Q&A: Leland Yee on Nov. 2 Supreme Court hearing

State Senator who penned law at center of high court case says he hopes "guidance" will emerge from justices' decision.

Last week, Entertainment Consumers Association general counsel Jennifer Mercurio explained how the case of Schwarzenegger v. EMA will play out in the US Supreme Court on November 2. Being part of a pro-consumer organization, she also explained why she thinks the California law at the center of the case--which criminalizes sales of "ultraviolent" video games to minors--will be declared unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

California state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco)

This week, GameSpot caught up with the author of the law, California state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), to ask him what he thought about the looming hearing. He also shared his thoughts on why he believes the Entertainment Software Rating Board is a fundamentally flawed organization and why games require more content oversight than films.

GameSpot: So the US Supreme Court is going to hear the case of Schwarzenegger v. EMA next week, which will determine the constitutionality of the law you wrote. What do you hope their overall ruling is?

Leland Yee: Well I hope the US Supreme Court will sustain the bill, the law that would ban the sale of these ultraviolent video games to children. At the very least, I believe that the Supreme Court is going to provide some direction to legislators who are interested in limiting the sale of violent video games to children. That's because this law has been struck down twice already--there was an injunction on it which we appealed and lost. Then we went to the federal appeals court and we lost again. So I am hoping the Supreme Court will look at this issue and at least provide some guidance as to what might be possible within the framework of the law.

GS: Now I know you're aware of the ESRB, the ratings system the games use. What is your issue with that? Do you think the system just doesn't have enough teeth, that it just doesn't promote enough what ratings mean to parents, that it doesn't give enough information to let parents make decisions on what games to buy for their children? Or is it that children already have access to violent games and it doesn't matter what their parents do or say?

LY: No, I think the problem with the ESRB rating is that the ratings system itself is rather biased. The ESRB is funded by the industry, so it's like the fox guarding the henhouse. Clearly, they're not going to legitimately and appropriately place any markings on any video games, because it's in the interest of the video [game] industry to sell as many video games as possible. You never heard of an AO rating whatsoever, because that would limit your market share.

The other problem is, as you remember, a while back, when they had the Grand Theft Auto "Hot Coffee" [content] stuck in there, and the ratings system, the ratings board never found out about that. So I think you need to look at a different way of rating and [use] a different technology to figure out the content of these ultraviolent video games.

GS: Now the movie industry has a similar ratings system and almost never issues an NC-17 rating to a film. How come video games warrant the extra scrutiny--backed up by a law criminalizing sales to minors--and movies don't? Is there something in the film model that could be adopted to rating games?

LY: It's a different technology. You go to a movie and you just sit there for two hours and see everything. Within video games, content is so embedded that you are unable to look at all the content in one sitting. For parents, it's hard to really know what the content is as opposed to a movie. Parents can sit and watch a movie. Within a game, you have to be pretty sophisticated to get to a level to see some of the more atrocious [in-game] behavior.

Look, I'm a strong First Amendment person. This bill is drafted narrowly. It's not against all video games; it's not against all violent video games. It's only against this small section of ultraviolent video games. This bill will sustain anybody who wants to make more atrocious kinds of violent games--they can still do that, they can still sell that, they can still make them available to adults. Interestingly, kids can have access to these ultraviolent video games even under my bill. All you have to do is go to your parents, talk to your parents, and if your parents want to get it for you, they can go to the store and get it for you.

Discussion

119 comments
mideonnviscera
mideonnviscera

Personally, I'd love it if they made it harder for kids to get their hands on games. Less annoyance for me!

starduke
starduke

@JohnisGodd Well, technically, you don't kill anything in Pokemon, you just KO them, and the battle animation is so bad that you don't maim anything either.

Danymoon
Danymoon

Oh My God....Life its so ULTRAVIOLENT.....HAHAHA can i laugh louder??...If they would ban games like Mario Bros, im pretty sure they would do the same with Disney!.....oh well, that's a better idea... Give me a f+++ Break!...go and "ban" the windows of your house....We people are grown enough to know what we do or what we like....Children will always do what they like, even when adults don't know it, that's nothing new.

Subtech117
Subtech117

This will become a non-issue in about 2 years. Most consoles have now gone to downloading games, just like music. I don't think this is a productive way to address the issue. I use the term issue because it is a non priority. I do think that parents have no idea that their kids are playing games for example in Bioshock you harvest children. As our generation has kids, we will know what demented games come out and we can prepare how we want to raise them now. I for example would not let a kid under 18 play GTA, I just would not do it. To make legislation for a single generation gap is about 10 years too late. I urge you to speak with your local representatives in your states and local legislature to keep this issue in your hands not their hands. When society stays quiet we allow unwarranted changes. Stay involved in your local politics to preserve, improve your lifestyle and choices.

