Weaponising Lego: researchers warn of arms race as firm’s toys exhibit ‘exponential increases of violence’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 8:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 8:59am

Lego is all about children learning to identify their primary colours, construct miniature homes, robots, and cars. Oh, and, increasingly start miniature battles with the tiny toys.

At least that’s according to a group of researchers at University of Canterbury in New Zealand, who found that Lego “showed significant exponential increases of violence over time”.

Lego, which launched its building block game sets in Denmark in 1949, did not introduce weapons to its toy collections until 1979. Even then, the weapons primarily belonged to themed castle kits, which allowed children to play with miniature swords and other medieval weapons.

But according to the researchers, that has changed over time. Thirty per cent of Lego sets now include weapons, and the scenes they allow children to create are more violent than ever. Today, many sets have been inspired by pop culture, including Star Wars and Harry Potter, which helped rescue the once-struggling company after it took a major hit in the early 2000s with the rise of computer and video games.

“The violence in Lego products seems to have gone beyond just enriching game play,” said Canterbury researcher Christoph Bartneck. According to his study, which was published in the online journal PLOS ONE, Lego has likely increased the level of violence in its toy sets “to catch the attention of their customers.”

“Toy manufacturers are similarly locked in a metaphorical arms race for exciting new products,” the study said.

If the study is onto something with the arms race comparison, then it’s working for Lego. Last year the company made a record US$1.4 billion. And Lego spokesman Troy Taylor said that Lego encourages a wide variety of themes to children’s play - and conflict is a part of that.

“As with other play types, conflict play is a natural part of a child’s development,” Taylor said.

“We always try and use humour where possible as it helps tone down the level of conflict.”