In the U.S., we have taxes for a variety of things. Sales tax, property tax, estate tax – the list goes on and on. The only two unavoidable outcomes in life are death and paying taxes as the saying goes. But what if you had to pay even more for your games because of a video game sin tax?
A republican representative of the state of Missouri, Diane Franklin, is proposing a bill that does just that. In the wake of recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Franklin is proposing a 1 percent tax on all video games rated T and above sold in the state. The money raised from the tax, she proposes, would help pay for mental health programs and more funding for law enforcement to prevent mass shootings from happening in the future.
This is a problem.
Now, sin taxes are nothing new. American citizens pay them every day when purchasing cigarettes or liquor, and are for the most part beneficial to states as a whole. Money raised through the taxes can help to pay for new schools and roads to other government programs. Without a doubt more funding for law enforcement and mental health programs from a tax could benefit the state and the people who live there.
The problem lies in how the proposed sin tax, in its wording and purpose, directly links video games as a cause for recent gun violence. As such, this legislation proposes, it should be part of the solution. It by default paints video games as “wrong. It isn’t called a sin tax for nothing. Sin taxes are put in place to A.) deter people from purchasing items deemed harmful by increasing the price of said item, and B.) the realization that a large amount of people will continue to purchase such negative items no matter what, so the government might at least make some money off of it.
Notice how both of these reasons for placing a sin tax on an item revolves around the item being harmful. As we all here know, the science linking violent video games and aggressive behavior is flimsy at best. There is no definitive evidence that playing violent video games makes a person violent, as we can all confirm. However, with a tax like this in place, a stigma becomes attached to video games as a whole. It makes it seem to the average uninformed Joe that video games, even Teen rated games that might have very little to no violent content, are now somehow inherently harmful. Why else would it be “sinful?”
This isn’t what gamers, the video game industry, and Americans need. Do you see similar taxes on violent movies, disturbing books or angry music? Of course not, because the idea of censoring speech through taxation is absurd. It won’t fix the problem. I respect Rep. Franklin for attempting to come up with a solution to the gun violence problem, however misguided. What Americans really want, and need, are real solutions. Penalizing a large and ever growing game loving portion of the population through taxation, telling them what they do for entertainment or fun is wrong, can only lead to more censorship efforts. And that is a slippery slope indeed.
In all likelihood the proposed tax won’t be put into effect. It is after all a slap in the face of the First Amendment. But the fact that such a piece of legislation even surfaced in the first place, directly linking video games to gun violence and categorizing games as “sinful”, just goes to show how much further our society has to go until video games are understood and respected, and how much further we gamers have to go in the fight to inform others about the misconceptions of our favorite hobby.