In the wake over the Obama administration’s pledge to further “study the link between video games and violent behavior,” other lawmakers want to go one step further, and a pair of new bills have been introduced around the country to do just that.
First we have the state legislature of Missouri where Rep. Diane Franklin (D) is proposing a new 1% tax on violent video games, meaning any game rated Teen, Mature or Adults Only would be elligable. Yes, that apparently includes you, Rock Band, Skate and Forza. The funds from the tax would go to “the treatment of mental health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games.”
“History shows there is a mental health component to these shootings,” Franklin said to the Associated Press.
So, what she’s saying is that it’s actually video games that are causing diagnosable mental health problems in their players. That’s an argument I’ve never actually heard said out loud before, and there’s probably a reason for that. The ESA immediately came out with a counter-statement saying that taxing First Amendment protected free speech is wrong, and with the video game industry’s recent Supreme Court win, it’s hard to imagine this bill will get anywhere close to becoming an implemented law. But the fact that elected officials can simply declare that video games cause mental disorders without hard evidence is rather terrifying.
Now we move up to the national level where Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) is proposing a new bill in the House that would ”prohibit the sales and rentals of adult-rated video games to minors.” The bill also calls for a warning label on games that says “exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.” Neither of these are new ideas. The label has been proposed in the House before, and several states have tried to pass laws that make it illegal for retailers to sell violent games to minors. Many do not appear to know that nearly all retailers do not sell M-rated games to minors, and cashiers that do so risk losing their jobs. For the record, none of these proposals have ended up becoming law at the state or national level.
In short, there’s a push to make video games seem like they’re as dangerous as something like cigarettes, which are also taxed, labeled and illegal to sell to minors. The difference being that cigarettes are demonstrably killing thousands upon thousands of people a year, where a proven link between video games and murder is fictional, despite what these lawmakers are saying. Even the White House says that such a declaration cannot be made about video games, hence why they’re funding new studies into the matter in the first place, because the evidence just isn’t there.
Fortunately, despite all the huff and puff of lawmakers, video games seem content to bask in the glow of well-earned First Amendment protection. And so long as M-rated games are not directly marketed or sold to minors, I don’t see why the industry needs to change much at all. Except maybe to stop packaging butchered bikini zombie torso statues with games.