JohnisGodd
JohnisGodd

@starduke Would it!??? Mr. Mime is pretty humany.

majoras_wrath
majoras_wrath

I can understand his reasoning entirely--if it was him talking about how he raises his kid. We don't need a nanny state telling us what is too naughty for us.

starduke
starduke

A "violent" game was defined as a "game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." He wants to ban Final Fantasy! They have bad guys that look human, not to mention the player characters that can also die. Actually, pretty much every game in existence would get the rating, if they feature humans as playable characters that can die, or humans as enemies that can die. Pokemon would be safe though.

deviant74
deviant74

Leland Yee is a liar. His law would make Mario Bros rated M. The princes gets kidnap and mario can die trying to save her. Those 2 thing makes it an m rated game by his law. If you want to keep m rated games out of kids hands you can't make them all m rated.

smoke_dog_4ever
smoke_dog_4ever

@keech I understand your point, but don't Wal-Mart and Target employees already risk losing their jobs for selling R-Rated movies to minors? At Gamestop, selling a mature rated to a minor gets you fired without many questions asked. I really don't see how this law is going to impose anything more dastardly on these businesses that the laws regarding R-Rated movies already does. Ultimately, if you're of the age to buy mature rated content, you won't have any problem getting it. I have no problem flashing my ID when I'm buying alcohol or an R-Rated movie ticket at the theater even though I obviously am over 21. Even in Wal-Mart or a similar place I have to show my ID for buying an R-Rated dvd and it doesn't bother me. Then again I guess I just support the morality of it. If a parent wants their kid to play M rated games, they should be there at the time of purchase and then whatever positive or negative outcome comes from it it's the parent's fault. Let's be honest... if a store sells a kid a violent video game that he isn't old enough by rating to play without a parent being there to consent to the purchase, and then the kid shoots up his high school and says the violent video game made him do it, who gets the blame. The parent who didn't consent to him buying the game in the first place or the store who sold it to him in the first place? I definitely see this bill as protecting the companies, not suppressing freedom of speech.

smoke_dog_4ever
smoke_dog_4ever

@keech I understand your point, but don't Wal-Mart and Target employees already risk losing their jobs for selling R-Rated movies to minors? At Gamestop, selling a mature rated to a minor gets you fired without many questions asked. I really don't see how this law is going to impose anything more dastardly on these businesses that the laws regarding R-Rated movies already does. Ultimately, if you're of the age to buy mature rated content, you won't have any problem getting it. I have no problem flashing my ID when I'm buying alcohol or an R-Rated movie ticket at the theater even though I obviously am over 21. Even in Wal-Mart or a similar place I have to show my ID for buying an R-Rated dvd and it doesn't bother me. Then again I guess I just support the morality of it. If a parent wants their kid to play M rated games, they should be there at the time of purchase and then whatever positive or negative outcome comes from it it's the parent's fault. Let's be honest... if a store sells a kid a violent video game that he isn't old enough by rating to play without a parent being there to consent to the purchase, and then the kid shoots up his high school and says the violent video game made him do it, who gets the blame. The parent who didn't consent to him buying the game in the first place or the store who sold it to him in the first place? I definitely see this bill as protecting the companies, not suppressing freedom of speech.

BrotherFluffy
BrotherFluffy

@Remy_Labue In addition to what Emon said, there's also the fact that it isn't just M-Rated games. It's any game that "depicts violence against a human being" that can get slapped with the ban. Under those circumstances, even T-Rated games like Star Wars the Force Unleashed could be facing the ban. And California has stated that they will not tell retailers what should or should not be on the ban list. They will just do periodic checks of retailers, and if they find a game that meets the insanely vague criteria not marked and banned from minors purchasing them, they will fine them 1,000 dollars per game. This is a clear attempt to circumvent the First Amendment in order to remove any kind of violent video game from the market.

Emon85
Emon85

@ Remy_Labue Well you answered one of your questions, it is infringing on the 1st amendment. When the government starts to be involved in things like telling us what type of games we can and cannot play, the question is what other aspects of our lives will they try to regulate? That is why everyone is up in arms.

dortega120
dortega120

So he thinks that with games, you cant see the content in just one sitting. Dude, you can do the same crap with movies. Just buy the DVD of whatever movie and just keep watching the scene with the gunfight, breasts, etc.

Remy_Labue
Remy_Labue

So I've been following this story for a while and I'm a little confused as to why this is such a big issue. Maybe I'm missing something that you guys can shed some light on.... So if this law passes, A rated games can't be displayed in stores with M rated ones. As far as I know, that's already being done by most companies. A 18 sticker 2"x2" must be placed on the cover, as long as its on the cellophane (spelling), I don't care. I'm a hardcore collector and hate it when there's stickers on my packaging. M rated games can't be sold to anyone under 18. As far as I know, Best Buy, Walmart, and GameStop all check ID's. I work at GameStop and check ID's religously, however if the parents want to buy their childeren a M rated game, we can't stop them. If a retailer is caught selling an M rated game to a minor, they'll be fined. This is, as far as I can tel, the only new change coming with this law. Personally, I don't believe young kids should be playing certain games depending on their content, I know if I had kids, i would regulate what they play. But as far as this law is concerned, I don't see why everyone's up in arms about it, other then it's infringing on the 1st amendment. This isn't going to stop us from getting our games are stop developers from making M rated games, so what's the issue? Maybe someone can explain what I seem to be missing...

satirewire
satirewire

Until parents start giving a crud about their children, laws like these are useless. I used to work in retail and when asking parents if they really wanted to buy an M rated game for their child, they would almost always say "if that's the one he wants, I don't care." That was over 8 years ago, but I still see that kind of thing happen when I buy video games now. Parents just don't care, and many retailers are actually pretty good about not selling M rated games to under aged kids, but since mommy and daddy buy it for them anyway it just doesn't matter. Parents are the ones who are responsible for parenting their children, even if they don't care about doing it. The only way to keep children from playing games intended for adults is to either stop making M rated games or to require everyone to pass a parental IQ test before allowing them to breed.

portal-fan21
portal-fan21

As i am going to say, only in California, i live in NJ with a Republican gov so this will never happen since he is pro money. Oh and i still say ban COD modern warfare 3 from ever going into excistance.

madSomnambulist
madSomnambulist

This is actually fairly enlightening for me. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of wanting to despise whomever created the legislation, Gamespot was polite enough to go ask question. I found it very interesting that Mr Lee finds the entire rating system flawed and created this law in good faith to try to cover some of its failings. Perhaps, if this law is struck down, he can write up something else. As a first amendment weirdo--Mr Lee saying he is as well-- I can appreciate what he was trying to accomplish per his not interfering with the companies or games themselves. A lot of people have come to think the bill is some crusade against M-rated content in the US. It's not. IMO, common sense law but founded on a fundamental flaw, with the courts interpreting law and not public opinion in the end.

Spacerac
Spacerac

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Spacerac
Spacerac

@keech: If anything, the sooner this law gets shot down the better. @keech @Zloth2: Walmart's policy is they do sell M games-they used to sell a PS3 Bioshock 2 pack-but all major retailers like Walmart, Target, etc won't carry AO games. @kage_53: I agree with you but "Hot Coffee" wasn't a mod in the traditional sense. It was part of GTA:SA, but R* decided to cut it from the game by making it inaccessible instead of just removing it because it's easier. You did have to mod the game to access it though. The attention it received was really stupid. @ibuystuffny: This may sound strange but-I applaud that parent. After she was clearly told what was in the game, she refused to purchase it. I've seen people literally cut off the cashier from reading the back of the box, and buy the game for their kids anyway. Sadly, I saw one instance where a kid played his mom into getting GTA for him because the mother could only speak in Spanish.

keech
keech

@Zloth2 Exactly, the law is so vague almost any game could fall under its umbrella if you wanna get super literal. I know its not specifically about M rated games. But only M rated games will be targeted. I don't know what Walmarts policy is on M rated games. I don't shop there, it was just an example. @Spacerac I also find it suspect that the one example Yee could manage to pull out was the "hot coffee" incident. Content that required you to hack the game to get access to. From this article, it sounds like Yee knows the law is going to get shot down. I really think its just for political publicity at this point.

Spacerac
Spacerac

I don't think Yee understands how the ESRB operates. It's not solely rated by the game industry, the ESRB pulls people from different demographics, gamers and non-gamers alike, to look at the footage of video games.

