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Rhode Island Legislator Proposes A Tax On Video Games Based On Existing Entirely Voluntary Ratings System

Violent video games may not cause violent people, despite what some people think, but we can certainly point out that they make a certain class of people very, very stupid. That class is the political class. Every time some violent happening occurs in America, the reaction by grandstanding politicians with no imagination is to lash out at video games for causing all the world's violence, to propose such games be banned entirely, or to propose a tax on them. On the question of taxing or banning these games, these politicians fortunately run face-first into the First Amendment and the Supreme Court's 2011 decision that video games are art, they are speech, and the government can't infringe upon that speech.

Sadly, it doesn't keep some from trying. In the wake of the tragedy in Florida, one Rhode Island state representative announced new proposed legislation that would tax games with an "M" rating or higher.

Representative Robert Nardolillo III (R-Dist. 28, Coventry) will introduce legislation to increase mental health and counseling resources in schools by implementing a tax on video games rated "M" or higher.

"There is evidence that children exposed to violent video games at a young age tend to act more aggressively than those who are not," stated Rep. Nardolillo. "This bill would give schools the additional resources needed to help students deal with that aggression in a positive way."

Because states cannot ban the sale of certain video games to minors, Rep. Nardolillo's proposal would instead allocate money to counteract the aggression they may cause. The legislation would levy an additional 10% tax to video games sold in Rhode Island with a rating of "M" or higher. Revenue generated by this tax would then be placed in a special account for school districts to use to fund counseling, mental health programs, and other conflict resolution activities.

Except he cannot tax these games for the very same reason. Taxing speech is a thing we don't do and is flatly prohibited by the First Amendment. So, to be clear, this legislation likely won't pass and, if it did, it would be quickly overturned by the court system.

Which isn't the only reason why the proposed legislation is stupid. The idea of taxing video games based on ESRB ratings should immediately strike everyone as inherently problematic. The Entertainment Software Rating Board is a non-profit group set up by the video game industry. Submissions for a rating are entirely voluntary. If this bill were to pass and be allowed to exist, the ESRB could simply refuse to rate games "M" or above. Or, game publishers could simply stop submitting for a rating. The ESRB ratings are the creation of the gaming industry. Trying to weaponize the industry against itself for the purpose of collecting tax revenue over dubious reasoning is a hilariously bad plan.

Again, that's almost certainly besides the point, as taxes on video games like this are almost certainly unconstitutional. Still, it's worth pointing out just how little our legislators seem to understand the industries and art over which they attempt to loom.

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