With the election only a few days away, and many people starting to take a long hard look at just who it is they want in charge of the country--or at least, who they'd least hate to be in charge of the country--the campaigning is already well underway. One issue is coming up that's got a lot of people taking notice, specifically, the issue of government waste. Part of that waste--according to one Senator, anyway--is related to gaming.
Senator Tom Coburn, who regularly compiles what's known as the government "Waste Book" is a chronicle of every dollar Coburn believes is erroneously spent. Some of them are pretty clear examples of mis-spending in government, like the so-called "sidewalk to nowhere", or a project designed to build cybernetic replicas of squirrels. But one unexpected item--which, admittedly, wasn't so much a part of the proceedings--was a video game
called "Prom Week", which landed a $516,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Naturally, Coburn's list roundly lambasted the game for blowing half a million bucks in taxpayer lucre, but consider. In the case of "Prom Week", it's got a lot of potential extra benefits that Coburn, in his rush to find fodder for the Waste Book, seems to have failed to consider. Having a means to develop a complex social modeling tool can yield training aids for businesses, not to mention training tools for police departments
and emergency responders. Other games mentioned in the Waste Book include potential opportunities to simulate firearms training, and that's before the issue of robotics training comes up.
The best measure of whether or not a government should be spending taxpayer dollars on anything is, naturally, the Constitution. But by like token, putting some taxpayer funding into research and development
, the kinds of things that private industry generally can't risk doing often, isn't a bad idea. The key focus is payoff.
Just making a game, well, that could easily be called wasteful. But making a game that can be turned into a training tool, that's not so wasteful. Research and development is important to the future, and private industry doesn't always have the cash or the ability to focus on a field that may not pay off. In cases like that, it's easy to see that the term "waste" doesn't so readily apply.