The United States Supreme Court ruled that video games are protected speech, no different than books, paintings, or films, when it ruled on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association in 2011. That case struck down the 2005 California state law that banned the sale of violent video games to people under the age of 18, and required additional warnings on the package beyond the ESRB ratings system. The Court found the law unconstitutional, just as many district courts had found similar laws previously. That doesn’t stop people from trying, though. Missouri is now attempting to curb the sale of violent games by imposing a tax on them.
More specifically, State Representative Diane Franklin (R) has introduced House Bill No. 157, calling for a 1-percent sales tax placed on all violent video games sold in the Show-Me state. The bill employs a liberal definition of just what constitutes a “violent” video game:
“[The] term ‘violent video game’ means a video or computer game that has received a rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board of Teen, Mature, or Adult Only.”
The majority of games sporting the ESRB’s M for Mature rating do feature explicit violence and in many cases sex, as do the mere twenty-two games to receive the Adults Only rating over the past nineteen years. That games rated T for Teen is included under the bill’s definition betrays the author’s profound ignorance of the media in question.
Consider some of the games rated Teen currently on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. Titles include: You Don’t Know Jack, Forza Horizon, and Dance Central 3, whose most violent content is bright colors. The most violent T-rated games on the list are Star Wars Kinect and StarCraft II, games whose fantasy violence is roughly comparable to the first fifteen seconds of a thirty-second commercial for NCIS on CBS. Television shows are naturally not included in the proposal, though, nor are movies or books.
Rep. Franklin’s bill is unlikely to be signed into state law, and if it is, it will be struck down as swiftly as similar legislation proposed in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and California.