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Green up your game: Tips for eco-friendly play

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When it comes to saving the planet, gamers are old hands.  Zombie apocalypses, alien invasions, dragon infestations -- you name it, we've foiled it.  But doing it for real is a bit more of a challenge.

As another Earth Day rolls around on April 22, it's time again to ponder the questions that prick our electronic consciences.  Are we gaming and gadgeting in an eco-friendly, sustainable way?  Are we making sure our old PCs and consoles don't wind up in a landfill leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater?  Is our carbon footprint closer to a ballerina or a T-Rex?  Here are a few ways you can go green while still gaming away the day.

Cut console power consumption

The first step to green gaming is simple: don't waste power needlessly.  Game systems tend to be electricity hogs, but there are ways to limit the damage.

  • Use rechargeable batteries.
    If you're gaming with an Xbox 360 or a Wii, you need batteries for your wireless controllers (PS3 controllers are rechargeable right out of the box). While both controllers accept standard AA batteries, rechargeable batteries -- or rechargeable packs -- are much better solutions, both economically and ecologically. Check out the Nyko Wii Charge Station or the Xbox 360 Play and Charge Kit.
  • Turn your consoles off. All the way off.
    Remember, when you turn your console off, it's still using power in standby mode. The amount of wattage consumed (anywhere from 2.5 watts for an Xbox 360 to 9.5 for a Wii) is minor compared to that of an active console, but it's still essentially wasted power — and easily saved.  Just hook your console up to a power strip and flip the red switch when you're done gaming.
  • Don't use your Xbox 360 to watch DVDs.
    Feel like popping in a movie?  Using your Xbox to spin a DVD is like using a sledgehammer to put a nail in the wall.  Power consumption of a typical DVD player is about 35 watts, far less than what an Xbox 360 will drain. The same goes for a Blu-ray player (which drains little, if any, more power than a DVD player) versus a PS3.  Dedicated players are pretty cheap these days -- a DVD player can be had for under $30, and even a Blu-Ray player can be had for as low as $60.

Get a greener PC

Think green when you plan your next computer purchase.  A helpful resource for this is EPEAT, a global registry for the environmental impact of consumer electronics.

A simple search can list, for instance, all consumer desktop PCs rated 'gold' by EPEAT.  A gold rating means that a computer has met all required environmental criteria (energy conservation, material selection, product longevity, etc.) established by the IEEE, a major international engineering body, and 75% of optional criteria over and above that. Bronze- and silver-rated PCs don't quite hit this exalted standard, but still score well overall and are a sensible buy for the moderately green gamer.

EPEAT isn't the be-all, end-all of environmental rankings, so it won't hurt to cross-check with another source or two.  Greenpeace has its very own Guide to Greener Electronics, according to which HP is the most environmentally-responsible maker of PCs at the moment (however, from Greenpeace's point of view, they're the best of a bad lot, only attaining 'yellow' status).

Recycle your game gear responsibly

Saving power is key, but gaming devices can still harm the environment after their useful life is over.  What to do with an Xbox or Wii that's conked out, or an older console that belongs to a bygone generation?

Fortunately, there's a simple solution.  Sony, Apple, Microsoft, and Nintendo all offer in-house recycling programs.  Details vary, but in every case you can ship the product to a recycling center at no cost, and may even receive reimbursement if it still retains some value.

For more general e-waste recycling solutions, the Electronics Takeback Coalition website is a great clearinghouse for information.

Buy games digitally

As you might expect, buying software via digital downloads is greener than buying boxed copies at brick-and-mortar stores or via online retailers.

A Carnegie-Mellon study focusing on the environmental difference between online music purchasing and buying CDs concludes: "We find that despite the increased energy and emissions associated with Internet data flows, purchasing music digitally reduces the energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with delivering music to customers by between 40 and 80% from the best-case physical CD delivery..."

While the smaller file size of music versus games is likely to skew that analysis somewhat, the general principal should still apply. concurs, citing a joint study between Microsoft and the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and concluding that "digital download of Office (a nice chunky sized download that one!) avoided 8 times the amount of carbon compared to shipping & producing a DVD."

Between services like Steam, sites like, and all the awesome downloads you can find on both mobile devices and console (Journey, Fez , Trials Evolution, etc.), it's easier than ever to get your fix without dealing with discs -- and all that wasteful packaging.

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