January 14, 2013

Missouri House Bill Would Tax ‘Violent Video Games’

When I was in high school, I played a game called “Counter-Strike,” a first-person shooter game that allowed you and your friends to play each other online. It was riotous fun, and years and millions of gamers later, the first-person shooter genre is still going strong.

That is why I think there will be significant interest in a piece of legislation filed today that would levy “upon sales of all violent video games an excise tax based on the gross receipts or gross proceeds of each sale at a rate of one percent.” Last year, in Oklahoma, legislator William Fourkiller (yes, that is his real name) introduced a similar piece of legislation, and it appears the Missouri legislation uses a fair amount of that bill’s language. For instance, a “violent video game” in the Missouri bill is defined as “a video or computer game that has received a rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board of Teen, Mature, or Adult Only” — identical to the Oklahoma proposal.

Of course, as most video game players know, E.S.R.B. ratings do not deal only with “violence” but with language, sexual matter, content dealing with drugs and alcohol, gambling and many other factors. As Reason noted with Oklahoma’s proposal:

In other words, Teen-rated games like The Sims, Dance Central, or Guitar Hero would be included in the tax, even though they’re non-violent.

Clearly, the law is poorly crafted. And of course, that does not even begin to address the First Amendment problem of taxing the content of speech in the way this proposal would. When asked about Oklahoma’s proposal, the Entertainment Software Association found the move to be “misguided.”

“We are disappointed that even in the wake of an overwhelming decision in the United States Supreme Court finding proposals such as this to be patently unconstitutional, there are those who still try to attack video games with outdated notions of our industry,” said ESA’s Dan Hewitt in a statement provided to Gamasutra.

Indeed. Singling out speech in video games for special taxation is likely unconstitutional, and especially here in Missouri, our policymakers should know better.

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