Virtual Worlds Leave a Real World Carbon Footprint

A video posted on Vertatique raised the issue of energy consumed by Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG or MMO) like Second Life. Some of the assertions based on impact calculations may surprise you.

Blogger Nicholas Carr: "your average Second Life avatar consumes about as much electricity as your average Brazilian."

Sun Microsystems VP Dave Douglas: An avatar's annual CO2 emissions are "the equivalent of driving an SUV around 2,300 miles (or a Prius around 4,000)."

These calculations are hotly debated, but the debate does make us mindful that even our time in cyberspace has real-world consequences.

Calculation details and debate:
http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/12/avatars_consume.php
http://www.secretlair.com/index.php?/clickableculture/entry/first_life_v...

Update 2009.10.15:
earth2tech reported in 2008 on a company selling offsets: "The cost is L$400 per avatar...and L$50 for a 512 square meter plot of SL land..." No subsequent word on the uptake by SL residents.

SL operator Linden Labs reports that a "detailed analysis showed that [our customized] servers were consuming fully 1/3 less power than other servers (of equal computing capability) deployed on the grid" and has posted a whitepaper about this. Maybe time to rerun some of those above calculations from 2007.
Graph of Second Life user hours 2005-2006
Graph from Second Life site


Facebook's Energy Consumption

This blog post and comments illustrate the challenges of doing these sorts of estimates from the outside: http://www.trendsspotting.com/blog/?p=487

The discussion references an older Vertatique post: http://vertatique.com/?q=average-power-use-server. I'll update it with a comment as necessary.

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