Oklahoma the latest state to pin problems on video games, proposes sin tax

saints-row-the-third-e3-2011An Oklahoma legislator is proposing a ‘what about the children?’ bill (HB 2696) that aims to tax violent video games. Former schoolteacher and current Democratic member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, William T. Fourkiller, wants to levy an excise tax rate of one percent on the sale of violent video games; because these games supposedly spawn the obese bullies which plague our society.

“Violent video games contribute to some of our societal problems like obesity and bullying, but because they raise a lot of revenue, they can also provide part of the solution,” Fourkiller told Oklahoma City’s KFOR.

A sense of urgency surrounds HB 2696 as it has been pushed under the emergency heading; Fourkiller says its necessary for the “preservation of the public peace, health and safety.” The tax’s goals seem to be genuine, and not simply intended to fatten the government wallet. The money gained from HB 2696 will go directly to curing Oklahoma children of the socially undesirable gaming sins which the bill is attacking; half of the money will go towards the Bullying Prevention Revolving Fund, and the other half will go towards the Childhood Outdoor Education Fund.

“A gentleman shot a police officer and stole his car,” Fourkiller points out. “He had been playing Grand Theft Auto.”

mature-game-resident-evil-5A glaring problem with the bill is that it seems to be geared towards a vague swath of video games in its definition: “’Violent video game’ means a video or computer game that has received a rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board of Teen, Mature or Adult Only.” That means, aside from obvious games like Fallout, Bully, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, the bill would be taxing games like Beatles Rock Band, You Don’t Know Jack and The Sims 3; though according to the KFOR piece, Fourkiller says he isn’t targeting the video game industry.

As far as obesity goes, sedentary TV screen time as a whole has, in the past, been painted as the main culprit for spawning overweight children. However, Reason points to a recent Michigan State study which found that race, age and socioeconomic status were stronger indicators of a child’s future BMI, rather than cellphones, gaming or the Internet.

Fourkiller may also have an outdated idea of gamer demographics, as the ESA published a study which determined the average gamers’ age to be 37, with 29% of all gamers over 50 and only 18% of gamers under the age of 18. So, if Oklahoma’s gamer demographic mirrors the ESA study, this proposed sin tax could end up affecting many adults who enjoy their sinful games.

If the bill doesn’t get a majority in the Oklahoma House and Senate, it will go to the public to vote on in November. Though 1% of a $50 game is only 50 cents and may not seem much, the fear is that this bill could be laying the groundwork for larger anti-gaming movements. It’s definitely not the first time these sentiments have surfaced in legislation: Texas in 2006, Jon Erpenbach from Wisconsin in 2007, New Mexico’s “No Child Left Inside” movement in 2008. Of course, none of these propositions seemed to make it far, and as we’ve seen with the California violent video games case in July, going after games for their content can be unconstitutional as it infringes on First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court’s ruling in California addresses much of Fourkiller’s argument: Violence isn’t the sole realm of video games; violent video games aren’t necessarily connected to aggression; interactiveness, or “taking on a role” as Fourkiller puts it, invites commentary and perspective, not brainwashing; and ultimately, esthetic choices about art and literature aren’t the government’s decision. But what do you think? Is this recent anti-video game legislation an example of a sentiment gaining traction? Is this an issue that even concerns the government? Or should it be up to parents alone to police gaming habits?