Once more into the land of moral foolishness: An Oklahoma lawmaker just introduced a bill that would impose a tax on games deemed “violent,” with the money from said tax going to battle bullying and childhood obesity.
Bullying and childhood obesity are bad, I think we can all agree, so the bill, dubbed HB 2696, must have Oklahomans’ best interests in mind, right? Except for the part where it baselessly assumes “violent” video games are in fact bad for you, and the other part where it doesn’t includes books, music, movies or any other form of entertainment in the lineup.
The bill, introduced by State Representative William Fourkiller (D., Okl.), proposes a 1% tax “upon sales of all violent video games based on gross receipts or gross proceeds of each sale.” By “violent,” the bill means “a video or computer game that has received a rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board of Teen, Mature or Adult Only.” Were the bill to be passed, if someone buys a copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 (Teen), Skyrim (Mature) or Star Wars: The Old Republic (Teen) in Oklahoma — each of those games listing new for $59.99 — they’d pay about 60 cents on top of the state (currently 4.5%) and city sales tax (between 3.25% and 4%). What’s more, the bill’s definition of “violent” would include games like Zumba Fitness 2 (Teen) and Dance Central 2 (Teen).
Leaving the taxation-in-principle argument aside, it doesn’t get much dumber than this. The research into whether so-called “violent” video games have a negative (or for the matter, positive) effect on players remains at best inconclusive. As academic researcher and TIME contributor Christopher Ferguson recently wrote:
Quite simply, the research just hasn’t panned out. For one thing, even while video game sales have skyrocketed, youth violence plummeted to its lowest levels in 40 years according to government statistics. Secondly, it has been increasingly recognized that much of the early research on VVG linking them to increased aggression was problematic: most studies used outcome measures that had nothing to do with real-life aggression and failed to control carefully for other important variables, such as family violence, mental health issues or even gender in many studies (boys both play more VVG and are more aggressive.) This was something the U.S. Supreme Court recognized when, after considering California’s attempt to ban the sale of VVG to minors in Brown v. EMA, it stated on June 27, 2011, “These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason.”
Worse, in a sense, is that the Oklahoma bill singles out video games and ignores other forms of entertainment, from television to movies and books to music. The evidence any of those mediums elicit meaningfully negative behavior in consumers is equally dubious, uniting them with video games as victims of “moral panic” by people either too uninformed or ideologically blinded to absorb or accept the prevailing science.
As GamePolitics notes, a similar bill was introduced in New Mexico in 2008 but (fortunately) never made it out of legislature. Fingers crossed that’s what happens to this one.