Few people think regularly about the carbon footprint of their smartphone. Understandably: One iPhone 14, for example, generates roughly 61 kg of carbon in its lifetime — the equivalent of a single drive from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia. But apply that to the 237 million iPhones Apple shipped in 2021, and those emissions climb to 15 million metric tons, five times more than Washington, D.C.’s annual emissions from fossil fuels. Like so many aspects of our daily lives, from cheeseburgers to cars to new clothes, scale is the difference between negligible climate cost and noticeable climate footprint.

Video games, too, have a little-discussed but growing problem with scale. While the amount of electricity used by a single gamer is small, roughly 40% of the global population — more than 3 billion people — now play video games of some sort, many for multiple hours a day. The proliferation of gaming hardware, which relies on increasingly scarce materials and complex supply chains, as well as the energy required to power a pastime growing in popularity, are starting to draw the attention of climate experts. With the world on track to add 600 million more gamers by 2027, addressing those challenges now could be an important step in a quest by the industry to make itself greener.

"The emissions per hour of gaming aren’t so much, but collectively they are,” says Mike Hazas, a professor specializing in sustainability and digital technology at Uppsala University in Sweden.