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Is Lego Stuck in an Arms Race To Make Children’s Play More Violent?

Lego used to be just for building blocks. But over the past few decades, it's grown more and more violent.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 27:  Lego figures are displayed on the opening day of BRICK 2014 at the Excel Centre on November 27, 2014 in London, England. The four day event showcases creations by some of the world's best Lego builders and runs until November 30th.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 27: Lego figures are displayed on the opening day of BRICK 2014 at the Excel Centre on November 27, 2014 in London, England. The four day event showcases creations by some of the world's best Lego builders and runs until November 30th. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Legos: how children learn to identify their primary colors, construct miniature homes, robots, and cars. Oh, and increasingly start miniature conflicts with the tiny toys. 

At least that’s according to a group of researchers at the 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 percent 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 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 $1.4 billion. And Lego spokesman Troy Taylor told Agence France-Presse 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 humor where possible as it helps tone down the level of conflict.”

Photo credit: DAN KITWOOD/Getty Images

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