Xbox’s Strange Power Saving Climate Change “Controversy” Explained

The Xbox has always been associated with the color green, but a new power-saving feature designed to combat climate change has become an unlikely source of controversy.

Xbox Series X/S
Photo: Microsoft

Concerns over the tech sector’s impact on climate change have only grown as of late. We only have one Earth, and all the CO2 that was dumped into the air from cryptocurrency mining didn’t do it any favors. That’s part of the reason why Microsoft is introducing a new Xbox power mode designed to cut back on carbon emissions. Strangely, that new setting has already kicked off an unusual controversy.

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced via blog post that they would transform the Xbox into the world’s first “carbon-aware console.” Theoretically, that would mean less dependency on fossil fuels, lower CO2 emissions, and reduced electricity bills. Sounds like a win-win for everyone, right? Well apparently, some people don’t like the idea of making the Xbox less of a power hog. In fact, quite a few vocal pundits claim the initiative is proof that Microsoft is allying itself with a group of political activists trying to destroy America. Or is it just video games? Honestly, the whole controversy is rather confusing, but that’s why we’re here to hopefully help you make sense of it.

How Xbox’s New Power Saving Shutdown Setting Works

The Xbox Series X/S, and by extension the Xbox One, is full of features most gamers probably don’t know about. One such feature is the console’s optional power modes. Users can choose between Shutdown and Sleep modes, the latter of which lets the Xbox start faster and download updates when not in use (but at the cost of more power consumption). Microsoft is planning to rework those power options soon via that aforementioned update.

Once that update is rolled out to the public, Xbox consoles will automatically switch to the new Shutdown (energy saving) mode. That option will allow Xbox users to update their console and games during what Microsoft calls “nightly maintenance windows.” What’s the difference? Well, thanks to the Shutdown feature, Xbox consoles will be able to monitor carbon intensity data via an internet connection and schedule updates for when emissions are at their lowest. According to Microsoft, these windows occur when the electricity grid pulls from low-carbon sources, so when Xbox consoles use them, they won’t produce as many CO2 emissions. Even if the updates take longer, who cares? You’re asleep. The Xbox will still be ready by the time you wake up.

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Microsoft’s Shutdown feature will also change how the Sleep mode works via selectable “Active Hours.” As the name suggests, this addition will let users select what times of the day they plan on using their consoles. During these hours, when the Xbox is put to sleep, it will still update apps, start up faster, and draw 10-15 watts. But outside of those hours, Xboxes will fully shut down and only use 0.5 watts. Consider this new, updated Sleep mode a hybrid of the two existing power modes.

If all goes according to Microsoft’s plan, this new feature will help the company become carbon negative (i.e., remove more carbon gasses from that atmosphere than it emits) by 2030. That goal includes a recent Windows 11 update that made Windows Update carbon aware.

How to Use Xbox’s New Power Saving Feature

Currently, the Power Saving Feature is only available for Xbox Insiders, but soon all owners will be able to take advantage of the carbon-aware options. When the feature is ready, just update the console from the “Updates” menu in the “System” tab in the Settings menu. Alternatively, turn on active updates in the menu (the “Keep my console up to date” option), and you won’t have to keep checking.

Once the update rolls out, the new modes will be available in the Power options menu, which is accessible in the “General” tab of the Xbox’s Settings menu. Gamers will also be able to change their console’s Active Hours from that menu. Furthermore, the update will include the option to set the Active Hours to “always active” so the console never turns off.

Why Is Xbox’s New Power Saving Feature Controversial?

On the surface, Microsoft’s plan sounds like a good, fairly unobjectionable idea. As previously stated, the less energy a console uses, the lower its carbon emissions. Even if this new feature doesn’t lower CO2 gasses by that much, it can still help save money on your electricity bill. So what’s the problem? According to a vocal minority, it’s all part of a ploy to make Microsoft go “woke.”

After Microsoft announced the power saving update, several sites and some larger Twitter accounts took up arms against the company. All of these sources have one thing in common: they are operated by hardline conservatives. Right-wing outlets such as The Blaze and Fox News reported on Microsoft’s announcements, and when the Young America Foundation’s Twitter account retweeted the news, it added the claim that a “woke brigade” was coming for your video games. Remarkably, Fox News hosts took the time to echo that sentiment during a segment on the subject. Some even added the tried and tired claims that gamers don’t have jobs or partners and still live in their parents’ basements.

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Even conservative politicians such as Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Troy Nehls chimed in and spun an anti-Democrat message that linked Microsoft’s update with the claim that Democrats were also coming for gas stoves. Apparently, this belief stems from a recent study that found links between gas stoves and childhood asthma (via Washington Post) rather than instances of Democrats actually calling to outlaw gas stoves.

Ultimately, the Xbox Climate Change “controversy” is the result of people making a mountain out of a molehill, either due to a misunderstanding of the situation or the desire to push an existing political narrative. Microsoft’s upcoming changes are honestly a non-issue. Don’t want your Xbox to turn off while you’re asleep? Change the console’s Active Hours, either manually or set them to “always active.” From there, the shutdown mode will still turn the console off. Again, these are all options, and you are free to use them or not as you like. Nobody is forcing anyone to do anything with their Xbox, despite what you may hear about this subject in the future.