Representative Steve Russell is back with his third Waste Watch report, which now looks to be coming out on a quarterly basis. In this report, Rep. Russell takes aim at a National Endowment for the Humanities study on toxicity in online video game communities and a NEH grant to continue funding a game based on Thoreau’s book Walden, a game that Senator Coburn panned in his 2012 Wastebook report.
On the online toxicity front, the NEH spent $29,403 to “understand and describe toxic rhetoric in online spaces, with an emphasis on large-scale multiplayer computer games.” According to Rep. Russell, this is a waste.
Online threats, incitement, stalking, and harassment are certainly important issues that deserve serious study. The researchers would be best advised to focus on these aspects of their project. A federally-funded academic study is not likely to help curb offensive or hurtful speech, however. Whether or not the researchers are fair for calling the online gaming world “notoriously toxic,” it is certainly notoriously independent. If there are any workable solutions for curbing toxic online language, they will arise from within the gaming community, not from a federal humanities grant.
Surprisingly, Rep. Russell does not mention League of Legends developers Riot Games’ valiant efforts in finding in-game solutions to the problems of toxic players and trolls. They have been experimenting for several years on ways to improve the overall LoL community and its reputation in the overall online gaming industry.
Next on Rep. Russell’s hitlist is a game based on Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden in which Thoreau advocates for a lifestyle more in tune with nature. The game titled “Walden: The Video Game” has been in development since at least 2012 in which, as pointed out by Senator Coburn’s 2012 Wastebook, it received a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Three years later, the NEH picked up the tab and paid an additional $100,000 to the developers of the game. Rep. Russell also wonders if this game will even find an audience.
While the game may have an interesting premise, an important question remains: who will actually play it? Wandering in virtual woods and chopping firewood for six hours will be a tough sell for most gamers. The project lead anticipates the first audience will be an “up-and-coming community” of gamers “who are interested in experimental games and indie games.” Other potential audiences are “students of history and literature” and “scholars of Thoreau, Concord history and Transcendentalism.”
Time will tell whether these relatively narrow groups will find enough value in the game to justify spending $140,000 in taxpayer money. The concept is certainly experimental, and the amount of use the game will ultimately see is very uncertain.
He then states that it would probably be better for all involved, and particularly the US taxpayer, that such games be funded by the community and private interests.
This is not all. This latest report has even caught the attention of the Daily Oklahoman’s Editorial Board for its video game related entries. According to the editorial, this report highlights just why “your tax dollars at work” is not a compliment.
THE phrase, “your tax dollars at work,” is usually not a compliment. U.S. Rep. Steve Russell’s latest “Waste Watch” report demonstrates why.
The report highlights examples of pointless government spending. It is telling that Russell, R-Oklahoma City, easily identifies $823 million in dubious spending while barely scratching the surface of federal government largesse.
It then features both of these game related grants as the meat of the editorial before closing with the following.
Russell’s report highlights other examples of astounding government incompetence, mismanagement and bizarre priorities. Federal officials often insist proposed spending cuts will have draconian impact. Russell’s report undermines that political spin and proves federal spending has not been cut to the bone, or anywhere near it.
Government spending is always an interesting area of discussion and Rep. Russell’s reports highlight some of the minor areas of spending that don’t always make the reporting of major news outlets.
Originally Published on Game Politics.