According to findings in a new study from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand the colourful plastic world of Lego has become a much darker, more violent place since weapons were first introduced to the playsets in the 1970s.
The peer-reviewed study published this week in online journal PLOS One, charted the prevalence of bricks with weapons since 1978, the first time a weapon appeared in a playset, when a sword, a halberd and a lance were included in a Medieval castle kit.
The study's lead researcher Christoph Bartneck says his research team have found 30 per cent of all Lego sets contain at least one toy weapon. Neutral bricks that could be used to build larger weapons were not counted in the study.
Set themes such as pirates, castles and Star Wars have introduced children to Lego handguns, cannons, harpoons, knives and lightsabres.
The researchers also asked 160 adults to flip through past catalogues and found the participants noticed more violent imagery in the newer promotions.
“The chances of observing violence in a Lego catalogue pages has increased steadily by 19 per cent per year,” the authors wrote.
“The results from both studies, weapons count and perceived violence, showed significant exponential increases of violence over time.”
In response to the study , Lego said that its use of humour helps ‘tone down the level of conflict’ within its themed sets, and that “weapons are always used for a wider purpose such as saving the world, and are part of a child’s development”.
Finding that 30 per cent of LEGO’s current portfolio feature some form of weaponry, lead researcher Christoph Batneck, said: “The LEGO Company’s products are not as innocent as they used to be.”
An analysis of LEGO catalogues from 1973 to 2015 found the scenarios depicted had become ‘more violent’, with 40 per cent of all pages containing ‘some type of violence such as shooting of threatening behavior.’
“To catch the attention of their customers, toy manufacturers are similarly locked in a metaphorical arms race for exciting new products,” said the study.
Lego Australia Marketing manager, Troy Taylor, said the company's products promoted a range of play activities such as construction, fantasy and conflict.
“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.”