Alright, I’m about to touch on a subject that I know for a fact to be controversial and would be extremely hard to hold back my own personal bias on the matter. So I’ll have to compromise. I’ll state the facts and leave my personal comments at the end.

Vice President Joe Biden has led a task force assigned by President Barack Obama to examine possible means of reducing gun violence in the US since the most recent prolific gun violence cases over the past year. While leading the task force, Biden met behind closed doors with a variety of groups including entertainment companies, advocacy groups, youth organizations, the mental health community, the NRA, and faith-based organizations to discuss gun control or ways of curving gun violence.

During these meetings, the subject of video games and video game violence was briefly touched on. Politico has reported on these meetings and according to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, spoke with Biden and “floated the idea that media and entertainment that portray violence should be subject to a special tax, with the proceeds going to help victims and their families.”

Biden’s response to that was to state that there was “no restriction on the ability to do that, there’s no legal reason why they couldn’t” place a tax on violent images, Sister Marjorie Clark told Politico. However, Biden emphasized the need for more scientific research on the matter. Clark added: “He said they really need a good scientific study, which they’ve done on things like smoking.”

These finding have prompted Obama to call for such scientific research into the effects of violent media on young minds.

Author’s Comments

You’ll be able to read the full article in the sources below from Politico in case I’ve missed a few things.

So to be perfectly honest, I can’t see how a monetary tax on violent media would be legal for the media just being “violent”. The first argument that anyone would bring up would be the freedom of speech argument. To the best of my knowledge, you cannot tax free speech. That in itself would make free speech….not free. Developers, writers, directors, producers, toy makers, sculptors, start ups, and so on have the right to express their ideas regardless of the content. Or maybe a better way to phrase that would be “equal rights for all content.”

Now I am well aware that there are special cases where certain content would be not just immoral but illegal (i.e. snuff films and child pornography) and those have been agreed upon by our society to be that way. We all accept that, but it leads me into my second argument. What constitutes “violent media”? The usual go to for most groups would be shooter games since they seem to think that they might incite violent behavior or the need to go on some murderous rampage. But “violent” is a very generic term and based on personal opinions of what violent is. I play a lot of fighting games (Street Fighter and Marvel vs Capcom series) and there are people who definitely think fighting games are violent and shouldn’t be sold to today’s youth. Mortal Kombat can be thanked for contributing not only to the violence in video games debate, but also to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). So okay, there are people who think that shooter and fighters are violent, but what about creatively free games like Scribblenauts? In Scribblenauts you create and summon objects, properties, creatures, etc. that could be used in a violent way to harm others in the game. What about fantasy RPGs where you get to swing around a sword and cut through your foes? What about RTS games that teach you warfare and how to exterminate your enemies? It really doesn’t matter if any of these examples are exaggerated because the point is that no matter how you slice it, you are going to unintentionally include a vast quantity of games or genres you never thought about when you label 1 thing as violent.

So what happens if there ever is a tax on “violent media”? Well the obvious is that you put a huge roadblock in front of creativity and expression. You’ll limit the ideas that flow from creators that don’t want to deal with the hassle of the tax or don’t want to see their brain child labeled something that it just isn’t. In the Politico article, the tax and research was compared to that of tobacco. Tobacco is heavily taxed because it kills you and we as a society have approved taxing them as a deterrent for some and needed revenue for better causes. The problem with this comparison is that it assumes that (at least the people making the comment) there is a belief that violent video games kill people. I just want to say that personally I believe that to be bullshit (shout outs to Penn and Teller). Whenever there a tragedy, some group tries to link video games as the cause. The issue with that is that there is no study or data to link the two together. Even if you were to say that 70% of the perpetrators of shootings played video games does not equate to video games causing people to kill. A lot of people cannot understand this concept. If you can’t understand this, replace “played video games” with “drank milk” or “liked the color red”. Would it make sense that in that study people who drank milk or liked red were more likely to kill? No, because there are too many variables and the study would not be able to conclude anything of the sort. It will take many years to get a proper study on this issue and some are being done right now.

The last thing I want to comment on is the notion that this tax would go towards victims and their families. Granted that it is a good thing to donate to good causes like that, it is another to be forced to pay into that fund when there could be absolutely no relation between you and that act. This again assumes that there is some sort of responsibility for the actions of crazed individuals and the creators of violent media. There is nothing wrong with voluntarily funding these sorts of causes, but I have a big issue with being forced to fund it like this.

These are all me own personal opinions and do not reflect those of my colleagues or I was also too lazy to look-up actual statistics for more comments, and this should as such be taken as my own opinion. Take it or leave it, but at least question what’s going on.

Sources: Joystiq, Politico