How to be a Sustainable, Zero-Waste Gamer

So it’s 2020, and the world is on fire. Well, to be fair, the world was already on fire before 2020. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, rising temperatures, forest fires, species of flora and fauna going extinct… are you sweating yet?

          Of course, the majority of the blame is not on the shoulders of the individual consumer, like you and me. Corporations, psychological manipulation in advertising, and corrupt organisation structures led in the name of capitalism are what have put the planet in the state it’s in, alongside overarching structures like racism and ableism. So please don’t feel personally responsible for the state of the Great Barrier Reef, or feel like you are the only one who can save it.

However! It doesn’t mean that you can’t make smarter choices in your purchases and take small steps to enact change. After all, it was through the collective demands from people who cared about the environment that put pressure on corporations to (in some cases, performatively) make their production and work ethic practices more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Of course, not all corporations are honest about their alleged sustainability, something that’s called “green-washing”, but hey, as long as we keep calling them out, we’re doing the best we can.

The thing about living the best sustainable life possible is that you ideally wouldn’t be purchasing… anything unnecessary. You’d be growing your own food, not buying new clothes every season (making them if possible), and refrain from purchases that aren’t necessary for survival. But of course, that’s boring. People have hobbies and interests, they’re what make us individuals! So how do we go about continuing to have our hobbies while being responsible consumers?

1. Buy used consoles/controllers

(Credit: Wired)

One of the best things you can do regarding sustainable consumption is refraining from contributing to demand. Some people will argue that, “If everyone bought used, companies would make no money!” and to that I say: there will always be people who will buy new, whether because they hate the idea of buying things touched by other people, or because there is no used market where they live, which was true for me when I lived in the Caribbean. If you look at local listings, you also contribute to helping your community out by buying local. Buying local and picking up games from places like flea markets also reduces emissions, so that’s great too! Not to mention the fact that you usually save money on newer used games. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for games with low print runs that have gone up in price, or, say, any Pokémon game ever. But with enough patience, you’re sure to find a deal.

2. Borrow consoles/games from friends

Remember this sick burn?
(Credit: Sony, Spiel Tipps PS4)

If you want to refrain from buying new, but you’re on a tight budget, you can borrow consoles and games from friends. This allows you to try games out so you know whether you’ll like them, and experience games that you would have played through once anyway, while saving money! I managed to avoid purchasing games that many people liked, but I wasn’t particularly astounded by, like Super Mario Odyssey. If you have multiple friends interested in the same single-player game, you can all pitch in to buy one (preferably used) copy and take turns playing. It offers both an affordable way to play games as well as giving you the opportunity to bond with friends over shared experiences, compare notes and give each other tips. Just like the good ol’ days on the playground where game guides were our only source of help outside of kids sharing secrets and rumours.

3. Buy digital

All your favourite games in one place!
(Credit: Nintendo)

Are you short on physical space, live in a shared space, or simply cannot be bothered to continuously swap discs/cartridges each time you want to play a new game? Then another good way to keep gaming sustainably is by buying digital goods. This reduces the amount of plastic produced and reduces carbon emissions produced through the transportation of production materials and finished products. The cool part about it is that you can also get some sweet deals on digital games depending on when you buy, unless you exclusively buy first-party Nintendo games, in which case… you’ll be waiting a while. Deku Deals is a great way to find Nintendo eShop deals without having to navigate Nintendo’s clunky digital storefront. If you pay for subscriptions like PlayStation Plus or Xbox Game Pass, you’ll also be saving on games while having a great selection to choose from.

4. Rent games

Wow, I feel old.
(Credit: New Yorker)

“What is this, the 90s?!” are among the screams I hear across the way, but c’mon guys, open your minds! If you don’t have friends who play the games you’d like to borrow (or if they’re digital only players) and you want to try games out or experience single-player games just once, you can pay a fee to rent games for a short period of time. Whether it be from a library, an independent gaming store or a service like GameFly, you will be consuming products that did not specifically have to be made for you and reducing plastic waste, while having all the fun you would if you bought the game new.

