Videogame ‘sin tax’ aims to educate

Connecticut legislator targets M-rated games, but First Amendment hurdles remain

A Connecticut lawmaker who is proposing a “sin”-like tax on violent videogames said she proposed the law in part as a warning to parents who may not be fully aware of the extent of the mayhem in the titles that their children are playing.

State Rep. Debralee Hovey, a Republican whose district includes parts of Newtown, the site of December’s shooting rampage at a local elementary school, recently proposed a 10% sales tax on “M,” or mature-rated, videogames. The money from the tax, which Hovey says is “like a sin tax,” would be used by the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to develop materials to educate families “on the warning signs of videogame addiction and antisocial behavior,” according to the text of the legislation.

In an interview with Variety, Hovey said that with “very violent, life-like videogames” being “kind of used as babysitters for kids,” she concluded that “we really needed to warn parents more overtly that these could make a difference in the development of the brain.”

M-rated games are those that are “generally suitable” only for those 17 and above, according to the industry’s voluntary ratings guidelines. But Hovey said that the 17-year-old brain still has not matured, and that retailers have been telling her that “the M-rated games are purchased most often for children much younger than they are meant for.”

The industry, and even past advocates of videogame legislation, have raised doubts that even a tax that is tied to voluntary content guidelines can survive a First Amendment challenge.

Hovey, however, said her bill is “not banning (videogames). It is just saying that for this particular genre of videogames there are going to be extra fees for public-service purposes.”

“When did we as a society think it was appropriate to glamorize violence?” she said. “When did murder and mayhem become something we glamorize?”

Hovey said the legislation has yet to have a public hearing, or a report from a legislative analyst on its cost and its constitutionality, as it is still early in the legislative process.

“I would love to have the industry step up and say, ‘We don’t need a law. We don’t need a tax. But we are willing to do a PSA for these games.'” She added that it was her “hope that the bill will get people thinking about their actions and be more proactive in thinking” about what their children watch.

She noted that lawmakers don’t always follow a bill’s vetting results.

“Every once in a while, we are so determined that it is the right thing to do that we are going to go ahead anyway.”