A ‘carbon aware’ update for the Xbox is drawing political attention
A recent update targeted at lowering power consumption on Xbox consoles has drawn fire from some surprising quarters, including Sen. Ted Cruz and the morning show “Fox & Friends.”
On Jan. 11, the Xbox department at Microsoft announced an update for Xbox One and Series X|S gaming systems that would make them “the first carbon aware consoles.” The update, which is currently being tested in the early-access Xbox Insider program, introduces a new set of options to control how the console acts when it’s in sleep mode, in order to tie into Microsoft’s goal of being a carbon negative company by 2030.
The initial news of the patch came and went without much commentary, since it’s still limited to Xbox Insiders for product testing and has yet to be enabled for typical Xbox owners. It also doesn’t impact the devices’ functionality in any way that can’t be turned off, and in fact, it’s entirely possible that many Xbox players wouldn’t notice the difference.
Even so, the “carbon aware” update on Xbox began to draw fire from the political sector on Jan. 23, beginning with a piece on Blaze News that announced Microsoft “will force gamers into powering down their Xbox consoles in order to fight climate change.”
The Blaze piece largely misrepresents the features of the update, presenting them as if the update will automatically force all Xboxes to use the power-saving Shutdown mode, and as if that permanently disables several system features that are associated with the more energy-intensive Sleep mode.
Further commentary came on Jan.24 from “Fox & Friends,” which accused Microsoft of “trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age,” and a tweet from Sen. Cruz that ties the Xbox update into other recent carbon-related controversies.
“First gas stoves, then your coffee,” Cruz wrote, “now they’re gunning for your Xbox.”
The Xbox Series X|S is unique among ninth-generation consoles in that it’s surprisingly difficult to turn off. Out of the box, pushing the Series X|S’s power button either activates Sleep or Shutdown mode, neither of which fully powers down the console. To do that, you have to go into the system’s power settings and force it to fully power down.
Since March 2022, Xboxes have shipped with Shutdown as the default option, but launch-edition consoles had Sleep mode turned on out of the box. Sleep uses 10-15W vs. Shutdown’s 0.5W, but allows users to boot the Xbox instantly and access it remotely. Sleep mode can also cause a few glitches for users if the Xbox is allowed to run for long enough without a full restart, like any other computer.
As part of Microsoft’s ongoing sustainability program, the Jan. 11 “carbon aware” update adds some of the same features that were introduced last year for Windows 11. An Xbox that’s plugged in and connected to the Internet will automatically try to gain access to regional carbon intensity data, in order to run automatic updates at points in time when your local power grid is drawing the most electricity from renewable sources.
“We encourage all players to learn more about the power setting options available to you,” wrote Blaine Hauglie, technical program manager at Xbox, on the official Xbox blog. “Every small step we take has larger collective impact – and choosing Shutdown (energy saving) can have real, meaningful impact.”
“For example, for every two consoles that switch to Shutdown (energy saving) for one year, we will save the equivalent amount of carbon removed by one tree planted and grown for a decade.”
While the update did automatically enable Shutdown mode for Xbox Insiders who had their systems set to Sleep, there’s nothing that prevents them from changing it back. The update also adds a new feature to Sleep mode that allows the option to adjust an Xbox’s active hours of operation, so it will switch from Sleep to Shutdown modes at user-specified points in time when no one’s using the system. This is intended to reduce the console’s overall power draw.