A sin tax usually applies to alcohol and tobacco products.
The Pennsylvania state legislature is proposing a 10% sin tax on violent video games. House Bill 109 proposes that the money generated from the sin tax will go into a fund to prevent school shootings. While this is far from the first attempt to legislate video games, it is probably one of the more unusual approaches in trying to do so. In fact, it isn’t even the first tax proposed targeting violent video games. The Connecticut and Missouri state legislatures both proposed a similar tax back in 2013 on M-rated games.
Previously, California outright tried to ban M-rated games from being sold in stores to those under 17. Then-California State Senator Leland Yee championed the bill. Ironically, law enforcement charged Yee with various criminal offenses such as public corruption and gun trafficking in 2014. However, a judge found the law (AB 1179) unconstitutional. The Supreme Court case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011) ruled that video games were protected speech under the First Amendment.
Attempts to legislate video games have largely been unsuccessful.
Violent video games have been around for over 40 years. This means that your parents, yourselves, and (for some of you) your kids may have played at least one violent video game. The first game to generate controversy was the 1975 arcade game Death Race. Players scored points by running over human-looking gremlins (or at least as human looking as video game technology would allow for the time).
Mortal Kombat prompted the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) 25 years ago. Due to Congress holding hearings on video game violence in the early 1990s, the video game industry chose self-regulation over government regulation.
Previous attempts to legislate other forms of media were largely unsuccessful. Tipper Gore (the then-wife of then-Senator Al Gore) founded the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in 1985. The PMRC’s purpose was to combat violent, drug-related, or sexual lyrics in music. The targets of the PMRC included Prince, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Madonna, and Def Leppard. The organization eventually disbanded in the late 1990s.
Three decades of scientific studies have shown that video game violence has no direct link to actual violence.
Three decades of scientific studies show that there is zero evidence linking violent video games directly to violent behavior. However, there is still discussion of the topic today. Politicians, parents, and other individuals have continued to push the narrative that violent video games are a direct cause of actual violence.
This proposed sin tax on violent video games does not address the root cause of school shootings. There are various causes such as mental health, access to weapons, or other factors (such as home environment) that may contribute more significantly to someone wanting to commit violent acts.
What do you think about this unusual attempt to legislate video games? Should politicians stop trying to legislate games themselves? Let us know in the comments below!