B.C. Film Classification Soldier of Fortune Decision

Ministry of Attorney General
July 11, 2000

Film Classification received a complaint from a member of the public about the content of Soldier of Fortune, a product that was released in the Spring of 2000. He referred the office to a web site where a demonstration version could be accessed. He was particularly concerned with the reality and explicitness of Soldier of Fortune's depictions of violence and the fact that minors could have unrestricted access to it.

Once Soldier of Fortune was released, Film Classification procured a copy from a retail store and Deputy Director Jeremy Fraser and I reviewed it.

The box cover description of Soldier of Fortune includes the following:

A story driven plotline unfolds through 10 covert missions that take you through the political hot spots of five continents, during 26 levels of "Action Movie" gameplay.

The participant assumes the identity of John Mullins, an anti-terrorist mercenary who, using a variety of modern weapons, kills human and animal obstacles. Each of the 26 levels, or scenes, begins with a set-up scene outlining the participant's objectives. A participant who is successful in killing adversaries is rewarded with weapons (and/or ammunition) such as knives, shotguns, missile launchers, flame-throwers and machine guns.

Soldier of Fortune, in my view, can be described as an interactive, animated "motion picture." Unlike other computer games such as Tetris or Scrabble, the action in Soldier of Fortune has a narrative and the participant adopts the role of one of the characters in the story. This "Action Movie" (a reference found on the product's packaging) is distributed on CD-ROM and is viewed through the use of a computer. CD-ROMs that contain motion pictures are considered films as defined by the Motion Picture Act:

"film" means photographic film, pre-recorded video tapes, pre-recorded video discs and includes any other object or device on or within which there is recorded, by photographic, electronic or other means, the contents of a motion picture, and from which, by the use of a projector, machine or other appropriate technology, the motion picture may be viewed, exhibited or projected.

The Motion Picture Act includes, as part of the definition of "adult motion picture," the following:

(b) a motion picture that has not been reviewed under section 5 that depicts

(viii) scenes of brutality or torture to persons or animals, depicted in a realistic and explicit manner.

The above definition provides guidance as to the level of violence that is considered It adult." Explicit violence and horror can be found in non-adult motion pictures rated 18A; however, if the violence becomes brutal and realistic as well as explicit it is consistent with the content of adult motion pictures. in order to make a determination on the content of Soldier of Fortune, I must decide whether the violence is depicted as follows:

  1. Brutality or Torture
  2. Directed at persons or animals
  3. Realistic
  4. Explicit

Each of these elements was considered in assessing Soldier of Fortune. As in determining the classification of any motion picture, the manner in which the violence is used within the context of the piece is also considered. 

1. Brutality or torture

In the story line of the 26 scenes, the protagonist is sent on missions where, to be successful, he must eliminate a variety of adversaries. According to the product's packaging he is deployed with "ultra-realistic real-world weapons." The effect of these weapons depends on the accuracy of their use by the participant. On Soldier of Fortune's packaging, the producers state that "unprecedented artificial intelligence gives pinpoint weapons accuracy. Enemies react differently according to 26 different hit locations on each [character's] body." Depending on which weapon is used, the participant can enact gory violence that results in the horror of evisceration, decapitation, dismemberment and victims burning to death. The assailants are viciously brutalised by weaponry that is more than sufficient for achieving the objective of the protagonist. For example, the protagonist can use a rocket launcher or flame-thrower to destroy adversaries. The protagonist can use weapons to mutilate a wounded or deceased victim.

The antagonists can experience prolonged and painful deaths. For example, Soldier of Fortune depicts the agony and suffering of victims burning to death as the result of the protagonist's use of a flame-thrower. The expressions of this agony are manifested in cries of pain, screaming and physical responses to the injuries including recoiling, flailing, grimacing, and grasping at the wound site.

In my opinion, therefore, the depictions of violence in Soldier of Fortune are brutal and contain an element of torture. 

2. Directed at persons or animals

The assailants are, for the most part, humans. There are several locations at which the protagonist is required to kill guard dogs. All the victims of violence in Soldier of Fortune are either human or animal.

