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Toys, Games and the Gun Debate

January 19, 2013

 

Gun

 

I don't believe any of us were able to escape the tragedy at Newtown Connecticut and the resulting conversations that took place between the political class as well as the average citizen. Everyone wants to try to understand why these horrible things are happening and what can be done to stop them.
As I read, saw and felt the tragedy, it occurred to me that perhaps we in play industry have something to contribute to the national conversation. After all, toy weapons have been around since pre-history when the first caveman child hit another caveman child over the head with a stick.

When we enter the historical period, we note that when archaeologists open ancient tombs they frequently find miniature chariots, bow and arrow sets and warriors. Moving forward in time, toy guns and soldiers began being produced in mass quantities due to the industrial revolution. Today, thanks to the Digital Revolution, players can engage in all kinds of pretend mayhem.

Intellectually, classic Chess and more recently Risk are ultimately games about war. In fact, I checked the Wikipedia for "List of Board War Games" and counted over 700 unique titles refighting everything from the The Peloponnesian War to the Gulf War.
As a result of the Viet Nam War, moms and dads in the 1970's began turning their backs on toy gun play. As a result, we saw a generation of little children growing up with only their fingers to use as imaginary guns and an occasional stick as a sword.

Today, the popular conception is that kids don't play with guns and other "violent" toys as much as they used to. Look in stores and you will see far fewer toy bow and arrow sets, military style weapons and cowboy six shooters on store shelves. In fact, when we at Global Toy Experts did our survey in 2011 we found that there was little appetite for purchasing toy guns.
We gave our survey to 1257 parents, almost all of whom were mothers. We provided a list of toys and asked them which toys they would not allow their sons to play with. A quarter of them said they would not let their sons play with guns. When we asked them how they thought their spouse would respond we found a similar attitude. 19% of the women thought their husbands would not let their child play with guns.

But children do still play with guns. It would be interesting to know how many of those parents who won't buy toy guns are purchasing Nerf guns and high power water guns like Super Soaker. They

just don't seem like guns because instead of toy bullets or caps, they shoot water or foam pellets.
Unlike the aftermath to the Viet Nam war, this time popular culture has not turned against toys. To that point,violent video games and movies have been cited as causes of violence but not toy guns.
What has changed; that in my next posting?