The ‘Console Wars’ are totally unsustainable
It is now three months since the PS5’s launch and they’re still nowhere to be seen. Bots continue to decimate stock drops, with new batches disappearing in seconds. Yes, literally seconds. But while much of the gaming community’s attention is currently focused on finding a PS5 (or Xbox Series X), a bigger problem has lately been rolling around my head. Is another console war just a tad out of date?
The reason for the epiphany stems from an article I recently read in The Verge. On the hunt to find out just how big a carbon footprint the video games industry is responsible for, I stumbled across Lewis Gordon’s piece and I quickly divulged the entire — quite lengthy — article that explains in detail just how bad for the environment the PS4 was. This article was comprehensively researched and explains how each part of a PS4’s life cycle — from the mining of minerals which are used in its development, to shipping, to estimates of power consumption per household — contributes heavily to global warming. It is pretty damming — suggesting 8.9 billion kilograms of carbon can be confidentially attributed to the PS4’s production and use.
Now I’m not a total anti-consumerist or blaming Sony alone for the problem of climate change. Yet, with the PS5 just launched, and everyone going bananas to get ahold of a unit, and the console’s much bigger size. I’m left wondering just what will this new console do to the environment? The PS5 and Xbox Series X are super complex internally, using some of the most expensive chips on the market. So, even as the world does become more conscious and progressive in tackling climate change — like using more renewable energy — the manufacturing of the ‘most powerful consoles ever’ is going to be hugely detrimental to the environment.
Sony is not oblivious to this and has set targets to improve its carbon footprint. But these targets are fairly unambitious. It has set out to achieve a ‘zero environmental footprint’ by 2050 — thirty years from now! To put that in perspective, we’ll likely have the PS6, PS7, PS8, and maybe a PS9 before then in terms of hardware. And that’s before you consider the various versions released in between each core console generation. That is a s**t ton of carbon. Not to mention, it relies on the continued mining of raw materials, often found to be conducted in highly unethical conditions.
As I said, I’m not advocating for no new consoles ever. Many people likely choose to spend a lot of money on gaming, but perhaps have a smaller carbon footprint elsewhere — such as by travelling less or opting for vegan diets. But this ‘console wars’ approach and the marketing barrage that surrounds it is making things worse.
To try and navigate this feeling that my gaming habit is destroying the planet, I’ve started looking at Nintendo with admiration. I’ve been a fan of Nintendo games for a long time. I bought a second-hand Switch last year, and it has brought me a lot of joy. But these things aside, Nintendo should also be commended for how it approaches gaming. Not only the creativity but also because it never tries to be the ‘most powerful’ console. Nintendo focuses on developing great games and great consoles, but these do not use the most expensive chips or hardware. The consoles are also physically a lot smaller, making them more sustainable when it comes to shipping and requiring less use of plastic.
This is not an advertorial for Nintendo, there’s plenty of strange decisions Nintendo makes like banning YouTubers who broadcast their games or failing to address the ‘Joy-con drift’. However, this approach to not being the most cutting edge is likely the secret to getting gaming to a more sustainable place. Longer console cycles and less complex hardware help to limit overexploitation of the environment. This needs to be the future of the games industry. It doesn’t have to mean the end of powerful consoles altogether, but the most powerful systems could be reserved for smaller audiences that need the extra horsepower, rather than receiving this big push from Sony and Microsoft for everyone to upgrade.
Gaming has a sustainability problem which is hardly ever discussed. This needs to be addressed, but in Nintendo lays the secret to getting it to a better place. Sony and Microsoft should be taking notes.