Soldier of Fortune Classified as an Adult Movie

Retailers in British Columbia will not be able to sell or rent the title to anyone under 18, as part of a government ruling.

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In what could become a landmark case, as well as a thorn in the side of video game developers in North America, Mary-Louise McCausland, British Columbia's provincial film commissioner, ruled yesterday that the PC version of Soldier of Fortune is to be considered an "adult film" in her jurisdiction. It is therefore subject to the restrictions that come with that classification. According to the board's categories, an "adult film" is intended for ""anyone 18 years of age or older."

According to the commissioner, such products contain frequent explicit sexual scenes, brutal and explicit violence, intense horror, and other disturbing content. However, the film classification board considers these things to be tolerable by the community. Instead, McCausland defined Soldier of Fortune as an adult film because "its depictions of violence against persons and animals are brutal and portrayed realistically and explicitly." The decree means that all retailers in British Columbia will have their copies recalled to the distributor so that they can be affixed with a "B.C. Approved" adult-video sticker. Distributors who violate the ruling can face up to six months in prison and/or a CAN$2000 fine.

GameSpot contacted both Ravensoft and Activision, the game's respective developer and publisher, about the ruling. While Ravensoft refused to officially comment, Activision declined to respond at all, saying that, while it didn't have anything to say on the issue, a declaration of "no comment" was not an indication of its stance on the issue. However, it did concede that it might discuss this matter with us in the future. Additionally, no information was immediately available on whether the Dreamcast release of Soldier of Fortune would incur a similar fate in British Columbia.

The ruling effectively supercedes any regulatory power held by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which was established in part to prevent such "invisible hand" manipulation of the industry by government entities. Roy Behr, a board spokesperson, told GameSpot that "the purpose of the ESRB is to provide independent ratings of video and computer games for consumers, and we decline to discuss the matter any further."

Harvey Nightingale, executive director of the Canadian Interactive Digital Software Association, could not be reached as of press time. The CIDSA's official mandate is to "promote Canadian software development by lobbying for favorable tax and regulatory treatment, providing information on video software guidelines set by the US-based Entertainment Software Rating Board and encouraging members to submit all new products for ESRB ratings."

Related issues have appeared previously both in Asia and in Europe, but this is the first case to appear before a North American court. This could affect the distribution of games in North America, as it may set a precedent that allows each individual province or state to impart their own regulations on future game releases.

Ravensoft and Activision have 30 days to appeal the ruling.

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