Zloth2
Zloth2

Errr, I thought Walmart already barred M rated games? This isn't about the M rated stuff, @Keech. Those games will still be M rated, just with the force of law behind it. The problem is that practically all games more violent than Bejeweled are going to be M rated in California. The law even forbids 'mental torture' - so you can be sure the Sims games are going to be 18+. Zelda would definitely be 18+. Pokemon could be, depending on how human-like the Pokemon are.

keech
keech

@smoke_dog_4ever I'm a 28 year old gamer. I'm very much opposed to this law. It goes well beyond just minors not being able to play M rated games. Senator Yee has compared video games with pornography, firearms, alcohol, and the death penalty. Those are the things he sites for why violent games should be against the law to sell to minors. Can you find pornography at Walmart? It's not a far cry to think if laws like this pass places such as Walmart and Target could just decide they aren't going to carry M rated games anymore. Because they don't even want to risk the fines and bad PR they would get if a minor buys an M rated game from their stores. This in turn makes it hard for ALL gamers to buy games. It hurts the overall sales of M rated titles, and discourages developers from even making them in the first place. So you yourself may forced to stick to "Zelda and Pokemon" if this law passes.

smoke_dog_4ever
smoke_dog_4ever

I'm curious as to how many of the posters here who're posting in opposition to this bill are under the age of 18... As an adult gamer, I think it's perfectly justifiable to have this kind of law in effect. Games are rated Mature (17+) for a reason. If you're not 17+, you SHOULD have a parent's permission to buy the item. What's wrong with that? If you go to watch a R-rated movie, you have to have somebody who's over 18 accompany you at the time you purchase the ticket. What's so different here? 11 and 12 year olds need to stick to Zelda and Pokemon and get away from COD and Gears of War. They have no business purchasing mature rated content. Until you're 18 (or 16 in some states), your parent/legal guardian has control over your life and well being. It's their decision what content you should be subjected to.

DrKill09
DrKill09

I really do hate this man. Let's see if he's still got that ****eating grin on his face when they rule in favor of THE FIRST AMENDMENT! :P

nparks
nparks

Well, good thing we have strong, stalwart, conservative groups like the ACLU to stand up against those mean old progressives then.

JohnDebESL
JohnDebESL

@Heshertonfist "What does this have to do with liberalism? Seriously." * Leland Yee is a liberal progressive. * Leland Yee represents one of the most far-left districts in the country. * Leland Yee wrote this legislation. * Liberal progressives are essentially statists (you might even say 'fascists') who believe the state must coerce individuals to do what the state deems is in their best interests (i.e. criminalizing trans fats, Fairness Doctrine, mandatory health insurance purchases, and on and on). If Yee's work stands at the Supreme Court, and it very well might, you will have liberal progressive statism to thank for it, because after all, the state must protect us from choices. We're too stupid to make them on our own. Additionally, pay close attention to which justices vote to uphold this law. Let's see if the liberal wing of the court (Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor) goes along with liberal philosophy. It will be a fascinating reminder that who you elect to the Senate is extremely important, because they will vote to confirm justices whose ideological framework mirrors their own. Oh, and I hope you all enjoy November 2nd. I know I will. :P

cytheh
cytheh

nothing is more cruel than reality and nothing is more violent than what we see in the news. So instead of finding a scapegoat, how about find a solution? like, giving more info to parents about how to raise children properly?

Heshertonfist
Heshertonfist

@JohnDebESL "If it's taken a video game to get you interested and have the light go off, to have you see what liberalism is all about, I'm glad to have you on our side, 'cause I agree with you." What does this have to do with liberalism? Seriously.

Heshertonfist
Heshertonfist

There goes American politics pretending to be some kind of moral and righteous center again.

nparks
nparks

Sadly, political pandering to "family values" voters is a bipartisan effort, and the sensationalistic right wing media is just as bad as, if not worse than, the sensationalistic liberal media (anybody remember Fox Propaganda Network's coverage of Mass Effect?) Limbaugh doesn't have an ideological leg to stand on. At least the California law barely even mentions sex, even though Yee likes to keep bringing up "Hot Coffee". It'd be great if politicians of all stripes could actually run on their abilities instead of trying to convince various grups of voters that they will impose those voters' particular values on everybody else.

