Tom Coburn: Not a Video Games Fan

Sen. Tom Coburn is displeased that a museum that charges admission is getting federal money to preserve old video games for future study. In his annual list of wasteful government projects, he complains:

According to the grant notification, the $113,277 in federal funds will be used to ―conduct a detailed conservation survey of approximately 6,900 of the 17,000 e-games in [the museum‘s] collection to determine the current condition of both the physical artifacts and their virtual content. The study is designed to ―better position the museum to make its International Center for the History of Electronic Games collection available to visitors, researchers, and a broad public audience by providing images, videos of e-game play, and interpretation of the collection via exhibits and the Online Collections feature of its Web site. Admission to the museum costs an adult $13.

Things like this drive me crazy for two reasons. First, they don’t assume that there are new investment costs a museum might want to make, like storage equipment and facilities, that might not be covered by an admissions fee that covers operating costs. Building storage that actually preserves artifacts, rather than sticking stuff on Ikea shelves, costs money. As does cataloguing. As does bringing in researchers. As does designing exhibits. And second, just because video games are comparatively new doesn’t mean that they’re not worth studying. There’s technology there that’s applicable elsewhere. There’s interesting storytelling and visual art. And if nothing else, there’s the question of what it was that fueled a big industry and took up a lot of Americans’ time. That all sounds like a pretty reasonable use of $113,277.