Friday, September 19th, 2014

On Cantor and World of Warcraft: Readers weigh in

Eric Cantor says the federal government spent $1.2 million paying seniors to play World of Warcraft. PolitiFact Virginia rated that Pants on Fire.
Eric Cantor says the federal government spent $1.2 million paying seniors to play World of Warcraft. PolitiFact Virginia rated that Pants on Fire.

Our examination of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s claim that the federal government paid seniors $1.2 million to play World of Warcraft has drawn quite a reaction.

On Feb. 22, we rated Cantor’s claim Pants on Fire. The $1.2 million Cantor cited was included a pair of awards the National Science Foundation gave to North Carolina State University and Georgia Tech that don’t involve the World of Warcraft, an online game with millions of players who battle monsters and seek treasure.

The project is instead examining whether certain aspects of playing the Wii puzzle game Boom Blox can improve seniors’ cognitive ability. Researchers will use the information to try to design a video game that might help slow mental decline in the elderly.

The Gains Through Gaming Lab at N.C. State did look at the effect that playing World of Warcraft had on senior’s cognition, but researchers said none of the money from that study came from Uncle Sam. It was funded by a $5,000 grant from North Carolina State University.

Our story was retweeted more than 200 times, including from people with Twitter handles such as Thor Hammer and Lessons in Lore.

More than 100 comments were posted on the Facebook Page of PolitiFact National. Most people took Cantor to task. Some said Cantor and his staff misstated the facts of N.C. State’s original World of Warcraft study. Others said $1.2 million federal grant to seek ways to slow the effects of aging is defensible.

"Cantor couched it in a way that implied there was no benefit to the study ... but if they can determine that certain types of activities can retard, arrest, or even reverse the deleterious mental effects of aging, isn't that worth the investment?" one reader, named Aaron Speca, wrote.

Several readers felt we were too tough on Cantor, saying the majority leader simply cited the wrong game and that the $1.2 million grant was still funding research involving seniors playing a video game.

Charles Reichley wrote on the PolitiFact Facebook page that Cantor’s statement was a "pretty benign mistake."

"His claim is ‘false,’ not ‘pants on fire.’ His point was actually true -- there was a 1.2 million grant to study cognitive skills of elderly playing video games," Reichley wrote. "He got the GAME wrong, it was a Wii game, not WOW. But that was a mistake easily explained, since to WIN the grant, they did have seniors play WoW. Clearly someone thought that since they used WoW to win the grant, they were using WoW IN the grant."

Another reader, Jayme Lambert, said "Wait, so they are studying how video games affect seniors, but not specifically using World of Warcraft? Wouldn't that make this at least half true? It’s certainly not as outrageously false, as would be implied by the Pants on Fire rating."

We disagree. Cantor’s statement was "The National Science Foundation spent $1.2 million paying seniors to play World of Warcraft to study the impact it had on their brain."

Anne McLaughlin, the co-director of the Gains Through Gaming Lab and a researcher in the project, told us "a very small percentage" of the $1.2 million grant is going to pay the seniors who take part. She couldn’t give an exact figure because research under grant is not complete.

Our colleagues at FactCheck.org documented that Cantor was among eight congressional Republicans who, in little more than hour of each other on Feb. 20, tweeted that the U.S. was paying seniors $1.2 million to play computer games. Five of the congressman, including Cantor, specifically identified World of Warcraft.

Jason Allaire, another researcher in the project, took issue with the characterization that seniors are merely being paid to play video games.

"We are not ‘paying’ older adults to play a game," Allaire told us in an e-mail. "We are reimbursing them for the time they spend volunteering in our study, which includes hours of taking various psychological tests and surveys."