Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact: House GOP leader fantasizes about science grants

The statement

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

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

The ruling

World of Warcraft, also known as WoW, is a popular fantasy game in which players create virtual characters and enter an online world to battle orcs, kobolds, giant spiders, roving packs of wolves and other adversaries. Gamers pay a monthly fee to join other players to fight monsters and win treasure.

A September article in Wired said it has 9.1 million users.

Were some of those gamers senior citizens that Washington paid to play?

We asked Cantor's office where he got his information. Megan Whittemore, a deputy press secretary, sent us information about a $1.2 million grant by the National Science Foundation in mid 2009. The money was awarded to North Carolina State University and Georgia Tech to study whether computer games can slow the mental decline in elderly people and, if so, to develop "brain games" to achieve that goal.

The first part of the research involves seniors frequently playing Boomblox — a spatial puzzle game on Wii in which players knock down blocks. About 200 participants undergo cognitive testing before they are introduced to the game and then again at a later date to see if playing has produced any changes.

The North Carolina State researchers hope to identify the elements of Boomblox that led to mental improvements. That information will be shared with experts at Georgia Tech, who hope to incorporate data to develop games that will help the elderly retain or improve cognitive skills.

You may have noticed that our explanation of the research has yet to mention the World of Warcraft, the game Cantor says U.S. taxpayers paid seniors $1.2 million to play. There's a good reason: The National Science Foundation's abstract on the grant makes no mention of WoW.

Is any part of the grant being used to pay seniors to play World of Warcraft?

"The answer is an unequivocal no," said Anne McLaughlin, principal researcher on the project and co-director of Gains through Gaming Lab at North Carolina State.

The information sent to us by Cantor's office — media reports, research publications and grant abstracts — do not undercut McLaughlin's answer.

Cantor's facts are all messed up. We rate his claim Pants on Fire.

SEAN GORMAN, PolitiFact Virginia

This ruling has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

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