GOP leader incorrectly claims feds paid seniors to play online fantasy game

Goblins.  Elves.  Fairies.  Not creatures the federal government normally finds itself engaged with.

But Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, claimed the government is paying senior citizens to play “World of Warcraft” a popular online computer game.  But it turns out that Cantor’s claims are as fictional as the fantasy world the game is set in.

Cantor made the charge in a Feb. 19 press release, identifying what he said were examples of wasteful spending.

“The National Science Foundation spent $1.2 million paying seniors to play “World of Warcraft” to study the impact it had on their brain,” the release read.

Many of Cantor’s fellow Republican lawmakers picked up on his lead and used Twitter to express their displeasure over the spending.

“Tax dollars at work: govt paid $1.2 million to study seniors playing World of Warcraft,” tweeted North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers.

Meanwhile, Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner tweeted “Did you know the govt paid $1.2 million to pay people to play World of Warcraft?”

“World of Warcraft” is a pay-to-play computer game set in a fantasy setting of orcs, knights and dragons.  According to its parent company’s website, 10 million people play the game worldwide, making it the most popular of the multi-player online genre.  But despite Cantor’s claims, no one involved in the research is going to be grabbing a sword and shield, university officials said this week.

The 2009 grant, given to North Carolina State University and Georgia Tech, is supposed to study whether playing video games can help slow mental decline in the elderly.  But no one ever touched the “World of Warcraft” game.  Instead, participants are playing spatial puzzle games designed to improve memory, problem solving and cognitive skills.

And when the research is complete, the grant will fund the development of a game or digital program incorporating the knowledge gained; an activity aimed at keeping people’s mental faculties limber as they get older.

When PolitiFact asked the university whether any federal funds were used to have seniors play “World of Warcraft,” it got an unambiguous answer.

“The answer is an unequivocal no,” said Anne McLaughlin, the principal researcher on the project and co-director of the Gains through Gaming Lab at N.C. State.

In the spring of 2009, McLaughlin’s lab briefly studied how playing World of Warcraft affected seniors’ cognitive ability before receiving the federal grant. The research, on 39 elderly subjects, was funded with $5,000 provided by N.C. State. No federal money was involved, PolitiFact reports.

While lawmakers have a right to question whether federal funding should go to studies involving video games, Cantor made a bold claim about “World of Warcraft” that is simply not supported by the facts.

For making a claim about a fantasy game’s connection to taxpayers that was, well, fantasy, Cantor wins this week’s Whopper of the Week, a distinction awarded by the Washington Guardian to misstatements, miscues and mistakes by political leaders.


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