Proposed PA legislation attempts to put ‘Sin tax’ on Video Games

By Alex E. Proimos -, CC BY 2.0,

Today in “legislators are comically out of touch with how the world woks”, State Legislators in Pennsylvania put forth a bill that would add a 10% tax to any video game that receives a M for Mature or AO – Adult only rating from the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). The state would then take that money and put into the “Digital Protection for School Safety account”…because you know, protect the children. Unfortunately, text doesn’t let me express just how big my eye-roll at reading this was.

Instead, let’s talk about all the ways this is really, really dumb.

Video games don’t cause violence

First, the justification for the law, sponsored by Christopher Quinn, comes from the link between violent video games and increased aggression. The bill makes vague, uncited references to studies showing increased short term and long term aggression after playing violent video games. The problem is that nothing is shown conclusively, and finding even a correlation has largely eluded researchers. I don’t need to waste the screen space making this argument again, an article on does a pretty good job of that for me.

Suffice to say that this is a weak justification. There’s no reliable evidence to draw relationship between violent video games and increased aggression. Studies have varied in their definitions of violent, aggression, short and long term impacts as time horizons. It’s hard to derive any sort of correlative outcomes, let alone direct outcomes. Researchers haven’t even started to assess potential impacts on a macro-level. And we can also throw in here that violence among youth has been a steady decline for the last 20 years or so. (refer to the for citations / more complete breakdowns).

Legislation is based on a voluntary rating from a private commercial entity

Next up, the legislation is based entirely on the ESRB rating system. The ESRB rating system is 1) voluntary, 2) commercial and private, and 3) could be changed at any time without consequence or even go away altogether. The bill itself makes no allowances for changes to the rating system (which the PA government, or even the Federal government has no direct control over). That means that should the ESRB want to side-step the legislation, they only need to rename the rating levels. The bill being so narrowly defined would no long apply, and tax would no longer need to be collected.

Why would legislators have gone this route? Likely in a half-assed attempt to sidestep one of the Supreme Court rulings —Brown vs. EMA, where one of the points of contention was the overly broad and poorly defined criteria of “violent,” that failed to pass the court’s strict scrutiny test (read Alito’s opinion for more information). To avoid failing a strict scrutiny test, I assume Quinn outsourced the criteria for qualifying for the tax to an unwitting third party.

Violates the First Amendment

Finally, let’s talk about censorship though taxation. This tax actually becomes a First Amendment issue because it attempts to add a tax to a specific segment of medium with the intent and the effect of suppression expression. Quinn’s explicit goal here is to dissuade people from purchasing M and AO games by making them more expensive to purchase through taxes. The Supreme court said that was a no-go in Leathers vs. Medlock:

Taken together, cases such as Regan v. Taxation with Representation of Washington, 461 U. S. 540, Mabee v. White Plains Publishing Co., 327 U. S. 178, and Oklahoma Press Publishing Co. v. Walling, 327 U. S. 186, establish that differential taxation of speakers, even members of the press, does not implicate the First Amendment unless the tax is directed at, or presents the danger of suppressing, particular ideas.

The point here is that intent of the tax is explicitly to suppress expression of violent video games by taxing them and making them less desirable to create because of additional cost (heavy additional cost), chilling the industry away from those types of games. So this taxation actually becomes a First Amendment issue because Quinn is attempting to suppress certain members of a medium based on content, though taxation.

This legislation is a non-starter. I would go so far as to say that Quinn did nothing more than put token effort to make it look like he cared about the values he was espousing. But this is so poorly considered and poorly constructed that I don’t think it’s anything than virtue signally by the representatives involved.

Thanks to MassivelyOP for covering it first!

Video Games as Slot Machines

Slot machines in a casino

I stumbled across this podcast the other day, TrailBlazers, while I was doing research about a related topic. The episode, titled Jackpot, that popped up first for me was about gambling, in particular slot machine.  I’ve actually written a fair amount about gambling in my series on lock-boxes so I was really interested in this particular episode and it didn’t disappoint. I highly recommend you give it a listen — I’ll cite a few quotes here, but the full piece is worth a listen.

Continue reading “Video Games as Slot Machines”

What’s Next – The Lock-box Debate – Part 4

Poker Chips

It’s been a very bad week for EA. If I had to pick a company whose greed was going to come back and dropkick them in the head — it would have been EA. That faith in EA’s greed and ineptitude was well placed. Last week, EA’s ham-handed attempt to turn millions of gamers into foaming gambling addicts whilst planning their own Scrooge McDuck-style tower full of gold backfired as gamers finally freaked out because EA pushed the buck too far with Star Wars Battlefront II and lock-boxes.

Continue reading “What’s Next – The Lock-box Debate – Part 4”

Bringing it Home – The Lock-box Debate part 3

Now I’ve looked the what of lock-boxes and the potential increases in profit, whether lock-boxes are gambling or not, and finally what makes lock-boxes in games different? For all the parallels we can draw between gambling and lock-boxes today, they are still different and those differences shouldn’t be glazed over–they are definitely important.

Continue reading “Bringing it Home – The Lock-box Debate part 3”

Is it Gambling? The Lock-box Debate – Part 2

Poker Chips

We’ve established what lock-boxes are and how they are used in games. Next, I want to tackle fiercely debated topic in lock-boxes: Are lock-boxes gambling? After several hours of research through lots of court opinions, the answer is a resounding not yet. I spent an afternoon reading to understand the leg whats and whys of lock-boxes and gambling in virtual worlds.

Continue reading “Is it Gambling? The Lock-box Debate – Part 2”

What is a lock-box? The Lock-Box Debate, Part 1

Because why not beat a dybbuk that just won’t die? 

For a hot minute back when I was in 7th grade, I got really into Magic: The Gathering. A group of us used to play during a study hall (we were definitely the cool kids). I loved the artwork and the premise of the game and it was generally fun. But I began to realize something–my friend who would bring a 10-gallon garbage of cards to school on our battle-days seemed to always win.

Continue reading “What is a lock-box? The Lock-Box Debate, Part 1”

Why EQ2 is Still Worth Playing (even under Daybreak)

I swore up and down that I wouldn’t support Daybreak anymore after the EverQuest Next cancellation. Last week, I caved and re-subbed to play EverQuest 2 on the progression server. The core game is fun and offers features you can reliably find anywhere else. While my druthers quiver in rejection, having fun is all that matters when it comes to gaming.

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Cerulean-tinted Glasses in Pokemon Blue

Pokemon Blue


As part of the 20th Anniversary of Pokemon, Nintendo has re-released the original games – Pokemon Blue, Pokemon Red, and Pokemon Yellow on the 3DS eShop. I’m a huge Pokemon fan, so I was pretty geeked out, but a little worried about how the game would play after all the quality-of-life improvements from subsequent generations.  While I agonized over which version to purchase, I eventually succumbed to nostalgia and picked up Pokemon Blue, the version my middle schooler self played.  I have to say, I’m surprised at how well the game has held up over the years.

Continue reading “Cerulean-tinted Glasses in Pokemon Blue”