Monday, December 20, 2010

$3M+ In Taxpayer Money To Games

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) recently released his Wastebook 2010 compiling examples of how taxpayer monies were used to fund wasteful, pork-barrel spending by the United States Gov't over the past few years.

What stands out over the past few years are the level of money used to fund the development of multiple games and studies involving gaming with little or no discernible effect on the U.S. economy or benefit to the taxpayer.

Here's how your money was wasted:

"6. Studying World of Warcraft and Other Virtual Games - (Irvine, CA) $2.9 Million"

Bonnie Nardi, professor of "Informatics" for the Donald Bren school at UC-Irvine, received a 3-year grant totaling nearly $3,000,000 to study 'decentralized virtual activity systems" in online MMORPGs like WoW and Second Life. How does Prof. Nardi plan to do her "studying"? Why, by playing World Of Warcraft, of course! From her own website:

"My most recent research concerns massively multiplayer online games. I am conducting participant-observation fieldwork in World of Warcraft , the most popular MMOG, studying how players collaborate as well as the relationship of offline, online, and in-game activity."

Prof. Nardi has already received over $100,000 in 2008 from the Nat'l Science Foundation to do another study, specifically on WoW, which she later went on to publish as the book My Life as a Night Elf Priest, available now for the low, low price of $28.95!

To reiterate, this woman took $100,000 to produce a "study" whose findings she subsequently went on to publish in a private, for-profit book and then received another $1M every year for 3 years to do a participant survey on the same online game! For shame, Professor!


"23. Zoo Receives Federal Funding to Develop Online Video Game 'Wolfquest' - (Apple Valley, MN) $609,160"

A subject that I'm also passionate about (wildlife conservation & the re-introduction of wild predators) mishandled by the Nat'l Science Foundation!

Developed by staff members of the Minnesota Zoo and game developer Eduweb to educate the public on wolf conversation issues, 'Wolfquest" is a free linear wildlife game (which doesn't mean the Minnesota Zoo is lacking in trying to milk every last marketing dollar it can from the franchise) with, at last count, only has ~250,000 downloads (for a game that was released 2 years ago+!).

Personally, I don't have an issue with some funding going to produce educational games which are fun, interactive, and generally have an important message. But kids barking at a computer screen (as detailed in the infomercial below) probably won't help the issue:


"45. A Recession-Inspired Video Game - (Hanover, NH) $137,530"

What's needed in these dark times when unemployment is high and people find it difficult to find work is a game that lets us play the side of management in a Tetris-like environment based on how quickly one can lay off employees!

Luckily, someone over at the Values At Play project (whose mission statement, ironically, involves a lot of talk about advancing "humanistic principles") was able to take over $100,000 to give us "Layoff", described as:

" 11-by-8-inch grid populated by tiny workers…The objective is to shuffle these characters into groups of three of a kind, at which point they can be banished to mill aimlessly about the unemployment line..." [emphasis mine]


"78. Video Game Parties Rock Out - (Murfreesboro, TN) $5,000"

Last and certainly least, the Murfreesboro Public Library used $5,000 to host several "game nights" where patrons could play Wii, Xbox360, and PS2 games on a 96" inflatable TV screen.

The funds come from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, whose goal is "to develop strong libraries and museums to connect people to information or ideas"...I think I'll write the IMLS and ask them to fund my next video game platform purchase.

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