On the off chance you needed another one, here's a severe indictment of the American political landscape: an innocuous, opt-in update enabling new power settings for Xbox consoles has become a Republican talking point in the party's war against all things perceived to be "woke."
Senator Ted Cruz bemoaned on Twitter that after "gas stoves, then your coffee, now they're gunning for your Xbox." As ever, there's no telling who "they" are among countless imagined boogeymen, but I don't remember Microsoft announcing new power saving options for stoves or coffee pots.
Congressman Troy Nehls echoed this gripe while also folding in America's most valued resource: guns. "They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What's next?" Nehls asked on Twitter, linking to a source which incorrectly claims that Xbox will force users to power down their consoles.
The cherry on top is a segment from Fox News which speedruns long-debunked arguments about games and their demographic, misquotes Cruz, and presents this Xbox update as a way to "recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age." And all in just 66 seconds. After all, what's the point of video games? "It's for kids to be kids," Fox News has decided.
Fact-checking political news still feels like trying to cut an acre of grass using safety scissors, but just to set the record straight, let's get the important points out of the way. As a hobby, video games have a non-trivial carbon footprint, and the industry has been working to reduce it for many years, switching to more eco-friendly packaging and working with the United Nations to support broader initiatives.
Xbox, for example, has had power saving console settings for a while, and Microsoft announced new features in this space earlier this month, touting the first "carbon aware" console (opens in new tab). Basically, your console will try to schedule automatic updates during dips in energy grid usage instead of the old default period of 2 to 6am local time, hoping that this "may result in lower carbon emissions" and "potentially save you money." On this, at least, Fox News is right: this update will have a minor impact on carbon emissions and climate change at best, and even Microsoft acknowledges that there are no guarantees. Shaving a few percentage points off an Xbox isn't going to stop untold tons of corporate pollution from pouring into our air and water, but neither will it summon the antichrist.
The same Xbox update also aimed to "reduce your power consumption while your console is off," without affecting gameplay or app performance, though Xbox One consoles "will experience a slower boot time" with energy saving shutdown enabled. In the same vein, Xbox owners can set "active hours" for their console to enable automatic shutdown and define periods of normal power usage.
The key takeaway here, as this wave of fear-mongering deliberately overlooks, is that these settings are customizable and don't affect the gaming performance of Xbox consoles. I've also yet to hear any reports of Microsoft agents breaking down doors to seize the consoles of folks who choose not to use these settings, but that may be because I reside in reality.
Xbox has some more announcements coming today. Here's how to watch the Xbox Developer Direct livestream.