The sound effects of the guns and the screams of the injured are realistically expressed. The renderings of the settings and antagonists are realistic and have depth. The participant explores these three dimensionally rendered environments looking for the terrorists he is to kill.

In my opinion, Soldier of Fortune includes these elements of an "adult motion picture."

3. Realistic

Soldier of Fortune is an interactive, animated "motion picture." It is supposedly based upon the experiences of a real-life mercenary, "John F. Mullins," who is reported to have acted as a creative advisor to the film's producers.

Soldier of Fortune contains plausible scenarios and interior logic. The characters' behaviours are consistent with the circumstances in which they find themselves. For example, hostage characters plead for their lives and the lives of their families, and manifest their emotional state with physical behaviours such as cowering and fleeing from danger.

In my opinion, animation can be considered realistic if its renderings are detailed and true in the representation of nature. To be realistic, the renderings do not have to be "actual" depictions (e.g., a painting can be considered realistic without being photographic). The rendering of details makes images appear to be realistic in Soldier of Fortune. The animated violence presented in this motion picture is realistic because it is highly detailed in its depictions of visual and auditory settings, human characters and their behaviours and the physiological reactions to injury. It is, therefore, my opinion that animated depictions of violence are not excluded from being considered realistic. The producers of Soldier of Fortune advertise the product's attention to detail. In the booklet accompanying the product, the foreword states, "it should be noted that Soldier of Fortune is a realistic depiction of modern combat and warfare." This view is also supported by many reviewers of the product. The following sample of reviewer quotations regarding the product were found on Raven Software's web site:

Its variety of weapons, plethora of character animations, and cinematic story make Soldier of Fortune stand above the rest as the game to beat. — Firing Squad

The real-world, modern day setting is a breath of fresh air in this genre. — PC Gamer

Welcome to the most violent game ever. This shooter makes Kingpin look like cotton candy with sprinkles.
— GamesBusiness Magazine

[Soldier of Fortune] has the fastest, most realistic graphics to date. — GameWeek

Soldier of Fortune is the most graphic and realistic first-person shooter ever to be developed. — GameWeek

In reviewing the film, I found the above descriptions to be accurate. 

Various aspects of Soldier of Fortune were assessed for factors contributing to the realism of the depictions of violence:

Sound

Characters scream, grunt, speak coherently and sound like humans. The characters interact with one another through speech and natural physical responses. The soundscapes create an ambience one would expect to hear at a specific location. The weapons sound real when fired or used and their impact is audible.

Settings

The perspective of the participant changes according to the participant's control of movement and point of view. Participants become actors in scenes as their commands to the game manipulate the protagonist's involvement in the environment. The settings are three dimensional, detailed and interactive with objects such as doors, switches and buttons that respond to manipulation by the characters. There is a natural use of darkness and shadows that serve to add a dramatic effect. The settings are based, from an American perspective, on "political hot spots" around the world. For example, one of the locations is Iraq.

Props

The packaging describes the armament used by the participant as 11 ultra-realistic real-world weapons" that act realistically (e.g., they recoil and require reloading). The impact of a "hit" on a victim is reflected in different reactions "according to 26 different hit locations" on the body. Weapon use against inanimate objects frequently results in damage.

Characters

The characters are rendered with distinct facial features, and some portray real persons such as Saddam Hussein. Characters are of various racial and ethnic backgrounds and interact with each other verbally, through physical gestures and acts of violence. The characters respond physically and verbally with expressions of pain when hurt. The behaviour of characters is altered by the presence of other characters including the protagonist.

Violence

Responses to weapon attacks are realistic. Characters bleed when shot or knifed and a blood pool expands around fallen victims, who scream or grunt when injured. Victims react realistically to injury (e.g., grasping at wound sites, convulsing, changing momentum and falling to their knees). The effects of attacks include knife wounds, gun shot wounds, burnings, exploding bodies, bloodletting, decapitation, dismemberment, evisceration and mutilation.

In my opinion, therefore, Soldier of Fortune is a realistic motion picture.

Explicit

There is a great deal of detail in the depictions of violence in Soldier of Fortune. The film leaves nothing to mere implication. The viewer sees weapons firing, and in some cases, the ammunition moves toward victims who react to its impact. This explicitness is enhanced by the realistic responses of the victims.

