So, About That Supposed $1.2 Million In Tax Dollars Going To ‘World Of Warcraft’ Players

Senior Contributor
02.25.13 10 Comments

You may have seen a few prominent politicians on Twitter last night insisting that President Obama is giving those World of Warcraft nerdburgers $1.2 million for their hoard.

As you may have guessed, that’s not actually the case. Instead the government is giving old people a small amount to play Boom Blox. Here’s what our fearless leaders think is happening, versus what’s really happening.

The root of this ridiculousness is Tom Coburn, senator from Oklahoma. Coburn makes it a habit to find government projects he thinks are wasteful and publish them in a “Wastebook”.

To be fair, Coburn isn’t shy about whaling on his own party (number one in 2012’s Wastebook are his colleagues in the Congress) or chewing out wastes perpetrated by his own state, but the problem is that he doesn’t really “get” this whole “science” “thing” that the government insists on spending money on. Among his declarations of “waste” were NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project, which was less than a million bucks, because we’re not planning on going to Mars soon; robotics and biology research; installing WiFi equipment in rural libraries that Coburn thinks is too powerful, drawing on the electrical engineering knowledge inherent in getting an M.D.; and pretty much any government project that has anything to do with video games.

Which brings us to #87, $1.2 million for old people to play World of Warcraft. Which sounds pretty damning, if it were true.

One teeny, tiny problem… Coburn got everything about the study wrong, right down to the video game the government was paying people to play.

…the research that included the World of Warcraft game was not funded by the National Science Foundation, though it helped to set the stage for the federally funded project.

The initial study looked at the effects of playing an “attentionally demanding game” — in this case, World of Warcraft — on the cognitive abilities of seniors. The study cost a total of $5,000 and was funded entirely by N.C. State, [lead researcher Anne] McLaughlin said. It was initiated as a pilot and showed some promising results in improving the cognitive abilities of some seniors, particularly those who scored poorly in the cognitive pre-tests.

It is true that some of that $1.2 million grant will go to seniors for playing video games, but the research is to determine whether gaming helps with cognitive gains, and study compensation is hardly unusual in government research projects.

So essentially the politicians tweeting this are against scientific research that may help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly, and paying people for their time.

Well, OK, that last one isn’t really a big surprise.

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