Gamesplanet Eco Lab

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How do games impact the environment?

Games are based on a complex architecture: a coded program that is executed on PCs, with data hosted on servers that are sent over networks in order to be received by devices or to function. So it's the entire infrastructure that has an impact and not just the code that makes up the game.

  1. A game causes the emission of greenhouse gases (expressed in kg or tonnes CO2 equivalents). These emissions are associated with the manufacture of the machinery used to produce, store, distribute and operate the game.
  2. A game requires the consumption of abiotic resources: Many resources are needed to produce a computer, a server, a data centre, a telephone or a network. Furthermore, raw materials are required to operate the hardware, in particular fossil fuels to generate electricity and resources for the production of alternative energies.
  3. A game pollutes: In addition to polluting the environment through emissions generated by the digital industry, computers generate an enormous amount of electronic waste, including plastic and chemical components, related to the rapid ageing of computer hardware, the wide range of peripherals and the still inadequate reuse and recycling.

Influencing these environmental impacts therefore requires influencing every single element of the architecture – as far as possible.

For example:

  1. When developing games, care can be taken to ensure that existing hardware is fully or better utilised before new purchases are necessary on the customer's side.
  2. The size of games could be reduced, not by eliminating content, but through more efficient programming. This would have a direct impact on the bandwidth required for distribution. In addition, hard discs or servers would not have to be as large.
  3. Finally, the source code of games could also be designed in such a way that the energy consumption of the PC is optimised.

Regarding point (3), Microsoft offers tools with its Xbox Sustainability Tool that can be used to measure GPU utilisation and easily identify energy inefficiencies. Epic Games has explained in its Fortnite White Paper on Reducing Energy how dynamic resolutions can be used to reduce energy consumption and improve performance at the same time.

In order to be able to act sensibly and sustainably, other more complex criteria must not be ignored, such as the number of players (who download), the playing time, the life cycle of a PC, the type of network, the type of device and also the energy mix in the country in which the game is played.