Lego toys not so innocent
Violence, shooting and threatening behaviour in Lego products are becoming more common, scientists say.
The world's largest toy maker was producing "significantly more violent" toys in recent years according to newly published research from the University of Canterbury.
Lead writer Dr Christoph Bartneck said Lego products were not as innocent as they used to be.
"The increasing violence in Lego products seems to have gone beyond simply enriching game play."
The research found the chances of observing violence in Lego catalogue pages had increased by 19 per cent per year between 1978 to 2014.
Currently, around 40 per cent of all pages contained some type of violence and 30 per cent of today's Lego sets include at least one weapon
"In particular, scenarios involving shooting and threatening behaviour have increased over the years."
Bartneck said the increase was contrary to the toy maker's policy that Lego products aimed to discourage pretend violence as a primary play incentive.
"The Lego company often claims that their violence normally happens within a humorous context, yet the results show that humorous is the least likely atmosphere. Material harm is the most frequent consequence of the violent acts followed by mild harm or injuries."
Bartneck said the increase could be related to the constant demand for new toys.
"The pressure to release more and more exciting toys every years means the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not are being pushed bit by bit."
The increase in weapons was also the result of the influx of licensed themes like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.
Lego's head of marketing for Australia & New Zealand Troy Taylor said there were lots of types of play in the Lego world including role play, competition play, fantasy play, construction play, and conflict play.
"Conflict play is a natural part of a child's development.
"The reason for the use of weapons and conflict must be founded on a greater overall purpose within the complete story line of a specific theme, for example as part of a struggle to save the world.
"Fantasy or non-realistic weapons are used for conflicts between humans and mutants, creatures, or aliens."
Lauren Moore, mum to Lucas, 6, and Adam, 3, said she wasn't concerned by the level of violence in Lego products.
"It's not nearly as violent as some of the things they are exposed to and I still think Lego is one of the best things out there.
"It promotes creativity and hands-on play and I would so much rather they be playing with Lego than watching TV.
"My older son just asked for a Nerf gun, which can be skewed way more easily to look like real violence.
"He can actually hurt someone with that so no, I don't really think Lego is something to worry about."
Christchurch mum Kara Tapp said she was unhappy with the high level of violence in Lego toys.
"I just don't buy the violent sets of Lego. I don't even like the Spiderman or shooting type sets.
"I stick with plain Lego like cars or fire engines or things like that."
The research project was a collaboration within the University of Canterbury between the HIT Lab NZ, the departments of English and the Digital Humanities in the College of Arts, and the department of Mathematics and Statistics and was published this week in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE.