What is green gaming?

The Nintendo Wii is comparably efficient when matched against the PlayStation 3.
AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

­Just about ever­ything is "going green" these days, from cars, to homes, to jobs. So it's not surprising that the video game industry is also looking for ways to become more environmentally friendly [source: U.S. Department of Energy]. It's a much needed change, according to one report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which finds that video game consoles burn an estimated 16 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year -- about the same amount consumed by the entire city of San Diego [source: NRDC]. Sony's PlayStation 3 was one of the worst offenders in the report, using up an average of 150 watts in active mode (by comparison, the Nintendo Wii uses about 16 watts during game play).

Video game ­packaging is another big environmental offender. In 2007, about 101 million video games were sold in plastic cases. The energy needed to produce such packaging adds up to equal the greenhouse gas emissions from more than 9,000 cars [source: Wal-Mart].


­The­ NRDC report estimates that just by turning off our games when we're not using them, we could save 11 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, $1 billion in energy costs and 7 million tons (more than 6 million metric tons) of carbon emissions every year.

Some retailers are already eyeing greener gaming initiatives. In 2008, Wal-Mart convened a Green Gaming Summit with representatives from video game manufacturers Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, as well as the National Resources Defense Council. Manufacturers are looking at solutions such as using cardboard packaging and creating low-power modes for when game consoles aren't in use.

­Hewlett-Packard is set to release gaming computers that are sm­aller and more energy-efficient than their predecessors. The HP Firebird will run on a mere 350 watts of power -- about one-fifth of the energy needed to power bigger gaming computers. One company executive likened the new PCs to transforming gas-guzzling SUVs into hybrids [source: PCWorld]



Green Games and How to Green Up Your Gaming

Your Xbox 360 will keep draining power from its socket when it's not in use.
AP Photo/John Smock

Green gaming isn't just about saving energy. It also aims to reduce waste and teach us about environmental issues like recycling and global warming.

Think saving the environment can't be exciting? A number of video game companies have created virtual worlds that combine action and adventure with important ecological lessons. In the classic computer game "Awesome Possum," players travel through four worlds: Rain Forest, Arctic Circle, Sea Caverns and Dr. Machino's Domain to rescue the world from an evil mega-polluter. Other games allow players to figure out the best alternative energy sources to build a green city, like in "SimCity Societies." NoteNiks has several games that teach kids how to recycle, compost and respect their environment. And in Nintendo's "Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol," young players control a robot as it waters flowers, cleans up trash and transforms a toxic wasteland back into a lovely park.


Some games not only act green -- they are green. "Venture Arctic," which challenges players to find a balance between human and natural interests in the Arctic, comes in "Go Green Packaging" made of 100 percent recycled material (that means no plastic). One game even lets players feed the hungry. Every time you answer a vocabulary question correctly on FreeRice.com, the site will donate 20 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Programme.

Even if you'd rather play "Grand Theft Auto" than a video game in which you save the environment, you can still contribute to the health of our planet through gaming. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that about half of all game players leave their consoles plugged in when they're not in use. These vampire electronics suck electricity from the wall even when they're turned off. Eventually, video game manufacturers may equip their consoles with automatic power-down features (like the sleep mode on your personal computer) that turn off the games when they're not active. Until then, unplug your Xbox or Wii or turn off the power strip when you're done playing. Also unplug your Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable chargers when they're not in use. Computers already come equipped with a sleep mode, so be sure to use it.

Video game controllers also need a constant supply of power. Instead of tossing batteries­ every few weeks, use rechargeable batteries with a rating of 2000 mAh or higher for your Xbox 360 and Wii controllers.

If you can afford it, upgrade your computer system. Switch to an "80 Plus" power supply to reduce energy drain. Swap your old, lead-filled CRT for an LCD monitor, which uses about a third of the energy and is lead-free. New hard drives, motherboards and fans are also manufactured without the lead.

­When you're done playing the latest Mario escapade, don't throw it in the trash where it'll wind up in some landfill. Most video game retailers will give you a credit for your old video games, which you can use to buy the latest releases. You can even recycle video game dinosaurs like the old Atari and Sega game cartridges through organizations such as Earth911.com. Better yet, don't buy new games -- download them off the Internet. GameFly.com, Xbox 360's Live Marketplace and Sony's PlayStation Network offer hundreds of game downloads, many of which are cheaper than buying the packaged versions. You can also rent games through GameFly.com or Blockbuster. Once you're done playing with a game, just turn it in and get a new one. And when you're finished with your computer or video game console, you can recycle those, too.


Lots More Information

R­elated HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • "Already saved Princess Toadstool…about a million times?" Ideal Bite. http://www.idealbite.com/tiplibrary/archives/super_biter_bros
  • "Green Gaming? Yup." Wal-Mart. Checkout blog. Aug. 28, 2008. http://checkoutblog.com/entries/2008/8/28/green_gaming__yup.aspx
  • K., Gren. "Green Gaming: Playing Video Games, the Eco-Friendly Way." http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/631389/green_gaming_playing _video_games_the.html?cat=19
  • Lai, Eric. "HP's Striking Firebird with Voodoo DNA Desktops." PCWorld. Jan. 10, 2009. http://www.pcworld.com/article/156142/power_saving_PCs.html?tk=rss_news
  • "Lowering the Cost of Play." National Resources Defense Council. November 2008. http://www.nrdc.org/energy/consoles/files/consoles.pdf
  • Moon, Brad. "Review: 'Venture Arctic' -- Can A Video Game Be Green?" Wired.com. July 28, 2008. http://blog.wired.com/geekdad/2008/07/can-a-video-gam.html
  • Nurenberg, Gary. "Putting a Stake through Vampire Electronics." CNN.com. Dec. 12, 2006. http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/12/12/vampire.electronics/
  • Spiegel, Rob. "Nintendo Goes Green and Releases Eco-Game." DesignNews. Nov. 19, 2007. Vol. 62, Iss. 17, pg. 26.