Published: 25 February 2022

Researching the carbon footprint of gaming

Lynsey Thompson swapped chemistry for sustainability, and she’s now researching the environmental impact of the gaming industry at our Centre for Environment and Sustainability

“I’m investigating the carbon footprint and environmental impact of gaming at Sony Interactive Entertainment, primarily focusing on the PS4,” says Lynsey, who studied an MSc at Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability (CES), before conducting Doctorate Practitioner research. “I’m building on the work of other CES students who’ve worked at Sony. My aim is to find the areas that haven’t been addressed and investigate those.”

From chemistry to sustainability

Lynsey originally studied chemistry at Keele from 2014-2017.

“But I lost my love for the subject,” she explains. “I was, however, always interested in renewable energy, but I needed to work so I spent three years in industry.

“In 2020, my partner finished his masters and landed his dream job, so I applied to study an MSc in Corporate Environmental Management at CES. My plan was to complete my masters, get a job and finally be a part of a double-income household for the first time. I thought we could even go on holiday!

“Then, two weeks before I was due to submit my MSc dissertation, I learnt about the CES Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability (PDS) scheme

“It’s different from doing a PhD as you’re embedded in a company, where you’re working and getting the experience while doing your study. I spoke to my partner and I explained we’d be on a lower double income than we’d planned if I applied. He said, ‘Go for it!’ So here I am.”

Lifecycle assessment of gaming

Lynsey continues: “When you sit down to play a game, you turn your console on and you put your disc in or download a game, and start playing. There’s often little afterthought on what the impacts are when playing games. When you investigate gaming, a holistic approach is needed. This involves conducting a lifecycle assessment and looking at the cradle-to-grave story of how an item got here, how it interacts with everything else around it and how it ends.

“This includes the raw materials that go into making the console, console manufacture, the use of peripherals such as controllers, how the game is played, and product distribution and delivery.

“Then we have the use phase, which is what happens when you play the console. That includes electricity and power consumption of the console and allied TV or monitors. If you’re streaming Netflix or downloading a game, you use servers and broadband. At the end of life, you have the option of repairing it – or binning it and buying a new one.

“There was a meme that went out a few years ago that said, ‘I play games because I don’t have one life… I have many!’ It always amused me. But I remembered it since starting this PDS as it’s not just electricity consumption that goes into the impact of gaming. There are many things! It’s complicated.”

Life after Surrey  

Sadly, researching gaming hasn’t improved Lynsey’s playing skills.

She explains: “I’m a big fan of Genshin Impact, but I’m terrible at first-person shooters. I end up getting killed a lot. I was playing Death By Daylight with a group of friends recently and I kept getting caught or running into walls. Everyone kept saying, ‘I have to go back to rescue Lynsey… again!’”

Lynsey’s plans for her future, though, are much more on target.

“I’m learning sign language at night classes for six months,” she reveals. “Then I’ll be learning Japanese again. This is how I met my partner as an undergraduate. We did a summer school in Japan, too.

“For a long time, we wanted to move there, but life’s taken us in a different direction. Hopefully, we’ll finally get that holiday next year, and go there for a few weeks and explore a bit more of it.

“In the longer term, my PDS means I have a general direction of travel in terms of a career. As long as my work is engaging and challenging – and as long as I eventually have a place with a garden and a couple of dogs – I’ll be quite content.”

Learn more about our Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability and postgraduate courses at CES.