World of Warcraft, Government Pork and UC Irvine

The online Bad Idea Magazine points us to a 49-page report by U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) titled "2008: Worst Waste of the Year--A look back through some of the year's most outrageous federal spending." Included is this:

Studying American and Chinese Video Game Habits - California ($100,000) American and Chinese video game playing habits have been too long overlooked by mainstream science, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF). To remedy this, NSF gave University of California at Irvine a $100,000 grant to study the differences in how gamers from the U.S. and China play World of Warcraft, a popular online video game that allows opponents to do battle on the planet Azeroth. The key difference scientists discerned to date: "the Chinese tend to play a 'more challenging' version of the game." 

Orange County Register science reporter Gary Robbins blogged on the study a few months ago, and he reported that the Chinese not only play the game from Irvine's Blizzard Entertainment differently, at 5 million players they do so in twice as many numbers as Americans.

"We are examining the many reasons for this disparity, including cultural and institutional factors," Bonnie Nardi, the UCI informatics professor who conducted the study with doctoral student Yong Ming Kow, told Robbins. Among the things Nardi, being a WoW player and visitor to China herself, knew going in:

-About 95 percent of Chinese gamers play the more challenging form of WoW, compared with about 50 percent of their American counterparts.

-Chinese players are more attuned to the aesthetics of the game -- color schemes, animations, architecture, etc. -- than American players.

-Only 10 percent of the Chinese WoW players are females, compared with 20 percent here.

-U.S., Europeans, Aussies and New Zealanders play with parents and even grandparents, while the older generation dislikes video games in China.

-People here play with brothers and sisters, but in China players generally don't have brothers and sisters so online friendships are much more important.

So is that wasteful government spending? It was certainly money well spent according to Blizzard Entertainment's marketing department.


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