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Violent computer game Solider of Fortune has been classed as pornography by British Columbia, Canada, forcing shops to remove the title or face prosecution for peddling adult material to kids.

The classification was forced upon the game by the province's Attorney General, Andrew Petter, after a complaint about its content. As an example, Reuters noted that the game allows players to vanquish enemies with a flame-thrower, a weapon seen in umpteen games, from Marathon to Syndicate and Postal, none of which - as far as we know - has been ruled into the jurisdiction of a nation's porn laws.

Soldier of Fortune already carries a North American 'M' classification, denoting its 'mature' content and unsuitability for minors. The game also includes a reduced gore version, a common feature in modern titles which allows them to be sold in countries with tough anti-violence laws, like Germany.

British Columbia's move is believed to be the first of its kind in North America, and marks a major step in governmental interference in the issue of game content. In the US, government has generally been keen to allow the games industry to regulate itself.

The Attorney General said Soldier of Fortune "is one [game] parents should be worried about and one I believe the government needs to act upon.''

The ruling suggests Petter is concerned with the effect of the game's violence on its young audience. Reuters noted that a US survey published last May showed that 28 per cent of frequent game players are under 18 years old and 30 per cent were in the 18-25 age range.

But it's worth noting that earlier this year violent computer games like Quake were found not to be complicit in a US child's murderous rampage through his local school.

The debate over the effect of violent games on kids will rage on, and it's not difficult to understand Petter's thinking, even if you don't agree with his use of the law to keep Soldier of Fortune away from children. However, the ruling may prove ineffective. For a start, a demo version of the game is readily available on the Internet, and Petter's ruling has brought the game far more publicity than it could usually expect to gain.

"People are going to be in and asking about it like you wouldn't believe now,'' said one Vancouver gamestore owner. What's the betting that many of them are adults buying the game for their kids? ®

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