comScore Digital Game Downloads Worse for Environment Than Physical Discs | The Mary Sue

Your Downloadable Games May Be Worse for the Environment Than Game Discs

No wonder those birds are so angry.


Instead of churning out millions of discs to hold video games, publishers are moving towards digital distribution to lower costs and cut down on waste. If you’re not making millions of physical objects that will eventually be thrown away, that’s good for the environment, right? Wrong, says a new study: It may mean less trash, but digital distribution sometimes means more energy use and air pollution.

All those darn vidya games that you kids are downloading over the online are clogging up the air! There’s just too much data flying around up there, and it’s polluting everything! In my day, we used a series of tubes!


The Internet, circa 1994. (image: Boston Public Library)

Er, well, that’s not exactly how it works. It’s more like this: Digital games take energy to store and especially to transmit, and that’s where most of the added carbon footprint comes from. According to a study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, production, sale, and digital distribution of games under 1.3 GB in size produce less carbon emission than disc-based games, but for a standard 8.8 GB blu-ray game, roughly 20.82 kg of carbon dioxide goes into the life of a disc, but up to 27.53 kg could be generated by a digitally distributed copy.

Of course, these numbers assume you’re being a good little consumer and hanging around the mall anyway, so the game purchase isn’t having a huge impact on your driving habits. On the other hand, if you’re driving to the store just to pick up a video game and drive home again, you’re not spreading that carbon footprint around to other purchases, and the pollution difference of digital games and physical ones becomes “too close to call” according to the study.

This could all change over the years as Internet technology evolves, but right now, for all their convenience, large digitally downloaded games may not actually cut down on waste but just move it into the air instead. And what are we even supposed to do with bad games if they’re digital and we can’t just go bury them in the New Mexico desert? Physical copies have so many advantages!

(via UPROXX, featured image via John Ward)

Previously in gaming science

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Dan is a video game modding hobbyist and secret ninja who lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa Brown, and his dog, Liz Lemon, both of whom are the best.