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Avatars consume as much power as Brazilians

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foreign policy blog


Dru = bad for environment?


It was only a matter of time before someone took the avatar world to task for their environmental impact. (In case you think an avatar is a new model of Hyundai, here's a brief primer. Avatars are computer-generated, physical representations of people in virtual online games or social worlds. Think Second Life, Sims, World of Warcraft, etc.)


The virtual world of Second Life, which hit one million residents back in October, is one of the most popular online games of its kind. To even call it a game is perhaps inaccurate. It's a full-fledged virtual world, complete with crime, sex, commodities, and real-world advertising. (Don't miss BusinessWeek's journey into Second Life or its great "Old Fogey's Guide to the Online Universe.") It goes way beyond the traditional online games of old: These days, politicians like former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner hold town meetings and musicians use music streaming to stage "live" concerts in Second Life in order to be heard.


So, it's fascinating to see blogger Nick Carr (also a former exec editor at Harvard Business Review) calculate whether avatars consume more energy than their human counterparts. He found that the thousands of avatars "living" in Second Life at any given moment, given the servers and computers needed to run the virtual world, use about the same amount of electricity as a comparable number of real-life Brazilians. So, here's my question: Has anyone done any research on whether avatars are much more wasteful than their human counterparts? Say, in terms of energy: Do avatars not bother to turn off the lights?

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Allow me to take a stab at this important question.


If you were to pie chart the energy consumption of an average American, you'd find that the largest wedge is burned in pursuit of convenient and inexpensive shopping, the second largest in pursuit of greatest quantity for the money in food, and the third in the pursuit of sex, ie, sick rides, those sexy, form fitting knee length black sweaters, soul patches, and, in more desperate cases, camel toe pants.


These three wedges comprise 97% of all energy spent by Americans, so the remaining wedges are negligible.


In all three, the avatar falls short. It is not shopping, unless you consider the occasional paid porn download shopping.

It does not pursue food because there it has all Doritos and Diet Pepsi it will ever need within a 3 foot radius. And finally, well, do I even need to address the pursuit of sex question?


Anyone who's ever witnessed a Brazilian on a Friday night will agree that the amount of energy they expend in the pursuit of sex far outweighs the categories I've outlined above.

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