I have on many occasions discussed the impact of legacy games. I have talked about how games are being played fewer times and that legacy might be a solution to $80 and higher games sitting on shelves. Over the last few years as the popularity of board games has grown and the industry has exploded with a glut of games on the market there has been a race for the “new” and “what’s next”. Conventions all want to have something new released and game companies rely on feeding an expectant audience. But all this has gone even further than I anticipated.

This year's Spiel des Jahres awards have chosen to nominate a series of games based on escape rooms, Exit: The Game. These are cheap puzzles that people collaborate to solve. These games provide you a 45-90 minute one-time game experience. No replays, no trading the game on, once the game is used it is discarded. These games are a flash in the pan of play time and then gone. Bigger variations from other publishers of these games may include 3 different rooms to solve before they are not useable or have expansion packs on the way but still result in a number of components that are no longer useful. Most debate revolving around these games focuses on whether these constitute as games or not. That is not my concern here. I want to look at a different side of this debate that perhaps has not been considered but warrants some thought.
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Australia is accumulating waste at a faster rate that we are growing our population. We generated 52 tonnes of municipal waste last year, the 5th highest in the world. This was the focus of the recent ABC miniseries, “The War on Waste” written and presented political satirist and activist Craig Reucassel. In the show he highlighted the effect of Australia’s “disposable culture.” I was most taken back by the sheer volume of waste that we as a society produce, in part, because our buying habits and expectations are moving towards a lifestyle of convenience. I was taken back by Reucassel’s reports on Australia’s use of disposable coffee cups and clothing.

As a lover of cafe style coffee, I quite happily buy my coffee and walk around nursing my deposable cup and place it mindfully in the recycle bin when I am done. However, while I thought I was doing the right thing the reality is that cafe style disposable cups are NOT recyclable. The plastic coating on the inside of the cup that stops the liquid escaping renders the cup as non-recyclable. In Australia, about 50,000 cups are binned every 30 minutes with all of them destined for landfill. If this sounds alarming it should, yet it is but one of the many symptoms of our disposable culture.
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Perhaps more alarming is the 6,000 kilogrammes of clothing that is binned every 10 minutes. Teen fashion stores are championing a trend to one-time wearable clothing. The clothing is made of cheap material that you pay a few dollars for and discarded after use. The only problem being that these materials do not decompose. These numbers are so large that their abstract nature makes them hard to relate to. It is certainly hard to say no to when the convince it offers is exactly what busy people like us need. But the question I want to ask is, are these one-time play games a sign that our disposable habits are finding their way into our gaming hobby?
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When I was finished with my copy of Pandemic Legacy I was at a loss of how much of it I could actually place into the recycling. I cannibalised many of the components for use in homemade games, but how many people would actually find that a viable reason to keep their plastic cubes? How much of the treated player board, special cards, or materials are fully recyclable? This is in no way to say that we should condemn and reject Legacy or Exit Games. I think they are a wonderfully new and exciting gaming adventure that will be worth trying. However it does put us as a consumers of games in a position where we face the chance to lead the charge to more sustainable gaming future.
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We can start to question our publishers on what materials they use and question how our gaming products are supporting a sustainable future. Of course this will lead to the inevitable problems of balancing cost and ensuring we set standards that still allow a fledgling industry to grow, rather then just creating a rod for our own backs. But if we see the questions these disposable games offer us we can get in on the ground floor and find a way to encouraging innovation in game design while still being conscious of our impact on the environment. We can shape the industry before it becomes too big to change.

If you want to experience the new escape room crazy get in quick and get your copy of Exit the Game from our Sponsor The Big Game Theory.