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There is a sea change happening in the gaming industry. Like all the changes that have come before and that will come again it has negatives and it has positives. Gaming is the most popular entertainment medium on the planet. It’s bigger than the movie and music industry combined. There is no other medium like it. There is also no other medium under such a massive pressure to grow and adapt to consumer demands. Gamers are always demanding better. Better graphics, better gameplay, better immersion. But what is the cost of these demands on gaming companies, on those they serve and on the world we exist in together?
The better that games look and play the more they cost in terms of the environmental effects of electronic waste, the amount of power they consume, the physical toll they take on their developers and the financial toll they take on their developer and publishers. Gaming is not slowing down, it’s speeding up. More games are being produced now than ever before. More consoles are being bought and more people are opting to build high-powered gaming PCs. Not to mention the fact that a new console generation is looming.
The PlayStation 5 (?) and Microsoft’s Project Scarlet are due for release in late 2020 which means a whole new generation of consoles performing better than their predecessors It also means more power is required to run them, the games built for them and their other services, such as online play. All of these services require data centres, server farms and, of course, the electricity needed to run them. So it goes then that massive amounts of fossil fuels are burnt producing massive amounts of power alongside massive amounts of pollution. With that should come a massive amount of awareness.
After the likes of the BBC’s Blue Planet II and Netflix’s Our Planet we are more aware of the cost and effect of rising sea levels, burning fossil fuels and plastic pollution. So it comes as no surprise that the world’s biggest entertainment industry would be a part of, rather than the solution to, this enormous challenge. While several large and small gaming companies are attempting to curb their electronic waste or E-waste it’s not enough.
In order to create every console, every gaming PC and every VR headset materials must be ripped from the ground, oil must be burned and electricity must be generated. The gaming industry is generating massive amounts of waste and pollution and beyond an enormous shift in global perspectives there’s not a whole lot we, as consumers and as gamers, can do other than learning how to dispose of e-waste properly and limiting our time gaming. Fossil fuel much like human labour is a finite resource.
Most gamers are in some away engaged with online discussions about their hobbies. Whether it’s reading IGN headlines on your Facebook feed or actively participating in the Apex Legends sub-reddit we get most of our gaming news online. God knows you won’t find it in the New York Times. It stands to reason then that you must have seen news or an Op-Ed about the recent labour disputes throughout the gaming industry. Whether it was the downfall of TellTale Games, the walkouts at Riot Games or the 100 hour work weeks at Rockstar during the making of Red Dead Redemption 2 chances are you heard about it.
This is something called ‘crunch culture‘ and it is endemic in the gaming industry. It is the rule rather than the exception and it exists in nearly every major studio around the world. You’ll be happy to know that Nintendo are one of the few bright spots here prioritizing a work-life balance for every employee from the mail room guy right up to living legend Shigeru Miyamoto. Other than the few exceptions crunch culture is consistent and has been regarded as a necessary evil for decades. Only in the past ten years have people begun to speak out.
Here’s the rub: gaming is a billion people’s favourite past time. It’s also a dream job for some of these people to work at the likes of Sony Santa Monica, Kojima Productions or Rockstar. These people love playing and making games and will sacrifice a great deal of time and energy without pay to make these dreams a reality.
It stands to reason then that most game workers would want to fight against this abuse of labour practices. And so they are: Game Workers Unite is seeking to create an industry spanning union for everyone including the developers, the QA testers and the artists which is quite a difficult thing to do. It will take time but the seas are changing for labour practices once more and there’s no reason why game workers shouldn’t benefit from this. All we can do is support them and if that means delayed or even fewer games so be it. I’d rather that than see an industry extinguish its workforce and, by proxy, itself within my life time.
And now the positives…
Knowing about these issues means we are aware of them if not active about the. Awareness of these issues means we can act on them in small and big ways. The industry is changing like the tides and so it is unavoidable. But this time we must change with it. As gamers becoming complacent means leaving our favourite hobby or even profession to stagnate. It means burnt out workers, it means emptied strip mines and Xbox batteries leaking lithium acid into the earth. It means, in conjunction with the hundreds of other polluters out there, an end to everything as we know it. Sounds like something out of the Metro series right? Give it 20 years and I’ll be glad to be told I’m wrong.