In Nov. 2007 the ‘The Task Force on Violent Interactive Video Games’ was established by the The Children and Youth Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. They were tasked with determining if and how violent video games affect children. In December 2008 the final report of this committee was released. Full PDF here via GamePolitics.com.

A summary of the results of their study.

  1. There is a small correlation between viewing of violent media and violent behavior in some children.  Although this is contested by many researchers.
  2. Correlation does not equal causation.   Children that are violent for other reasons may be drawn to violent games.  More research is needed.
  3. Parents bear ultimate responsibility for determining what is appropriate for their child, but the state can help with a publicly funded education program.
  4. Do not attempt to ban the sales of games to minors as several precedents in the federal court system have deemed such laws as violating the first and fourteenth amendments of the US Constitution.
  5. Violent games can have positive effects on children , such as improving interaction with others, improving motor skills, problem solving and logical reasoning.
  6. Really, we’re serious, don’t try to ban the games.  YOU WILL LOSE. It will cost a lot of money to defend, and did we mention that YOU WILL LOSE.
  7. Enlist the support of scientists to study the potential positive and negative effects of violent and non-violent games, then use the gained knowledge to improve the education program in point 1 above, as well as share the findings with the ESRB to improve the rating system.

Sounds like a reasonable solution that gamers and the committee should be able to agree on.  So fast forward to March 6th.

Fortunately, they listened to points 4 & 6.  So far, so good.

The first speaker in the clip because he suggests a 5% tax on violent game sales to fund the education program in Point 3.  Paying for an education program with a tax on the item the education is for has been done before.  It would be similar to cigarette taxes paying for smoking education classes in schools.  And while others are just mad at the idea of a tax, my problem with it would be over this one question.  What constitutes a violent game?  When Mario fireballs a goomba, is that violent?  The problem is that when you write a law you have to worry about unintended consequences.  Write the definition of violence to loosely and a good lawyer makes sure that Gears of War is “non-Violent”,  to strict, and Super Mario Brothers gets lumped in the “Violent” category.  In reality we would end up in the same situation as with “obscenity”,

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.
But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. [Emphasis added.]” (Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers).

And just like obscenity charges, they will be applied selectively at the personal preference of Prosecutors and Judges. If you think personal feelings won’t be a problem just listen to the second Committee member at around 2:45. This guy got seriously mad at the suggestion in the report that there could be positives to violent video games. In my opinion he is on a witch hunt and I would not want him writing his personal preferences into law. Now you may say so what, its only PA and i don’t live there. Well once one state enacts a law and it survives challenge other states tend to pick up on that law and enact similar legislation in their own states. Just because it doesn’t affect you now doesn’t mean it won’t affect you later.

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  • Dan

    Firstly, let me say that I think it’s a terrible idea to tax the games in the first place. However, if they want to define and categorize violent video games, their best bet would be to correlate it with the ESRB’s labeling. But then they need to decide if “fantasy violence” (e.g., Smash Bros. and Final Fantasy) should be taxed at the same rate as things with “Violence, Blood and Gore” labels (e.g., Halo) or “Intense violence” (e.g., Gears of War). Of course, they would probably tax anything that has the word violence and most people wouldn’t know the difference, but lets face it, Kirby hitting Captain Falcon with the star wand is not the same as Master Chief gunning down the Flood.

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