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Violent Game Tax is a blessing in disguise

In case you hadn't heard, the US Vice President Joe Biden sees no problem with taxing violent video games (IGN's article here: Before I get into the meat of this discussion, let's establish a few things.

Number 1. Joe Biden isn't making a joke. He isn't "playing with the idea". If he is making a public statement like this, you can bet your butt that bills are now being drafted (if they haven't been already) to implement a tax on violent videogames.

Number 2. Congress can do this. They really can. The US Supreme Court is the only governing body that has the authority to tell Congress what is or isn't legal, and the Supreme Court has already said on too many occasions to count that they will not interfere with Congress when it comes to what is or isn't allowed to be taxed. People who keep claiming "there's no way they can be allowed to do this" either don't understand the Federal government or they are being willfully ignorant.

Number 3. If you like violent videogames, you are in the minority. With the exception of games like Call of Duty, Skyrim, and Halo, pretty much all of the best-selling games from the 7th generation are tame when it comes to violence. Gran Turismo, Wii Sports, Mario Kart, New Super Mario Bros, Nintendogs, Brain Age, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Kinect Adventures, and Wii Fit have almost no violence to speak of, and many of these games sold double or even triple what their violent counterparts sold. I'm not implying Wii Fit is a better game than Halo. What I'm pointing out is that the majority of gamers ("majority", as in, the indisputably larger number based on sales) buy non-violent games. This is further supported by the fact that the most smartphone games are almost entirely non-violent. What this means for you, the gamer, is that most people aren't going to care if God of War IV on the PS4 gets a tax slapped on it. It sucks, but it's the truth.

How will this violent videogame tax come about? Well, it's rather simple. The government will likely use an already-established organization like the ESRB to determine which games classify as "Taxable Violent". A great deal of games have "violent" in their ESRB description, but I very much doubt they would tax an E-rated game like Super Mario Galaxy for "Mild Cartoon Violence". No. The target of this tax will be M-rated games like God of War, Call of Duty, and Mass Effect. If you want to view the ESRB's rating guide, here is the link:

Since this whole tax thing is following the upsurge of public shootings (not saying videogames are responsible, just pointing out a fact), I have a hunch that the ESRB will be creating some very specific terms for what kind of violence a game contains. After all, if we're going to be taxing "violent videogames", we're going to need a specific definition. On the lower end of the violence spectrum, the ESRB already has a few ratings: Comic Mischief (slapstick), Mild Cartoon Violence, and Fantasy violence. It is highly unlikely this is the sort of violence that Congress wants to tax. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Violence, and good ol' "Violence". I imagine a few of the new terms will be along the lines of Realistic Violence, Realistic Blood and Gore, and even Firearm Violence, since gun violence is part of the reason why this tax is being considered at all.

What will this do to developers? A lot of gamers are raging against the potential tax because they're thinking "hey! I don't want to pay extra for my Call of Duty". Well guess what? Call of Duty will go back to a "T" rating like it originally was. Activision won't risk losing customers due to a tax. They like money way too much. So, they'll tone down the blood and tone down the "edgy" scenes like the Airport from Modern Warfare 2. Currently, the majority of hardcore game developers aim for an M-rating like it is a badge of honor. If the tax takes place, a lot of developers will back off a bit and stick with a "T" rating to avoid the tax (assuming a T rating won't be taxed, but I don't think it will be). Sure, there will still be M-rated games, but they will be intended for niche audiences who are willing to pony up the extra tax money.

What will the end result be? It will be an industry that is far less obsessed with violence. Now, I like violent videogames like the rest of you. I grew up with violent videogames, but there are other factors to consider. The violence found in Contra and Mortal Kombat is nothing compared to what you might find in games like Spec Ops: The Line, Call of Duty, and Metro Last Light. I'm not saying videogame violence is bad. I'm not saying it should all go away. I'm not even trying to defend the Violent Game Tax. I'm just laying out what I see.