When a character is eviscerated, the viewer sees blood and the intestines of the victim. When a weapon dismembers a person, the mutilation to the body part is clearly defined. In such cases, the viewer sees torn muscle tissue and broken bones. The same can be said for the film's depictions of decapitation.

The plot of the 26 scenes serves to provide a backdrop for the participant to engage in as much killing and mayhem as desired. The story line is a shell that provides a context for the violent actions of the protagonist. The ability to continually mutilate a victim's body does not enhance the objectives of the game or move the plot forward; its purpose is to satisfy the vicious inclinations of some participants. Contributing to this effect, the game tracks statistics for the number of shots to the "throat, nether region, head and gibs," which reduces the product to a competition in brutality.

It is my opinion that the use of the violence in Soldier of Fortune is both explicit and exploitative.

While I acknowledge that the producers of the film have provided viewers with the ability to tailor the explicitness and reality of the violence, it is my opinion that inclusion of this feature supports the view that some of the depictions are not suitable for minors. I note that one has to consciously activate the violence controls. The "Action Movie" comes with these controls deactivated by default. When approaching the review of this product, I must consider all possible combinations of violent depictions that are present at the various levels.

I also acknowledge that Soldier of Fortune has been given a "Mature" rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) with an advisory for "Animated Blood and Gore; Animated Violence." The symbol on the front of the packaging to indicate this is the letter "M." The reference age suitability is found, in very small type, on the bottom of the packaging. It reads:

Titles rated Mature have content suitable for persons ages 17 and older. These products may include more intense violence or language than products in the Teen category. In addition, these titles may also include mature sexual themes.

Despite the small size in which this advisory was printed on the packaging, I view this as important information for parents and consumers as it indicates that the industry recognizes that this product is not suitable for minors.

At the time this product was released, two relevant studies were reported in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (April 2000, Vol. 78, No. 4). These studies include both laboratory and field research results, and both come to similar conclusions about the effects of Exposure to graphically violent video games on human behaviour.

The article reporting the studies concludes as follows:

Violent video games provide a forum for learning and practicing aggressive solutions to conflict situations. The effect of violent video games appears to be cognitive in nature. In the short term, playing a violent video game appears to affect aggression by priming aggressive thoughts. Longer-term effects are likely to be longer lasting as well, as the players learn and practice new aggression related scripts that become more and more accessible for use when real-life conflict situations arise. If repeated exposure to violent video games doeS indeed lead to the creation and heightened accessibility of a variety of aggressive knowledge structures, thus effectively altering the person's basic personality structure, the consequent changes in everyday social interactions may also lead to consistent aggressive affect. The active nature of the learning environment of the video game suggests that this medium is potentially more dangerous than the more heavily investigated TV and movie media. With the recent trend toward greater realism and more graphic violence in video games and the rising popularity of these games, consumers of violent video games (and parents of consumers) should be aware of these potential risks.

In conclusion, I find that Soldier of Fortune is an "adult motion picture" as defined under the BC Motion Picture Act because its depictions of violence against persons and animals are brutal and portrayed realistically and explicitly. The violence is exploitative as the plot of the "Action Movie"  is designed to support the violence as opposed to the violence moving the plot forward. The object of the plot is to create an environment where the participant can maim or kill as many assailants as possible with the level of viciousness that the participant chooses to employ.

The assignment of the adult classification recognizes the concerns expressed by researchers that access to this product should be restricted to adults as violent interactive movies may have the effect of encouraging aggressive behaviour. Hopefully, adults are more capable than minors of resisting such influences.

I recognize that the impact of an "adult motion picture" designation will mean that Soldier of Fortune distributors will have to recall the product from the shelves, become licensed distributors and provide the approved decalled product to appropriately licensed retailers. If this inconveniences distributors, I believe that the inconvenience is necessary to protect the interests of the public.

Distributors, wholesalers and retailers of Soldier of Fortune have the right to appeal this decision to the Motion Picture Appeal Board under Section 11 (1) of the Motion Picture Act, within thirty days of the date of this decision.

Mary-Louise McCausland
Director of Film Classification