Video Games Are Part Of Climate Change, Too

Video Games Are Part Of Climate Change, Too

Zagreus of Hades is very used to it being hot as hell

Image: Supergiant Games / Kotaku

It’s hot! I don’t mean just in the sense that I’m sweating while my window air conditioner is doing its best to blow cool air into my apartment; I mean it’s historically hot. Last month was the hottest June ever in North America. In honor of the planet’s increasingly nerve-wracking thermal death, this week’s Splitscreen podcast deals with hot topics.

To start the episode, Ash Parrish, Mike Fahey, and I talk about our favorite and least favorite fire levels in games, including Asphodel from Hades, Hot Top Volcano from Diddy Kong Racing, and that stretch of road in Red. Dead Redemption 2 where the horses spontaneously burn. We’re also controversial: Fahey says the Vanilla World of Warcraft Molten Core raid was actually bad, and I’m boldly claiming Super Metroid’s Norfair is good, but the Norfair level in Smash Bros is bad.

Then we move on to a lighter topic: climate change. We discuss the two climate change games and the industry’s efforts to curb it. Suffice it to say, the industry could do a much better job. It may still be, but time is running out.

We close the episode with some searing shots of hot topics, which leads Fahey to complain about how fighting game characters who use or are touched by fire should be permanently burnt and hairless. The real last frontier of video game realism.

Get the MP3 here and check out an excerpt below.

Nathan: The games themselves – the gaming industry as a whole – are honestly pretty damaging to the environment. In 2019 you had a lot of companies commit to changing their habits on this front. Leading examples include Sony and Microsoft, both of which want to go carbon negative or leave zero environmental footprints by 2050 and 2030, respectively. And it’s like, cool. Do 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 to go carbon negative by telling my partner, whoever he was at the time, to compost me. Send me to one of those body farms in Portland. Turn me into dirt.

Nathan: There you go, we have our plans. But yes, this arises from several angles. On the one hand, game consoles are energy intensive. A single console consumes the equivalent of a refrigerator, a much larger appliance. But on top of that, to quote a 2019 Kotaku article: “Game consoles are based on minerals extracted using techniques that can leave behind toxic water. Hardware factories massive amounts energy and chemicals. Console and game shipments rely on networked supply chains across the globe, which in turn depend on fuel for planes and trucks. Every year, PC gamers use 75 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—The value of 25 power plants. “

Ash: Which doesn’t even begin to appeal to people who use their PCs for bitcoin mining.

Nathan: Bingo. And that’s the other side of it, right? You also have an ongoing shortage of chips, probably at least in part a byproduct of people looking for cryptocurrency and wanting better and better cards. But as you improve these things, the energy required to make them increases, because you have to put more and more transistors on semiconductors. As a result, even as businesses cut back on energy production and technology becomes more efficient, you still have that incremental curve of energy use to make it all increase over time.

On top of that, cloud gaming is becoming more and more popular. You might think that’s a good thing because you don’t have that many electronics at home. The problem is, as it exists today, cloud gaming currently consumes more power than local options. Of a Wired 2020 article on the subject: “Cloud gaming uses more power per hour of play than local gaming, which means data centers are taxed regardless of what console people are playing on. Microsoft, which operates its own Azure data centers, is doing everything possible to convert its facilities to renewable energy. “

Which is good, but again, these companies have very long term goals. Another major problem with this is that there really isn’t anyone who really holds them accountable on this front, other than themselves. Will they do it? If it’s a priority for them, yes. But there is no good way to find out. We’ll see. 2030 and 2050 are many years away.

Again, it comes down to the push and pull between people saying you should reduce your own carbon footprint and it doesn’t really kick in until big companies and industries massively reduce their own energy use.

Fahey: So we’re screwed. But at least they don’t just say, ‘Fuck you guys. We’re going to make all the money, and when we’re done, if you’re still alive, we’ll try to do more. We can kind of have a positive outlook, but I don’t believe that a company that talks about global warming is much more than a message.

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

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

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

Nathan: Well, they’re still here in the future. They did not die in a horrible drop of flame. So they must have understood something.

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

Ash: Shit. Maybe it drains away human waste. They have a system at Waterworld where Kevin Costner pees a cup, and it goes through a few pumps and becomes drinking water.

Fahey: I mean, the takeaway from global warming is that post-apocalyptic games are now going to be less about zombies and nuclear warfare and more about—

Ash: Nuclear winter.

Fahey: We fucked the planet!

Nathan: I think the other takeaway is if it’s easy to give in to discouragement and despair because what can we do about all these companies that care about nothing but their bottom line? , the only people who can hold them accountable are audiences. Which means that even though it sucks and it’s more work for all of us, put pressure on business. Ask about all these environmental initiatives and why they are not going faster. If nothing else, because it’s probably a decision made in the name of optics in the first place, if it turns into bad optics for them, they’ll have a reason to go all the way and do better.

Ash: If that fails, take the guillotines.

For all this and more, check out the episode. New episodes come out every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or Stapler. Also, if you feel like it, leave a review and you can always write to us at if you have any 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 @OncleFahey, and Nathan is @ Vahn16. See you next week!


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