But I do wonder. What would our industry be like if violence wasn't the focus? What sort of games would developers create if they were discouraged (financially) from going the uber-gory, uber-violent route? Perhaps we'd see a lot more experimental and quirky games like we used to. Perhaps we'd see a stronger emphasis on storyline, game physics, or enemy AI (since the gushing blood or severed limbs aren't around to keep our attention). Something I noticed is that gamers everywhere have been embracing the indie gaming movement. You want to know something a lot of these games have in common? They aren't very violent, or if they are, the violence is toned down. Perhaps a T-rated future isn't a bad thing at all. Instead of a focus on extreme realism, we could start getting games that go back to the basics and try to wow us with gameplay mechanics. I don't know. I'm just sort of spitballing here.

The point of all this is that I don't think we should shake our fists and act as though a videogame tax is going to be the worst thing in the world. It may have some unforeseen benefits for gamers in the long run, and I am willing to lose a few buckets of blood to see what those benefits are.

My personal opinion is that the industry is long overdue for some kind of shakeup. I've been a gamer for over 20 years. I've seen it all, and violence in videogames is something that gets more and more boring the more I see it. Truthfully, the violence doesn't offend me. I don't think it should be taxed for moral reasons. I'm simply being pragmatic: I would enjoy seeing what sort of new and interesting videogames come about when videogame gore and violence is no longer the go-to method of attracting attention.

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BiggCMan1670d ago

"What I'm pointing out is that the majority of gamers ("majority", as in, the indisputably larger number based on sales) buy non-violent games."

That's extremely false, at least for the actual video game market of consoles, not smartphone apps. Sales will clearly show that T and M rated games are the biggest sellers on PS3 and Xbox 360. Yea you will see the occasional E rated title as a top seller, but it's not THAT common. The 360 had a moment when Kinect had just hit the market, but before that, and now, the top sellers are DOMINATED by shooters on both consoles.

You say "with the exception of Halo, Call of Duty, and Skyrim...Well there is no exception, those games are smash hits, and take up a massive amount of the sales of games. Battlefield is another you could add that sells just as well, and you forgot the biggest controversy of all time, Grand Theft Auto.

Point is, M ratings, or violent games are much bigger than you believe, and they are not a minority, nor are the amount of people who buy them.

dedicatedtogamers1670d ago (Edited 1670d ago )

No, it's not extremely false. Simply take 15 seconds to look up a list of this generation's top selling games and you won't see Halo or Call of Duty until halfway down the list. Here, I'll do it for you:

Mario Kart, Wii Fit, Nintendogs, New Super Mario Bros, Pokemon, etc have outsold each and every one of the M-rated games you mentioned by tens of millions. Kinect's "moment" as you put it made it the top selling game on 360 by a margin of over 12 million compared to the next-highest-selling game, Call of Duty.

Do you understand the definition of the term "minority"? M-rated games are literally aimed at a minority of the gaming populace. There's nothing wrong with pointing out an irrefutable fact.

M ratings are not bigger than I believe. I understand there is a market for them. However (as I pointed out in my post), if the tax goes through, developers like Activision will begin making Call of Duty a T-rated game. M-rated games will still exist, but they will become even more niche.

BiggCMan1670d ago

Cite Wikipedia as a sales source for video games? I'm not even going to continue this conversation. All I will say is that those numbers are very wrong and outdated.

DragonKnight1670d ago

The problem I have with the games you chose is that they are part of the casual craze that isn't going to be repeated. You have to remember that the Wii is an exception to the standards and the sales of those games will not be seen again.

dedicatedtogamers1670d ago

@ DragonKnight

The problem I have with that thinking is that we have no definitive proof that a "casual craze" won't happen again. How's the 3DS doing? Oh, it's selling like hotcakes, despite a completely miserable first 18 months. Using those games as examples is just as valid as people who use Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed or GTA as "proof" that hardcore games still sell.

