. For one, game consoles are power intensive. A single console draws equivalent to, like, a refrigerator — a much larger device. But then on top of that, to quote a Kotaku article from 2019: “Gaming consoles rely on minerals mined using techniques that can leave behind toxic water. Factories for hardware produce massive amounts of energy and chemicals. Console and game shipments rely on supply chains networked across the globe, which, in turn, rely on fuel for aeroplanes and trucks. Every year, PC gamers use 75 billion kilowatts hours of electricity — 25 power plants’ worth.”

Ash: Which doesn’t even begin to address the people who are using their PCs for bitcoin mining.

Nathan: Bingo. And that’s the other side of this, right? You also have an ongoing chip shortage, likely at least partially a byproduct of people mining for cryptocurrency and wanting better and better cards. But as you make these things better, the energy required to make them goes up, because you have to put more and more transistors onto semiconductors. As a result of that, even if companies are reducing energy output and technology is becoming more efficient, you still have this incremental curve of energy use for making all of this stuff going up over time.

On top of that, cloud gaming is getting more and more popular. You would think that’s a good thing because you don’t have as many in-home electronics. The problem is that as it currently exists, cloud gaming currently draws more power than local options. From a 2020 Wired article on the subject: “Cloud gaming uses more energy per hour of gameplay than local gaming, which means data centres are taxed regardless of the console people play on. Microsoft, which runs its own Azure data centres, is pushing hard to convert its facilities to renewable energy.”

Which is good, but again, these companies have very long-term goals. Another major issue within that is that there’s not really anybody meaningfully holding them accountable on that front, aside from themselves. Will they do it? If it’s a high priority for them, yes. But there’s not a good way of knowing that. We’ll see. 2030 and 2050 are a lot of years away.

Once again, it goes back to the push and pull between people saying you should reduce your own carbon footprint and it not really making a dent as long as major companies and industries don’t massively reduce their own energy usage.

Fahey: So we’re screwed. But at least they’re not just straight up saying, “Fuck you guys. We’re gonna make all the money, and when we’re done, if you guys are still alive, we’ll try to make some more.” We can sort of have a positive outlook, but I don’t trust any company that says anything about global warming to be much more than a message.

Nathan: You don’t even trust Ubisoft, whose commitment back in 2019 was to “develop in-game green themes and source materials from eco-friendly factories”?

Fahey: Have they done a lot of that? Is that a big thing? Are we recycling in Assassin’s Creed now?

Ash: How much power does running one of those wayback machines take? The Animus?

Nathan: Well, they’re still around in that future. They haven’t died in a gout of horrible flame. So they must have figured something out.

Fahey: They can’t take too much power. They run one out of a cave. Maybe they’re powered by natural stone.

Ash: Poop. Maybe it runs off human waste. They have a system in Waterworld where Kevin Costner pees in a cup, and it runs through a couple of pumps and becomes drinkable water.

Fahey: I mean, the takeaway from global warming is that the post-apocalyptic games are now gonna be less about zombies and nuclear war and more about — Ash: Nuclear winter.

Fahey: We fucked the planet!

Nathan: I think the other takeaway is that while it’s easy to give into despondency and hopelessness because what can we do in the face of all these companies that don’t care about anything except their bottom line, the only people who can hold them accountable are audiences. Meaning that even though it sucks and it’s more work for all of us to do, put pressure on companies. Ask what the deal is with all these environmental initiatives and why they’re not going faster with it. If nothing else, because it’s a move probably done in the name of optics in the first place, if it turns into bad optics for them, they will have a reason to follow through and do better.

Ash: If that fails, get the guillotines.

For all that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also, if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at if you have questions or to suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!

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