A state lawmaker wants to make gamers pay more to feed their appetite for video games that involve blood, gore, death and destruction.
Under the legislation offered by Rep. Christopher Quinn, R-Delaware County, the cost of video games rated as suitable for mature or adult audiences sold in Pennsylvania would be subject to a new 10-percent tax. The revenue raised from this tax on “M” or “AO” rated video games would go toward supporting school safety measures.
Quinn cites the rash of school violence and data from a National Center for Health Research article that links violent video games to aggressive thoughts and behaviors as the reason behind his proposal.
“Violent video games can also desensitize people to seeing aggressive behavior and decrease prosocial behaviors such as helping another person and feeling empathy [the ability to understand others]. The longer that individuals are exposed to violent video games, the more likely they are to have aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings,” he stated in his memo to his House colleagues seeking support for his bill.
Attempts to contact Quinn for comment about his proposal on Wednesday and Thursday were not successful.
There definitely is money to be found from this idea.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, the trade association representing the video game industry, Americans spent $29.1 billion on video games in 2017, a number that has continued to climb over the past decade.
Six of the top 20 selling video games are tagged with an “M” rating that would make subject to this proposed tax. They include “Call of Duty,” “Grand Theft Auto V” and “Assassin’s Creed: Origins,” to name a few.
This latest proposal is Quinn’s second attempt to impose a violent video game tax. His legislation last year languished in the House Education Committee.
The video gaming community is irritated to see the tax proposal emerge again.
Publications that cater to those readers are quick to point out that Quinn either didn’t fully read the National Center for Health Research article or “conveniently” omitted the disclaimer at the end. That disclaimer states: “It is important to keep in mind that violent video game exposure is only one risk factor of aggressive behavior. For example, mental illness, adverse environments, and access to guns are all risk factors of aggression and violence.”
Lance Diehl of Silver Spring Township is a longtime gamer who enjoys spending some of his evening hours playing “Battlefield I.” That’s a game that encourages teams of players to strategize their plans for attack to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible and destroy their tanks.
You get points in a number of ways including kill streaks and the number of kills, he said. He finds it entertaining and playing the game gives him something to talk about with his co-workers who sometimes play the game with him remotely from their own homes.
The 45-year-old father of a teen-ager said he doesn’t believe playing the game makes him more aggressive in any way. He recognizes it’s fantasy and it doesn’t meld into his everyday life. However, Diehl added, “I can see in certain people it might desensitize them to seeing someone getting shot and killed.”
But he isn’t convinced adding a 10 percent tax to the price of the games would do anything to change that, deter kids from buying the games, or make schools safer for students and teachers.
“You can’t always throw money at a problem. I would like to know what’s the plan,” Diehl said. “It sounds like it’s making someone look good like they’re trying to fix a problem but I don’t think they’re actually going to fix anything.”
Nick Kratz, executive director of the Pennsylvania Esports Coalition, also was critical of Quinn’s proposal that singles out a particular style of video games based on its content.
“We don’t necessarily think that’s fair,” he said.
The Entertainment Software Association goes so far as to say it would be unconstitutional.
Pointing to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found video games are protected speech under the First Amendment, the association believes the proposed law that Quinn wants Pennsylvania to enact would be struck down.
Instead of going the tax route, a statement from the association says, “We encourage Pennsylvania legislators to work with us to raise awareness about parental controls and the [Entertainment Software Rating Board] video game rating system, which are effective tools to ensure parents maintain control over the video games played in their home.”
Quinn’s bill calls for the money raised from the tax to be deposited in a proposed Digital Protection for School Safety Account to be distributed to schools for school safety and violence prevention measures. The measure now rests in the House Finance Committee awaiting action.