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PA Lawmakers Debate Video Game ‘Sin Tax’ During State’s Esports Month

Updated: Pennsylvania legislators have once again introduced a bill to tax certain video games sold in the state.

House Bill No. 109 aims to impose a 10% tax on adult and mature-rated video games sold at retail in addition to any applicable state and local taxes. Money collected will go into a newly created Digital Protection for School Safety Account and be used to enhance safety measures in Pennsylvania school districts.

Rep. Christopher B. Quinn (R) first introduced a version of the bill in October 2018, but it died in committee.

“Over the past few years, acts of violence in schools seem to be occurring more frequently and with more intensity,” he said in a September memo to his fellow House members. “From Colorado to Connecticut to most recently in Parkland, Florida, students have experienced unthinkable actions by peers in a place that should promote learning and enrichment, safety and protection. One factor that may be contributing to the rise in, and intensity of, school violence is the material kids see, and act out, in video games.”

Quinn also pointed to a recent National Center for Health Research article that stated “studies have shown that playing violent video games can increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in both the short-term and long-term. Violent video games can also desensitize people to seeing aggressive behavior and decrease prosocial behaviors such as helping another person and feeling empathy (the ability to understand others). The longer that individuals are exposed to violent video games, the more likely they are to have aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.”

Of course, Quinn’s memo conveniently leaves out another section of the same article that makes a distinction between aggression and violence, and notes that there’s no clear evidence to support the assumption that increased aggression results in more acts of lethal violence or criminal behavior.

“It is important to keep in mind that violent video game exposure is only one risk factor of aggressive behavior,” the article said. “For example, mental illness, adverse environments, and access to guns are all risk factors of aggression and violence.”

House Bill No. 109 has been referred to the PA House of Representatives Finance Committee. The Entertainment Software Association, which represents a number of video game publishers, called it “a violation of the U.S. Constitution” in a statement provided to Variety on Tuesday.

“The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association & Entertainment Software Association that video games are entitled to the full protection of the Constitution, and that efforts, like Pennsylvania’s, to single out video games based on their content will be struck down,” the ESA said. “Numerous authorities — including scientists, medical professionals, government agencies, and the US Supreme Court — found that video games do not cause violence. 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.”

Last week, Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) introduced House Resolution 66, which recognizes February as “Esports Month” in Pennsylvania. The PA House of Representatives unanimously adopted it. The PA Esports Coalition now plans to hold its first annual Esports Day at the Pennsylvania Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 6. The event seeks to raise awareness and highlight the benefits that esports can bring to the Commonwealth. There’s no word on whether or not Rep. Quinn plans to attend.

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