Leland Yee @ GDC: a missed opportunity

Vladimir Cole
V. Cole|03.27.06

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Leland Yee @ GDC: a missed opportunity
Leland Yee @ GDC: a missed opportunity

We attended the GDC panel entitled "Murder, Sex and Censorship: Debating the Morals of Creative Freedom." The panel was notable for the presence of Leland Yee (pictured above), Democratic candidate for California State Senate, and notable anti-game crusader who passed a law that makes it a crime to sell to minors any game in which a player kills, maims, dismembers or sexually assaults an image of a human being.

Yee's fellow panelists included Brenda Brathwaite, Jason Della Rocca, and James Paul Gee. For the most part, though, the audience had assembled to hear Yee defend his position on games.

I'll cut through the niceties and get to the meat of it: this panel was a missed opportunity. Jason Della Rocca, who should have been able to ask Yee some good questions, behaved petulantly and unprofessionally (at one point, he loudly sighed into his microphone while Yee was making a particularly nutty point). I expected more of the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Get him some media and debate training, stat!

This panel should have been constructed as a one-on-one debate between Dr. James Paul Gee and Leland Yee. Gee's calm, logical arguments and professional debate style would have been more effective at eviscerating Leland Yee's ridiculous position on games.

Leland Yee himself isn't all that impressive as a politician. His presence can best be desribed as "small." The table he sat at dwarfed him, his voice didn't carry, and his elocution and diction are sub-par for someone making a career in politics. There was no sense that the man has any stage charisma. If this is the best of the West-coast anti-game politicians, game lobbyists should take heart.

Here are some choice quotes:

  • Brenda Brathwaite: "I invited a ton of people to this panel. Yee was the only one out of the entire group who agreed to come." (Loud applause from the audience, who did appreciate that Yee had pretty much stepped into the lions' den in order to defend his position on games.)
  • James Paul Gee: "Playing video games in the right context and the right way can be good for you. In the public discussion we spend a tremendous amount of time asking when where and how can they be bad for you, but not asking when where and how they can be good for you. To the public, there's one game: Grand Theft Auto. PS2 had had 6000 games made for it, and yet we hear about one or maybe two games.
  • James Paul Gee, quoting a critic of the popular Hardy Boys series of novels written for teenaged boys: "The harm done is simply incalculable. I wish I could label each one of these books explosives, guaranteed to blow your boys' brains out." (Gee's point is that every new form of popular entertainment meets resistance from people who believe it will destroy society.)
  • Leland Yee, on his bill banning the sale of "adult" games to minors. The bill is currently being contested in California courts: "It's a very narrowly tailored bill. We believe it will sustain the test of court."
  • Jason Della Rocca: "Are these [political] efforts even directed in the right way? It's a way for parents to be less engaged. For [parents] to abdicate the responsibility [of parenting] even further."
  • Jason Della Rocca: All of this legislation is "creating a stigma... a stigma to being a game developer. They feel ashamed to be a game developer... They're part of this industry that's been blacklisted by the media and by culture at large. anytime they encounter a family member or journalist or friend they [feel bad]."
  • Leland Yee, in answer to an audience member question asking why he believes that the ESRB ratings system isn't sufficient: "GTA was rated as an M-rated game. If I as a parent then purchase this game... and sexually explicit material comes out... that failure shows that the ESRB does not work." (He failed to actually answer the audience member's question as to how any ratings agency could have found the hidden Hot Coffee code.)
  • Leland Yee, in answer to James Paul Gee's statement that the evidence that violent games cause children to be aggressive is severely lacking: "There is not solid evidence. There is not cause-and-effect evidence. In a free society you cannot conduct that sort of experiment. There's no evidence that smoking causes cancer. What you have is correlational data. what we do is assume that it's as if you have done a cause-and-effect study."
  • Leland Yee, after the audience collectively said, "What?!" to his (actually sound) assertion that there is no evidence that smoking causes cancer: "Jesus! We are now limiting that kids can't have cigarettes because of that [correlational] data."
  • Leland Yee, trying to patch things up near the end of the hour, "I am very respectful of what you all do. The technology that you've developed, the content you've put in is extremely important. I don't see you as adversarial."
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