Gaming and Environmentalism: Opposing Goals? Some Thoughts for Earth Day 2023

Screenshot from Planet Zoo, features a panda eating fruit.

    Recently I've been enjoying the heck out of 2019 PC game Planet Zoo. Planet Zoo is a simulation game by simulation masters Frontier Developments, who are known for their earlier games Roller Coaster Tycoon, Planet Coaster, and Jurassic World Evolution. I had played Jurassic World evolution a few years ago, and I've been excited to play a game about, well, modern animals. Part of the appeal of this game, for me, is its educational aspect. Planet Zoo includes a "Zoopedia" with detailed descriptions of all of the animal species you can include in your zoos, along with information boards that you can erect around your zoo that provide real information about ecological issues like poaching, the amphibian extinction crisis, climate change, and more. This is a game that I would have loved to own when I was a kid, back when my primary option for nature-based educational games was The Amazon Trail (which I have written about more than once on this blog, here and here). Now, I was a very proactive learner in my youth, and even if I hadn't had access to early video games I would still have been pouring over encyclopedias and non-fiction books, while holding mini fundraisers in my front yard (I netted a few quarters from neighbors, which then went into the donation box at the National Aquarium). But many kids don't have access to the resources that I had as a child for various reasons, and I believe that educational games are integral to raising concerned youth with active critical minds (one of my favorite examples was the time video games made me smarter than my science teacher). 

Screenshot of the animalpedia entry on Black and White Ruffed Lemurs from the game Planet Zoo
Animalpedia entry on Black-and-White Ruffed Lemurs from Planet Zoo

While I love educational games and the impact they have on kids (and adults!) in this modern age, in the back of my mind I am always concerned about the environmental impact of using electricity-dependent technology for environmental education, or for leisure, work, or any other things that we do with the computers we are so dependent on. So in this post I will explore the pros and cons of gaming while staying environmentally conscious and provide some details readers can use to make their own choices about their impact on the environment. 

The first question I want to answer is: how large is the impact of gaming technology on our limited resources (namely electricity consumption)? If you're a modern console user, Eco Energy Geek has some answers for you: "The official power rating of a PlayStation 5 Disc Edition console is 350 watts, while the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition has a power rating of 340 watts. Normally the console will draw a lot less than this – expect to use around 200 watts while gaming." (Source) This is an average estimate, based on testing and on Sony's official statements about energy consumption, for how much electricity is used while the console is in active use. If you're like me, however, you're probably also concerned about how much electricity is being used while your console is in so-called "rest mode." Eco Energy Geek also answers this query: "In rest mode, the PlayStation 5 draws around 1.5 watts. Even when completely switched off, if plugged in the PlayStation 5 will draw 1.3 watts. The only way to stop it from drawing any power is to completely unplug it. You can change the settings for Rest Mode from the PS5 menu." (Source

The above information doesn't account for the energy used by your television, however. Fortunately Eco Energy Geek also accounts for TV data: "The average TV uses 57 watts of power, so combined with the PS5 when gaming they would draw around 260 watts total. Most TVs draw between 27 watts and 134 watts, while the PS5 uses between 50 and 200 watts when switched on, depending on what you’re using it for." (Source) If you want more detailed information about specific types of televisions and how they use electricity, check out the full article from Eco Energy Geek. The same article also draws comparisons between the PS5 and the other leading consoles on the market. As one might expect, the X-Box is comparable in energy consumption, but the Nintendo Switch uses a SIGNIFICANTLY smaller amount of energy. If you're really concerned about using the most energy efficient gaming console, the Nintendo Switch is the way to go.

If you're a PC gamer, the numbers are not quite as simple. Because no two PC gamers use exactly the same components (processors, hard drives, monitors, or even keyboards), energy consumption estimates can vary widely. This article entitled "How Many Watts Does A Gaming PC Use?" crunches some numbers on energy consumption from various different PC components. 

What does all of this mean, though? Let's take a look at something most of us use: air conditioning. While some homes still don't have central air conditioning, in the year 2023 the vast majority of Americans and residents of countries with similar economic standing use central heating and cooling systems. According to, "On average, a home air conditioner can use about 3,000 watts of electricity an hour. If you have it on all day, that's 72,000 watts of electricity a day! However, running it on the 'fan-only' mode will only consume about 750 watts an hour." Looking at these numbers, on a very hot day when your air conditioner is running constantly, your PS5 will use less than a tenth of the amount of electricity that your air conditioner is using. This basically shows us that the best way to cut back on electricity consumption is to play games while you suffer through the heat and keep your air conditioner on fan-only mode (and since I live in the deep south, I have a LOT of experience with suffering through the heat!). 

In the next post, I will take a look at materials used to make consoles and other gaming necessities and possible misinformation one might learn from various supposedly eco-friendly video games. I will also delve a bit deeper into why nature-based video games are so important. Stay tuned, the next post will be available to read on Arbor Day: April 28, 2023!

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