Technically, there's no guarantee that ANY of these games will continue to sell, so we must settle for the realm of likely and unlikely.

Aery1670d ago (Edited 1670d ago )

"Mario Kart, Wii Fit, Nintendogs, New Super Mario Bros, Pokemon, etc"

You just pick up games aimed to everybody and games who sell much more than deserves.

Those games have made the fortune of the Wii but they are games so casual that ever my 5yo niece prefer to skip in order to play better and deeper games like Little big planet.

Nothing against you of course ! You have your point and I respect that and I agree with some of your points :)

SilentNegotiator1670d ago (Edited 1670d ago )

So you establish that the top hits aren't violent and the gamers who like violence are the minority.....

"If you like violent videogames, you are in the minority. With the exception of games like Call of Duty, Skyrim, and Halo, pretty much all of the best-selling games from the 7th generation are tame when it comes to violence"

........and then claim that the industry is "obsessed with violence"?


How is the game industry obsessed with violence if the majority of it isn't even violent?

dedicatedtogamers1670d ago

Good question. There's a simple answer: the majority of development money and advertisement is spent on T-rated and M-rated games, at least it is here in the US. That's how the industry is obsessed.

SilentNegotiator1669d ago

I wouldn't say that's sign of obsession. I'd say that's a sign of a very competitive area of gaming. There's a million ways to stab and shoot people, but there's only one way to be Mario.

rainslacker1669d ago (Edited 1669d ago )

The Supreme court has already ruled on this, although indirectly. In Brown vs. EMA it was ruled that video games held the same free speech rights as books, movies, and other forms of media. While the tax itself may not be ruled against, it is a slippery slope to single out video games compared to other forms of media, and if they can get away with it in video games, who's to say that they won't tax the next big action blockbuster? After all if violent games are no longer a problem you think those looking for a scapegoat are just going to say, "Oh, ok it really is us that's the problem".

The problem with this is that it doesn't address the actual issue of violence in our society. Art imitates life, and as such, games are made to people that are attracted to the violence, no different than say a new Die Hard movie. Should they be taxed when they have done nothing wrong? After all a hugely vast majority of people that play violent game do not commit violent acts. The ones that do are blips in the data. Should we be held to an excise tax that solves nothing that it's supposed to solve? Should that money go to victims of gun violence even the assailant never touched a video game in their life?

What would the industry be like without or less of the uber-violent, or even semi-violent? It would be like it is now, just with more games that cater to the current majority, and not the huge minority which still make up a large part of sales. A tax would hurt the industry, as there is only so much happy crap that one can endure before they grow bored with it. You think 20 million COD players are just going to go for any of those games you mentioned just because? You think any innovation is going to come when fewer developers are even trying to compete? It might be alright for a while, but nothing good comes from curtailing artistic expression...ever.

One thing I do agree with from the tea party is that government should take a smaller part in our lives. This kind of tax is about control. The last thing I want is the government controlling the content that we are exposed to on this level. While I don't like the amount of violence on TV, I would never want it to be censored, either through law, or through tax.

The problem with all this stuff about violence nowadays is that everybody wants a quick solution to the problem, but can't be fussed to actually find out(or admit) what the problem is. On top of that any attraction to violence(the so called gun culture for instance), is a huge social issue that just takes time to change because it requires an adjustment of attitudes on a grand scale, not a limiting of exposure.

Wanna change what people want to play, change their attitudes towards violence first. Not the other way around.

NYC_Gamer1669d ago (Edited 1669d ago )

I don't believe this is a good idea just seems like another easy way for big brother to collect more profit/ have more control over peoples lives/content...This would only benefit the fat cats sitting in office behind that desk and those aren't gamers.

Those mass shooting have been happening and aren't the fault of some pixels on tvs/monitors....I'm tired of Governments using entertainment as some scapegoat to enforce some crazy new way of trying to have more control with Bull crap new bills/taxes that won't fix a damn thing within society...

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