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When the feds subsidize video game geeks

By Kevin Rogers

April 15, better known as tax day, is swiftly approaching. Many Americans expect that their share of earnings will go to pay for defense spending, social programs and government upkeep. For the most part, they’re correct.

But believe it or not, the federal government doesn’t always spend your taxes wisely. Some of the thousands and millions find their way into projects like video game studies, development and exhibits.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., reports some of the more astounding examples of such misguided government spending in his annual “WasteBook.”

Sen. Coburn and President ObamaCC--Office of Sen. Tom Coburn

Sen. Coburn and President Obama
CC–Office of Sen. Tom Coburn

The Nerds of Congress scoured his three reports and now presents the more egregious examples of less-than-necessary, video game federal spending.

Fed-financed video games

The government has invested in a number of video game projects in recent years. Though they won’t draw Halo or Call of Duty fans, they have pretty hefty costs.

National Science Foundation CC--NSF

National Science Foundation

In 2010, the National Science Foundation (NSF) granted funding to “Wolfquest,” a $600,000 Minnesota Zoo project allowing players to create a wolf avatar and experience the survival and mating habits of wolves. In a smaller spending binge, the NSF gave a Dartmouth professor $137,530 to fund “Layoff,” a recession-minded puzzle game.

Jump ahead to 2012, when the NSF funded “Prom Week,” a $516,000 project simulating the horrors and tribulations of high school dances. NASA funneled $1.5 million into “Starlite,”a massive multiplayer online game to simulate a trip to Mars. The National Endowment for the Art granted $40,000 to the University of Southern California to fund a game based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau.

Nothing screams priorities like a virtual trip to Walden Pond.

These games might have some educational value, but they aren’t worth the investment for taxpayers.

World of Waste?

Would you want your tax dollars to find out about those fellows playing the fantasy video game World of Warcraft?

In 2008, NSF sent $100,007 to a University of California-Irvine Prof. Bonnie Nardi to study “creative collaboration” among the orcs and warlocks. The university received an addition $3 million to study activity in virtual worlds.

A joint North Carolina State and Georgia Tech lab received $1.2 million from NSF to study how video games affect senior citizens’ cognitive ability. Though the funding wasn’t used for a Warcraft study, the lab had previously studied the impact of the game on the elderly.

There may be value in studies like these, but the millions are better spent elsewhere.

Subsidizing Gamer Gatherings

The government also had a hand in funding video game preservation and conferences.

In 2011, the feds funneled $113,277 to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. The purpose?  A survey of their collection of video games to assess their condition. A noble cause for gamer, perhaps, but not the general public.

Finally, the National Endowment for the Arts granted $50,000 for the annual Games for Change Festival. The organization aims to us games as humanitarian and educational tools. This is a smaller bill, and it seems like a worthy organization.

CC--Games for Change

CC–Games for Change

All Things Considered

None of these projects are necessarily bad. There seems to be some solid value in each of these projects. The total bill presented here is little more than a speck of a crumb of total federal spending.

But Coburn rightly labels these projects as wasted funds. Regardless of the price tag, these investments don’t have clear benefits for taxpayers. Asking the government to be efficient is a tall order, but these funds could certainly be put to better use.

Gamers may like these gifts, but they shouldn’t be on the taxpayer’s dime.

More Information: Check out the Rest of Coburn’s reports





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