5. Re-think your reasons to collect

FOMO is the worst.
(Credit: Not Therapy)

Admittedly, when I first really got into gaming culture in my early adult years, I kind of bought into the “Gotta Collect ‘Em All!” mentality. I saw that people were collecting entire sets of games that they didn’t even play, just for the sake of collecting them. People bought multiple 3DS systems, just because they were different colours, and never touched them again. I felt pressured to buy special or limited-edition versions of games that came with content I most often didn’t even use, like my Limited Edition Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate bundle. Many also purchase games to keep them sealed specifically because they were low-print and rare, and I spent $70 on Ocarina of Time 3D when it ended up being re-released for $20 in the Nintendo Selects collection. I look back and cringe at how much money I spent unnecessarily.

When amiibo became a thing in 2015, I saw people tripping over themselves to collect all of them, even if they didn’t particularly care about the characters or the functionality they had in compatible games. When certain figures were store-exclusive, or out of print, people paid way above MSRP for figures that were either kept in boxes, unused or only bought because of the perceived value. I have quite a few amiibo as well, but I limited myself to collecting the figures from games I love. I bought a few of these used as well!

I’m not telling anyone how to spend their money, however, if your goal is to reduce your impact on the environment, it would be nice to at least think about whether all the consoles, games, special editions and figures are ones you actually use. This is my personal opinion, but I find collections of games you can really connect with to be all the more interesting. Each game in my small collection has endless memories attached to it, surrounding the point in time I was in my life while I played them.

6. Collect retro

Retro games open up a whole new world of possibilities.
(Credit: Fun Stock Retro)

If collecting large sets of games is really your thing, however, don’t fret! Because you can live your dreams while remaining sustainable as long as you have a crucial trait – patience. Collecting sets of games and consoles after they are no longer in production means that you are not contributing to demand, and by extension, supply. All these pieces of plastic have already been manufactured to meet the demand, and now time has come to move onto something new. By collecting retro, you’re fuelling your hobby and buying what’s already in circulation. Don’t worry – you won’t have to wait until the end of the Switch’s life cycle before you can start collecting for the system. You can also just buy games you know you want to play on the current systems you own, and move on to collecting the set for that system once it’s out of production. Patience!

7. Discourage scalping

These people take being a slimeball to a whole new level.
(Credit: Push Square)

We’ve all been there. We wanted a thing, weren’t able to buy it immediately, and now it’s out of stock in stores, while it’s being sold at a mark-up on eBay. Tears are flowing, you can’t sleep at night… you take another look at eBay. “It’s not that much more expensive than MSRP, just a hundred dollars more,” you think sadly, “Maybe I could buy it as a Christmas present to myself…

Stop. Don’t buy it. If it’s a game or a console that’s just come out, it will be re-stocked. Even if it’s a limited item, which won’t be re-stocked, refrain from it if it’s not absolutely crucial. If we all work together to deny scalpers the satisfaction of exploiting people’s frustration, they will eventually have no choice but to sell at a fairer price. Remember those people who hoarded those cleaning supplies and toilet paper back in April, who ended up having to give it away? We can achieve that with video game scalpers, with just a little patience. Scalpers prey on our FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, where we feel anxious if we don’t experience things at the same time as everyone else. Thus, they buy way too many things at once, which drives up demand, which drives up supply. If we quit interacting with them, they will feel less incentivised to hoard items to re-sell at a mark-up.

Yeah, so that’s my list! Making the transition to consuming less and producing less waste (with zero waste being the end goal!) has been something I’ve been interested in lately. Of course, the ability to live more sustainably is heavily dependent on our socioeconomic status, and it would be pretty classist of me to demand everyone do so. It’s not possible for everyone, and that’s okay! But for those of us in positions to sacrifice a little for the good of others who cannot, it would be great if we did our part.

What do you think of my list? Do you have any suggestions for more ways to reduce waste as a gamer and live more sustainably? Let me know!

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