In recent years, the energy consumption generated by the Internet has grown steadily, thus contributing to growing global pollution. But what about video games really?
At the start of 2021, it was estimated that there were 2.7 billion players for a market that now weighs more than $ 300 billion. The French market is also experiencing growth of 11.3% in 2020. Despite these impressive figures, there is one subject that is little discussed: the impact of video games on the environment. We do know that the use of the Internet contributes to large-scale pollution, but little is communicated on the impact of the evolution of video games on one of the major causes of recent years. And the development of cloud gaming, in particular with the arrival of Netflix on the market or the merger of Microsoft and Sega, So what is it really?
Digital, this double-edged sword
While digital technology is seen as a real solution for developing a country’s growth, it is regularly singled out for its environmental impact. An increase in digital consumption, construction of data centers, relocation of material production are all issues increasing digital pollution. Indeed, in a study published in 2018 by The Shift Project, a think tank that works in favor of an economy free from the carbon constraint, digital energy consumption is increasing by 9% per year. In other words, the use of digital technology (not just video games but also streaming or material production for example) is increasing every year.
But digital consumption is not limited to the use of the internet. When we talk about digital consumption, there is also the notion of production to take into account. Whether it is material production (such as computers, smartphones or the audiovisual production of a streaming platform) or the establishment of data centers to increase the possibilities of digital, all this has its importance in digital consumption. And very few people are aware of it in the end, which makes the pollution generated by digital technology even more invisible. For example, Happ-e by Engie explains that streaming a 90-minute film represents the same electricity consumption as 15 light bulbs lit for an hour!
Do we recycle our digital material?
Regarding video games, there is already material production which, in the end, is not that ecological. Indeed, almost all computer parts are produced abroad (mainly in Asian countries such as China, Thailand, or Vietnam for example) before being assembled elsewhere. The equipment therefore already makes several air or sea journeys before being usable by a player. And the strong disruptions encountered by the market (which is not the only one impacted, let us remember) do not help the situation since this situation has made it possible to realize that currently, the rate of recycling of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronics) is still quite low in the world.
Indeed, according to a study published in 2020 by Globalwaste.org, most of the WEEE was produced in Asia (24.9 megatonnes). In total, no less than 53.6 megatonnes of WEEE were produced across the world last year. However, it is in Europe that the recycling rate of this waste is the highest. Indeed, 42.5% of WEEE produced in Europe was listed as having been collected and properly recycled. While Europe recycles almost half of its WEEE, the other continents are far behind it: Asia has recycled 11.7% of its WEEE, the Americas 9.4%, Oceania 8.8%, and the ‘Africa 0.9%. We must of course keep in mind that all countries do not have the same customs or the same technological advances in recycling. Moreover, a study published in the journal Patterns estimates that telephones, computers, televisions, etc. generate between 2.1% and 3.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By way of comparison, civil aviation generates 2.5% of GHG emissions.
Ok, producing polluting material. But does playing a video game pollute?
We now know that producing digital equipment (computer, smartphone, etc.) pollute and that their recycling is not maximized. But does the act of playing video games pollute? Well, according to independent digital expert Frédéric Bordage ” the video game chain on consoles would emit 37 million tonnes of CO² equivalent “. But in the video game chain, there is still the material part which also includes the production of video game cartridges and their delivery to various points of sale around the world. However, in 2019, Microsoft made an announcement where the American company said it was stepping up its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. So, announcement effect or real involvement?
In a 2019 study, Statista estimated that 60.6% of global internet traffic was for video streaming compared to 8.1% for video games. However, these figures could soon be revised with the arrival of cloud gaming, if it becomes the revolution hoped for by video game publishers. Indeed, in a 2018 study published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, it is revealed that “cloud-based games are by far the most power-intensive form of gaming on the Internet [..] and that depending on the device and the load, cloud games can increase overall consumption by up to 300% “.
Take the example of Google Stadia. The American company does not hesitate to praise the performance of its cloud gaming service: a computing power of 17.7 Teraflops, 16 GB of RAM, 4k HDR at 60 frames per second, etc. As an example, the PS5 has a GPU capable of 10.28 Teraflops. However, Stadia is only accessible with a compatible smartphone or Chromecast. And given the announced power of Stadia, the problem that arises is the consumption of devices. Indeed, compatible devices consume on average only about 10 watts but will require several hundred watts of power in order to use Google’s cloud gaming service.
In addition, the development of cloud gaming could increase accessibility to video games and therefore increase demand. By increasing demand in this way, energy consumption would also be increased and therefore companies would increase the construction of data centers, which are particularly energy-intensive, particularly in terms of water. What’s more, video games tend to get heavier and heavier. This would imply greater energy consumption because the heavier a file is to download, the greater the energy required to retrieve it. And conversely, the lighter the file, the less energy is required.
However, cloud gaming could drastically reduce the physical waste associated with video games. So is it better to play via cloud gaming or via physical games? In reality, it depends. Using a cloud gaming service obscures our relationship to pollution. It becomes more distant, less malleable, while with a physical game, we can still with a little awareness of our impact. The video game being something immaterial, it is complicated for us, citizens, to realize to what extent it is a polluter. Still, using common sense is certainly the best possible approach.
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