This post has been updated.
LEGOs: Now with more weapons!
The number of toy weapons such as miniature guns, knives, and harpoons featured in sets of tiny plastic LEGO building blocks has increased by 30% from 1978 to 2014, according to a study published last week in PLOS ONE by researchers at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury. The increase was primarily driven by higher numbers of weapons offered in film-themed packs, most recently in 2012 with Lord of the Rings LEGO sets.
“The LEGO company’s products are not as innocent as they used to be,” Christoph Bartneck, roboticist at the University of Canterbury and lead author of the paper told BBC.
For the study, researchers analyzed the number of weapon pieces in LEGO sets over the years. They also conducted a secondary survey with over 160 adults (mostly men) about the level of perceived violence associated with the toys: Each participant looked at over 1,500 images from LEGO catalogs, dating from 1973 onward. Overall, participants perceived more depictions of violence in more recent catalogs.
The authors say this reflects a growing trend among children’s toymakers, and hypothesize that toy manufacturers add more depictions of violence to their products in order to stay relevant alongside increasingly violent movies and video games. “To catch the attention of their customers, toy manufacturers are…locked in a metaphorical arms race for exciting new products,” they write.
When asked for comment, a spokesperson from LEGO wrote in an email, “We see a clear distinction between conflict and violence. And we do not make products that promote or encourage violence. Weapon-like elements in a LEGO set are part of a fantasy/imaginary setting, and not a realistic daily-life scenario.”
In an unrelated blog post, LEGO has argued that “conflict play” allows kids to use toys to creatively act out variations of their own disagreements, in a way that helps develop their own conflict-resolution skills. “We will never produce realistic toys for playing war,” said marketing VP Mads Nipper in the same post, citing the tiny size of LEGO weapons. “War is terrible and not something we intend to glorify.”
Update (May 24): This post was updated with a statement from LEGO.