JohnDebESL
JohnDebESL

Rush Limbaugh knows more about what's at stake in this case than many on the boards here, which is sure to stick in the throat of many a progressive here and elsewhere: http://kotaku.com/5677274/rush-limbaugh-defends-video-games-free-speech-says-this-is-where-the-battle-is?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+kotaku%2Ffull+%28Kotaku%29 "Join me any time the government tries to impinge on anybody's speech," Limbaugh said. "Join me when the government tries to tell you [that you] can't eat trans fat. Join me when the government gets involved in all these other behavioral and speech things that they try to tell you (and control us) we can't do: What kind of car we have to drive, whether or not we're responsible for global warming, the kind of light bulb we have to have, where our thermostats are. Get on board, my buddy. If it's taken a video game to get you interested and have the light go off, to have you see what liberalism is all about, I'm glad to have you on our side, 'cause I agree with you. Leave your game alone. The people that put together these video games are artists in their own right. If you're gonna start saying that video games are raunchy, then how the hell do you leave cable television alone?"

El_Conrado
El_Conrado

You know, I've got to admit this man strikes me as quiet an amicable fellow. And he makes a decent case, too. I mean, I fundamentally disagree with his proposed law, but at least he seems to have thought things through. I can’t help but feel that I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with this guy talking about why I think his law is flawed, unlike some OTHER lawmaker who will go unnamed but probably got his start chasing ambulances in L.A. I also can’t say that I disagree with his point about technology.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Septagon7
Septagon7

I really don't understand the point of this law. What is this guy trying to do? I get carded all the time at Gamestop and other stores, so I don't see how this law is going to change much. And like he said, parents will just go buy games for their kids anyway. He's refuting his own point. But to "criminalize" sale of these games to minors is ridiculous. That means that someone who sells these games to children can be put in prison...and yet if they sold an R rated movie to kids, it's not really a big deal. I am sick of this criminalization of consensual crimes, like possession (not sale) of drugs. It's just the product of lazy people who don't want responsibility.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

@Nashnir "If passed we will be hearing : Kid kills parents for not buying a game" And you know the funny part of it? it will still be our fault.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

@Son_Jazrin Violence in Splatterhouse is oxagerated to the point of being ridiculous (It tries to be bloody fun, not painful like Manhunt). Also the violence is against non-human enemies in a fantasy context. They will have no problem with that, I can asure you.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

Well, I really agree with the last paragraph in this article, but I think that politicing something that way is not exactly compatible with the laws of a country of the free world. Well... also this may mean lees 12 years old kids talking rubish in M games in XLA and PSN. Though I doubt this law will pass.

armodillo17
armodillo17

I really don't understand how people can be upset at this proposed law. All it says is that you can't sell ultra-violent games to children--that parents would have to buy them for their kids. That is the exact same thing as not allowing people under 18 (or is it 17?) to buy tickets to rated R movies, and I have never heard a single complaint about that. Maybe I'm missing something? Also, yes, there are tons of lazy parents, but kids aren't dumb. A kid could easily go behind their parents' backs, buy a game the parents would have said "no" to, and keep it a secret.

Vengeful_Angel
Vengeful_Angel

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Son_Jazrin
Son_Jazrin

LOL I wonder what they'll say when the new splatterhouse is released?

MuddVader
MuddVader

@JackHoleFace00 Eh, it was his wording I think. All hes trying to say is that in a movie, as a parent you can watch it in a short time and know of all its content. While on the other hand, a video game needs to be played throughout and in multiple ways in some cases for you to see all the content; some of which may be explicit. (Like say, the Witcher. First glance its just an action/adventure/fantasy game thingamabob, but there's a lot of sex [even though it doesnt show much, it still gives you cards which have nudity {nudity in the extended edition only? |does it matter?|}]) I dont get what all of this is about anyways. As far as I knew it was a fine-able(right word? 0_o) offense to rent or sell mature videogame's to people who are under 18. If not, I always had to have my parents with me to make the purchase before I turned 18. Unlucky me?

ptown58
ptown58

"It is the lazy parents jobs to regulate" not all are lazy , most are always working or doing something because of work, but that still doesn't make censorship ok , people work more than ever for much less and it will only get worse.

Vengeful_Angel
Vengeful_Angel

How is it that ill-informed and foolish hypocrites make it to positions of power? -Sigh- The mysteries of life...

LeoLex_
LeoLex_

@kintama88 it has nothing to do with the fine what so ever!, the fact that they could be taking the games away that we love is all to do with!!!! i dont plan on spending my time playing farm ville to the end of my days thank u very much.

Takeno456
Takeno456

It starts with games and it WILL expand. This is how the government works. If the people give the government concent to regulate something the government always takes over. It is the lazy parents jobs to regulate what their children buy. Its not the governments job.

tehepicpwnzor
tehepicpwnzor

@JohnDebESL I'm on the same page as you are, 110%. "Progressives" aren't Progressive in the least.