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A tax on "violent" video games?

By Scott Tibbs, January 23, 2013

Over the course of the last 25 years, total revenue generated by the video game industry has increased dramatically. In fact, revenue based on in-store sales underestimates the real sales, because they do not include downloadable games from platforms such as Direct2Drive and Steam, or Apple's App Store for their various devices. In that same time, the murder rate has dropped since the 1990's even as our population has grown - meaning our murder rate has dropped along with the total number of murders.

But for simple-minded legislators - many of whom have never even picked up a controller, much less played for any length of time - video games are the cause of our social problems. Because games are still a fairly new form of entertainment, people who grew up on games have not yet percolated into our state and federal legislatures, though that will change over the next couple decades. So since you have people who came of age before video games were popular, they do not understand the industry and they fear it.

This is not new. When comic books were still a relatively new entertainment medium in 1954, the book Seduction of the Innocent prompted Congressional hearings on the great damage comic books were allegedly causing to the youth of America, encouraging juvenile delinquency. As that died down, the focus came on rock music and other things. Legislators - whether it be through their own ignorance or for shameless political opportunism - always love to jump on the newest thing as a boogeyman.

Of course, they often show their ignorance in doing so. Proposed legislation aimed at "violent" games targets games that get a rating of "T" or above - even though there are a number of games in that category that are not violent at all. This is to say nothing of the constitutional questions raised by legislation that singles out a specific kind of content for special taxation while leaving other content alone. Not only does it tax some games and not others based on content, the legislation does not target violent movies (in theaters or on DVD) or music with explicit lyrics.

I have been a gamer for 30 years. In the last 20 years, I have seen one hysterical attack on the game industry after another. The industry has managed to avoid the heavy hand of government regulation so far, and as people who grew up as gamers enter into leadership, the excitement over legislation restricting games will likely wane. What we have here is another attempt to find a scapegoat for the very real societal problems (especially the breakdown of the family) that lead to violence instead of actually addressing cultural rot.

Video games are not the problem, and legislating against them will not solve anything.