Reading yesterday’s blockbuster New York Times piece on the tax incentives available to the American video games industry, it’s interesting to see how moralism about video game content creeps into what should be a pure policy debate:
The United States government offers tax incentives to companies pursuing medical breakthroughs, urban redevelopment and alternatives to fossil fuels. It also provides tax breaks for a company whose hit video game this year was the gory Dead Space 2, which challenges players to advance through an apocalyptic battlefield by killing space zombies…The company with the defiant sales slogan, “Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2,” in effect gets financial help from moms and other United States taxpayers to reduce its federal tax bill…Video game industry officials say that by improving technology, they are indirectly helping society at large. Dean Zerbe, national managing director at Alliantgroup, said that the military had used some video game technology to train soldiers and pilots. Electronic Arts said it donated some games to the military, schools and charities.
As Matt points out, of course the actual point here is that subsidies to the video game industry, or other industries, don’t really achieve what we want them to, not that it’s anti-social to decapitate space zombies (How else are we going to achieve an appropriate level of readiness for the apocalypse?). It doesn’t really shock me, though, that other industries would try to shift the discussion away from jobs and taxes to the merits of the product, just like moralists who don’t like video games insist on no evidence that consoles are training grounds for killers. But insisting that video games aren’t really an important source of innovation, or aren’t really a legitimate art form hasn’t stopped the industry from getting huge (or benefitting from subsidies because it’s protean enough to fit into several subsidy categories) — it just makes moralists and industrialists feel better.
But if we’re going to look at the end product, not just jobs created and taxes paid, other industries might want to get worried. You can complain all you want that video games are anti-social, but there’s a lot more proof that the oil industry does concrete harm to our country than video games do.