Many Americans love to play video games but very few ever consider how it might impact their electricity bill. Games are becoming increasingly more intensive and interactive which means it requires more electricity to run them.
In 2015, a research paper that got picked up by PC Gamer and other outlets, landed a $1.4 million grant from the California Energy Commission to research the impact of gaming on our electricity usage. Gaming’s “plug load” was long overlooked in part because it fell into the miscellaneous category of non-appliances whose energy consumption was either not understood or assumed to be less significant.
To fill in the blanks, the research team created a gaming lab with 26 different systems, a host of displays, and all manner of consoles and virtual reality equipment. Over two years, they tested 37 popular games in 8 different genres, including Call of Duty: Black Ops, Skyrim, and FIFA17.
So just how big is gaming’s environmental footprint? Globally, PC gamers use about 75 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, equivalent to the output of 25 electric power plants. (And that doesn’t include console games.) In the United States, games consumes $6 billion worth of electricity annually—more power than electric water heaters, cooking appliances, clothes dryers, dishwashers, or freezers. As the report concludes, “video gaming is among the very most intensive uses of electricity in homes.” And more power means more greenhouse gas emissions: American gamers emit about 12 million tons of carbon dioxide annually—the equivalent of about 2.3 million passenger cars.
What’s more, games’ impact could balloon as their market keeps expanding. “This isn’t the domain of 15-year-old boys anymore,” the paper says. “This is something that two-thirds of American households are engaged in. And what does it mean for the population? It’s a lot of energy and a lot of carbon.” Within five years, the electricity demand for gaming in California could rise by 114 percent, according to the report.
Some of gaming’s energy demand is driven by emerging technologies like virtual reality and higher-resolution connected displays. Cloud-based gaming, in which graphics processing is conducted on remote servers, is especially energy intensive, increasing overall electricity use by as much as 60 percent for desktop computers and 300 percent for laptops.