SPOTTED: Sustainability IN GAMING
HAPPY NEW YEAR and welcome to 2023!
Video games are pretty dang cool, and the older I get, the further I have to look to find someone who DOESN'T play games. I'm one of those people who catches about half the newest releases, often choosing to wait for sales or secondhand markets to buy new games. This choice is almost purely financial rather than sustainably-focused, though. It's true that buying a used copy means I'm not causing another disc to be printed and more shrinkwrap to be discarded, but there's also likely fuel being consumed to bring it to me. I mostly keep buying physical discs/cartridges because digital ownership is in a place where any platform--Epic, Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo--could lose, delete, decide to stop hosting or otherwise yank the content you paid for. Of course, physical media can be damaged, lost, or mechanical failure can also keep you from playing your favorites as well, so it's not a problem that disappears completely. It's easy to imagine that it's less sustainable to use resources printing a disc or manufacturing a cartridge and case and then shipping that to the consumer versus simply downloading a game, but I have personally lost more digital content than physical content.
But today, I'm writing about cases of sustainability on the hardware side of gaming. You may have heard of backwards compatibility, where new systems play both current and last-gen games. For example, you can put a Playstation 4 disc in a Playstation 5 and it'll install and run fine if not better. Xbox does this too. Furthermore, you can use either controller with PS4 games so you can basically swap out the old system for the new one and not lose any functionality. That ability doesn't always hold true: the Nintendo Switch doesn't play last-gen (Wii U) games, though a handful of games allow an adapter for old controllers. Before the Switch, though, the Nintendo Wii allowed Gamecube discs and controllers, and Wii U allowed Wii discs and controllers as well. My point is that a new game system doesn't always mean re-buying everything.
Sustainability in game hardware is a big deal and parents and gamers spending their own cash have to spend significantly less when the consoles allow reuse of controllers. Brand new controllers are as much as $70, so when the newest Xbox Series consoles came out in 2020 and let you use the same Xbox One controllers you'd been keeping around for 8 years, there was cause for rejoicing! The trade off to keeping a cheaper and higher supply of controller pools means there's no chance for innovation, though. While the PS5 allows you to use PS4 controllers for PS4 games, it doesn't work on both generations because of two new features for the latest controller: finer vibrations and trigger resistance. If a console generation is 8 years, that's a LONG time to go without adding new features to a controller. At the same time, not everyone is all about new controller features or game tech. That's where retro gamers come in.
I'm not sure what to think about retro games. Sony and Microsoft have made stronger efforts than Nintendo to remake or remaster classic titles so that you can always play them on the latest system. Skyrim (released 2011) and Last of Us (2013) have spanned 3 generations now, getting graphical and quality-of-life updates each time. Nintendo has an online streaming service that lets you play old games (from the 1990s!) on your Switch, but anything outside of the most popular games requires emulation or expertise navigating the secondhand market. If you're not keen on emulation, you can grab a computer or even install custom software on a game system that lets you play downloaded retro games. Legally, you're supposed to own the old cartridges and discs, but you can imagine how many people actually do that. That leaves the retro collection, which can be a plus for the circular economy.
On the one hand, it's pretty cool to have a working NES from 1985 as a hunk of plastic that didn't make its way to the landfill when the SNES came out. On the other hand, you often have to learn a little maintenance and even soldering to repair game consoles when the parts fail. Console repair has only grown more difficult as the part sizes have shrunk and the motherboards have become more complex. This is where digital gaming may fare better, as computers of the future will emulate current games you own right now, so that your PS5's final breaths in 2030 don't mean you'll be out that generation.
I want to finish this meandering sustainability in gaming post by shining the spotlight on the Retroid Pocket 3, a handheld gaming system that has an option to upgrade the motherboard of the last generation to the current one. Desktop computers have always been modular in that you can upgrade the graphics card separately from the RAM and CPU as you get the money and desire to do so. However, modular upgrades aren't all that common to consoles, and it's nice that this company is offering an option to people who want to upgrade more sustainably.