Eduardo Luersen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Zukunftskolleg, affiliated with the Department of Literature, Art and Media at the University of Konstanz, and a member of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network. His current project, Cloud Gaming Atlas: from Earth’s metabolism to the longing for radiant infrastructures, seeks to conceptualize the continuities between cloud gaming infrastructure and natural systems, highlighting the material aspects of digital media platforms while also taking into account how the games industry is preparing to manage the environmental implications associated with its own escalation.
Bibiana da Silva de Paula (Scientific Assistant at the University of Konstanz)
How to grow crops while gaming: heat as an economic asset of cloud-based infrastructure services
FROG 2023 – Talk
For more than a decade, the games industry has probed distributing games under a “service-oriented paradigm”. Such a model, often described as gaming-as-a-service (GaaS), has been recently deviating from a distribution system based on the release of downloadable titles towards a method grounded on the streaming of game content via the cloud. Under this model, well-known actors in the ecosystem of gaming cooperate with external cloud infrastructure providers. High-end graphic processors are stacked into server racks stored in massive colocation data centres prepared to run computing-intensive games in modest devices. As the most energy-intensive form of gaming by far, cloud gaming, but also other process-intensive activities in the cloud, naturally dissipate a lot of heat. Nonetheless, for stakeholders investing in globally-available computing services, excess heat is not just an accursed climatic share but also a variable under economic scrutiny. In the broader geoeconomics of heat exchange enabled by such “information factories”, temperature becomes a strategic (and arguably scalable) commercial asset. The government of Sweden advertises cold weather as a resource to attract cloud infrastructure providers. In Hokkaido, winter snow is conserved to be used to cool server halls during summertime. In Mantsaala, Dublin and Basel, just as in several other places, the heat generated in data centres by computing-intensive services, such as gaming, is commercialised with local energy providers in order to heat homes.
As the carbon footprint of Information and Communication Technologies gets on par with the Aviation Industry, “environment-friendly” initiatives permeate the roster of sustainable practices offered by data storage and processing facilities: data centres become places to create bee colonies, grow eels and shellfish, or farm leafy greens. By fostering initiatives backed by multilaterally-sponsored environmental programmes and groups of concerned developers, the gaming industry also advocates for greener practices. Nevertheless, as the sector merges with the carbon-intensive metabolism of the cloud, where outsourced heat is business as usual, one could argue that planetary health is not really a priority. This paper inquires about these contradictions while trying to tangle up a dynamic ecosystem of servers, biomes, computers, animals, trade, air-conditioners, video cards, groundwater, and real-time photo-realistic rendering.