Video game sin tax is the latest idea to curb gun violence
In some the biggest news out of America in March, the United States Judiciary Senate Committee approved an assault weapons ban.
This was in response to the number of deaths caused by these wielding those weapons, and while the proposal isn’t expected to hold up in Senate, it is a big step forward. The reason that so much attention has been given to this is because of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
Since then, the debate over assault weapons has raged across North America, but nowhere harder than the USA.
When the National Rifle Association (NRA) had their say in this matter, they didn’t blame guns. They blamed, among other things, Mortal Kombat and other violent video games for creating these environments that are desensitizing children to violence and shaping them into the killers of tomorrow.
President Obama is – at least, currently – entertaining the notion that video games might share some of the responsibility, and since the Sandy Hook shooting has set up a research team to study the actual effect that video games have. Those results are currently unavailable, as the testing has not yet been completed.
However, some states have heard all they need to, and a “sin tax” on the video games in question is being seriously proposed right now.
Connecticut (as in, home to Newtown where the Sandy Hook shooting occurred) state representative Debralee Hovey has already proposed a 10 per cent sin tax on all video games with a violent nature, tackling games with an AO or M Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating, which stand for “adult-only” and “mature” respectively.
The money collected from the sin tax would go to Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services “to educate families on the warning signs of video game addiction and anti-social behavior,” according to Hovey.
Hovey isn’t the first one to try and put forward a sin tax on video games. Missouri Rep. Diane Franklin already got the ball rolling on this about two months prior.
While her proposal suggested only at a one per cent “surcharge” (a fancy name for a sin tax), it covered a lot more games. Any game with a T (for Teen) ESRB rating or above would be subject to the surcharge. The reason was to protect the mental health of any individuals exposed to these games.
The games can be classified as a “sin” because so few games have a rating of Mature or Adult Only. There have only ever been 21 games with the AO rating, and out of that only two have been for console gaming.
Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all have policies against publishing games with such content, as they know it can be disturbing if it finds its way into the hands of someone who isn’t ready to handle that kind of content.
As far as games go, only about five per cent of games made per year even have the mature rating. Games with a T ranking account for roughly 20 per cent of all games, but even those three genres combined don’t equate to the majority of games made.
This is why they are now being treated as if they were the eighth deadly sin, somewhere between gluttony and greed (which, for some reason, aren’t getting their own taxes).
Is it wrong for these laws to be proposed before any conclusive research is made? Absolutely. These are reactionary laws, that will look foolish if the research comes back as saying that video games aren’t the reason the NRA looks so bad (spoiler alert: it’s because they don’t want themselves to be associated with the millions of gun-related deaths in the USA alone).
When Obama first announced that the relation of video games to gun violence was going to be researched, I was in favour of that.
Believing so firmly that it was a desperate grab at something, I was confident that the research would hold up what I think to be true: that video games are becoming the new scapegoat for both ignoring the state of many mentally ill people and refusing to ever call an act like the Newtown shooting homegrown terrorism, which it was.
Gamers have been up in arms over this, as even though there are so few games made that would fall under any sin tax, these are some of the most commonly bought games outside of the sports genre, and they don’t feel like games such as The Legend of Zelda or Uncharted should fall under these reactionary laws, much less Mortal Kombat.
Most of them will get more upset that they’ll have to pay more for Grand Theft Auto than they will get persuaded into gun violence by the game itself.
These laws are targeting a minority, as so often sin taxes do. If we start taxing video games, do we start taxing anyone who wants to pay for HBO? Viewers already pay extra for HBO as they pay for their video games, but a lot of content shown on that and other premium entertainment services could arguably be just as impactful.
Maybe one day America will actually take the time to get down to solving the gun war that is incessantly running, and start setting precedents that we can all get behind.
Until then, I can only hope that laws like the video game sin tax don’t find its way to where I call home.