The Toy Industry; Are We the Military Industrial Complex of Childhood?



Let’s face it; we in the traditional toy industry are seen by some as the military industrial complex of childhood.  We create toy weapons, military action figures and vehicles as well as tons of games that use war as a theme.  Yet, when the second and first amendment advocates began pointing fingers at each other after the Newtown tragedy, we in the toy industry were not accused of promoting violence.  One side pointed the finger at real guns as the cause and the other said it was due to “first person shooter games” and movies.

Those who remember the 1970’s and 1980’s can recall that we were not so lucky.  Due to Viet Nam, many a parent decided that their child was going to grow up without access to toy guns.  So, what was different this time?


War Game developed by H.G. Wells

I have been thinking about this for some time and I think the difference may be due to several factors:

  • As we learned, taking toy guns away from little boys did not make them any less interested in pretending they had guns.  Anything that could be shaped to look like a toy, including a finger, was used to simulate shooting.
  • The rise of the single shooter video game, with its virtual blood and guts was so startling, and the play so immersive, that traditional toy violence paled in comparison.
  • The rise of the single shooter video game, with its virtual blood and guts was so startling, and the play so immersive, that traditional toy violence paled in comparison.
  • The type of person who plays first person shooter games is typically much older than those who play with traditional toys.   It’s one thing to see a small child pretending to shoot his friend with a toy gun; it can be unnerving to see a teen spend hours engaged in virtual slaughter. 
  • Some movies, due to CGI special effects, feature scenes of over the top violence.  If you have seen Kill Bill or Django you know what I mean.

Bottom line, traditional toys are tame in comparison to digital games and movies.  In fact, they may

actually play a role in teaching children how to deal with the violence and death that make up a big part of the world in which they live.

A number of years ago, I read an account of the initial reaction to novels as they became widely popular in the 19th century.  It seems that parents became extremely concerned that their children were spending so much time in their rooms reading books and getting bad ideas.

The world has really not changed that much; not just in how we play but in our fascination with violence, death and sex.   Whether it’s the 14th century or the 21st, toys do not and never will make a difference in that reality.


One thought

  1. I’m not so sure parents make as dramatic a separation between video games and toys/games like we do in the industry. Overall, I’m fearful of any implication that a means of entertainment or artform is responsible for aberrant social behavior, let alone mass murder.
    Your separations are valid – particularly your distinction and difference in ages targeted for video game products and traditional toys. But these things go in cycles. Next year it could be a toy or game that prompts media and parent group outcry.
    Additionally, toys and games are not so far removed from these terrifying news stories. The Dark Knight Rises was supported by numerous toy and game licensees, including master toy license holder Mattel (the film was PG-13). Entertainment properties under attack means toys and games aren’t so far out of mind.
    As you are, I’m quite glad that focus has moved off of toys, I just worry it isn’t so far removed.

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