Former California State Senator Leland Yee pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, admitting that he accepted bribes from undercover officers and tried to sell illegally trafficked firearms to covert FBI agents. Yee, who was suspended from the State Senate in March, 2014, faces up to twenty years in prison.
That’s ironic – for years, Yee was a staunch gun control advocate – but it has big ramifications for the gaming industry, too. For years, Yee took a stand against violent video games (particularly Grand Theft Auto), warning parents that “in the top selling games, the player actively participates in and is rewarded for violence,” and calling the influence of games on children’s minds “a public health issue.”
In 2005, following the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas “Hot Coffee” scandal, Yee argued that the ESRB knew about Rockstar’s sex-based minigames, and criticized the organization for giving the game a Mature, not an Adults-Only, rating.
That same year, Yee passed California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793, which prohibited the sale of violent video games to minors. The bill required violent games (as determined by the state of California, not the ESRB) to carry a warning sticker. Any retailers found selling the violent games to minors would face a $1,000 fine.
Thankfully, the bill didn’t stick. While then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was happy to sign the bill into law, the United States Northern District Court of California struck down AB 1793 before it was ever enforced. Appeals made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where seven out of nine Justices ruled that the law was unconstitutional, violating freedom of speech. As Justice Scalia explained:
Video games communicate ideas – and even social messages – through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.
That’s not quite as big of a victory as it sounds – Justice Alitos and Roberts claimed that, if its definition of “violent” had been less ambiguous, the law might’ve been okay – but it did end AB 1973 for good.
However, that wasn’t the end of Yee’s crusade. In 2007, Yee criticized the military for pouring money into the Global Gaming League, which features America’s Army, the US Army’s video game recruiting tool. In 2011, Yee told gamers to “shut up,” claiming that they “have no credibility in this argument.”
It remains to be seen whether Yee will continue to criticize the video game industry from prison. Sentencing is scheduled for October, 2015, which gives Yee plenty of time to run through The Escapists. From the looks of things, he’s going to need it.