Friday, February 01, 2008

New Mexico, the Sierra Club, and Duke Nukem.

I was starting to get worried. It looked like there wasn't going to be very much interesting to write about today, and you'd all be forced to read uninteresting autobiographical things using some kind of Ludovico Technique setup. I'd considered the case of a MySpace group for atheists and agnostics that was shut down a month after someone vandalized it (and after it had been deleted by MySpace once before following a "protest", whatever that means in terms of MySpace), but that's kind of boring and involves MySpace and therefore it's hard for me to write something coherent on it before my loathing for MySpace takes over and destroys the village.

I was going to write a post on the nominees for President, but I think that's probably either going to be very long or I'll just keep postponing it until after February 5 and then it'll be possibly irrelevant.

I'd also considered whining about the train, but you've had enough of that.

But then New Mexico stepped up to the plate. Or, more specifically, the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club.

Groups Push for Taxing TVs, Video Games as Part of 'No Child Left Inside' Initiative

The Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club would like the state of New Mexico to institute a one-percent tax on TVs, video games and video game equipment in order to fund outdoor education initiatives to show kids that the outdoors exist and it's occasionally fun to actually play a sport, rather than watching a little avatar play it on a screen.

I agree with them that kids should play outdoors, that it's not so good if everyone's obese and that it's fun to actually play a sport rather than playing MVP 2005 exclusively. But this seems, to me anyway, to be the wrong way to go about it. Some points in no particular order.

First, if you accept for the time being that attempting social engineering by levying taxes on things that are deemed vices is ok for the sake of argument, I don't know that that can apply to video games. Sure, Jack Thompson thinks that anyone who plays a video game is a sociopath who will inevitably destroy the world*, but in general, video games, in moderation, are just like any other hobby. There seems to be, in popular culture, a sort of bias against someone who would put the idea of beating some immensely difficult video game on the same plane as building a ship in a bottle, but I'm not really able to see what separates the two. Millions of well-adjusted, productive people play video games and they seem, to me anyway, to be not intrinsically bad for you. Sure, there are studies which say that video games (violent ones, anyway) make you more aggressive, but they also improve coordination, reflex times, act as a social tool either over the internet in MMORPGs or as a way to connect with friends playing Halo when there's a foot of snow outside.

The problem, as is the problem with alcohol and drug abuse, gambling addiction and other things which have negative impacts upon the person engaging in the behavior and those around them is not the presence of the vice. You can enjoy alcohol and gambling without being a raging alcoholic or giving your house and all your possessions to Vegas. Rather, the problem is that the person who has a problem with them is not enjoying them responsibly. It seems to me to be an overly wide approach to go after everyone to punish a few who have a problem. Offer them support, give them help, sure. But punishing people who can enjoy a hobby responsibly because some can't? I don't know. That is, I don't know that I agree with attempting to socially engineer things by levying taxes on everyone, especially as they're not only targeting video games, which most people enjoy responsibly, but televisions, which a much larger population uses and which is, by most people, used without incident. Is it possible that people spend too much time inside watching television instead of interacting with other people? Sure. But I don't know how much this will do to stop that.

Second, I don't know how effective this would be in actually influencing anything. If you're buying your kid the newest game system when it comes out and constantly buying them games, you're likely either spending really irresponsibly in which case you're not going to notice the effect of the tax because you're not acting rationally, or you're spending a bunch on video games and televisions because you have a lot of money to spend, and you're not going to be affected by a paltry 1% tax. Who this will affect are those who aren't making that much money, either lower-class families or young people who don't make much money yet, and there's something that irks me about trying to influence the behavior of only those people who can't afford to ignore your tactics.

Third, I'm not sure how effective it will be because those of us who don't have that much money to spend on video games might not buy our video games new. Those of us who don't spend more than $100 aren't going to be affected enough to not buy the games, and we're able to avoid the affect of it by buying things cheap and used. I can't remember the last time I paid full price for a video game.

Lastly, it seems like if the Sierra Club really wants to start an outdoor education program to convince kids not to be fat losers who sit inside and play video games, that's a fantastic idea. There are two problems I see with it. The first problem is that the enormous increases on taxes on things like cigarettes and alcohol are supposed to be doing precisely that and if that money's not going there, I don't think the idea is to tax more, it's to find out why that money's not going there. The second is that you might be able to do it either with sponsorships or private donations from, oh, the members of the Sierra Club. I'd personally be much more willing to donate more than you'd ever get from me from the tax to fund this kind of thing (which isn't hard as I think you'd have gotten $2 from me over the past three years). Run it as a private enterprise and see if that doesn't work, I think, before you start demanding social engineering taxes on a hobby. Give positive incentives (upon stumbling upon two people playing catch outside when I was in undergrad, while twelve people watched two other people play MVP2005, it seemed like "Hey, let's all go outside" worked pretty well), rather than positive incentives associated with negative ones.

Ok. There we go. An incredibly long post on a day on which I already had one. I guess I could change the timestamp later, or fall back on the "I said one post per day and as long as I average that, it's cool," but we'll see how it goes. My posts probably won't be as political as this, but why not kick off this shindig with something that's actually in current events and not me complaining about my pathetic social life, I thought.

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