- The Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering a bill that would place a 10% tax on video games with a Mature or Adults Only rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
- Rep. Christopher Quinn first proposed the bill in October 2018, and it has been re-introduced for the 2019 legislative session with bi-partisan support.
- Revenue generated by the tax would be used to fund school safety measures.
- The Entertainment Software Association, which is responsible for the ESRB ratings, claims that the bill violates the first amendment by targeting video games based on their content.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bill that would slap a 10% tax on video games that are rated Mature or Adults Only by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Rep. Christopher Quinn submitted House Bill 109 to the state’s General Assembly on January 28th with bi-partisan support from Rep. Ed Neilson and and Rep. Carol Hill-Evans.
Revenue generated from the video game tax would be used to fund new safety measures in Pennsylvania’s public schools. Speaking to NBC10 in Philadelphia, Quinn said violent video games are a factor in real world violence, and the video game tax would help counteract their impact on society.
“This bill does not prohibit violent video games, instead it simply provides a revenue stream — it tries to recoup some of the societal costs — to help make our schools safer by taxing an industry that has been shown to lead to violence,” Quinn said.
As you might expect, the $43 billion video game industry has a different perspective on the bill’s premise that video games lead to real world violence. And the game industry’s main lobbying group is also arguing that video games are a form of protected speech under the US Constitution.
Here are the key issues that could determine whether Pennsylvania becomes the first state in the nation to tax violent video games:
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Many of the best-selling games of 2018 were rated mature.
Eight of the 20 best-selling video games of 2018 were rated M by the ESRB. Mature games are rated for players 17-years-old and up. The two best-selling games of 2018, “Red Dead Redemption 2” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” (pictured above) were both rated M.
By contrast, only a handful of games receive the Adult Only rating, which is usually reserved for sexually explicit content. Many retailers refuse to carry AO titles in stores, so game developers typically try to avoid the rating at all costs.
The Entertainment Software Association claims the video game tax would violate the constitution.
The Entertainment Software Association, the lobbying group that also oversees the ESRB ratings, stated that Pennsylvania’s proposed video game tax is an unconstitutional violation of the first amendment. The group argues that the tax singles out video games based on their content, violating the constitutional free speech rights of the game’s publishers.
While the ability to tax violent games is not a matter of settled law, the game industry has one important U.S. Supreme Court decision in its favor. In 2011, a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children under age 18 was struck down in a decision by the Supreme Court. In its decision on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the court found that video game content was protected as free speech.
The video game industry is also pushing back against the bill’s claim that video games lead to real-world violence.
“Numerous authorities – including scientists, medical professionals, government agencies, and the US Supreme Court – found that video games do not cause violence,” The ESA wrote in a statement.
“We encourage Pennsylvania legislators to work with us to raise awareness about parental controls and the ESRB video game rating system, which are effective tools to ensure parents maintain control over the video games played in their home.”