Has LEGO become too violent? [News]

A recent study from the University of Canterbury proclaims that depictions of violence in LEGO set catalogs and the number of weapons in LEGO products has increased significantly as the result of a metaphorical “arms race” between toy manufacturers. The article’s authors include Qi Min Ser, Elena Moltchanova, James Smithies, Erin Harrington, and Christoph Bartneck, builder of the life-sized Unikitty and author of The Ideal Order.

The study looked at LEGO sets produced between 1978 and 2014 (excluding Duplo and Junior lines) and found that nearly 30% of today’s LEGO sets contain at least one weapon brick. It also explained that the chances of observing violence in LEGO catalog pages has increased steadily by 19% each year. Currently, around 40% of all catalog pages have some type of violence. “In particular, scenarios involving shooting and threatening behaviour have increased over the years. The perception of nonverbal psychological aggression increased at a similar rate. The atmosphere of the violent acts is predominately perceived as exciting.” The study concludes that “violence in LEGO products seems to have gone beyond just enriching game play” in attempt to attract more customers.

Insurgents make demands

Turning to the online LEGO community, both the photo above by Brick Police and the one below by Hammerstein NWC use LEGO minifigures and weapons to create graphic, violent scenes that may be considered offensive or unsafe for children. But these images highlight a huge oversight in the University of Canterbury’s study: builders, many of whom are adults, who want to incorporate realistic weapons into their builds cannot get them from LEGO directly. The Danish company refuses to sell such weapons even though there is a high demand for them. Instead, builders must turn to third-party companies like BrickArms, BrickWarriors, Citizen Brick, or Modern Brick Warfare to get their fix of tiny, plastic violence.

Weird War II figbarf Version I

If a metaphorical “arms race” among toy manufactures truly exists, LEGO is finishing dead last. As the Canterbury study pointed out, LEGO competitor Megablocks offers sets based off violent games and films like Terminator, Call of Duty, Halo, and Assassin’s Creed, while LEGO refuses to partner with such franchises. And there are no plans for LEGO to overtake their competitors in the arms race. Mads Nipper, LEGO’s former Senior Vice President in Global Innovation in Marketing declared that “We will never produce realistic toys for playing war.”

There’s no denying the facts of the study. LEGO has included more and more weapons and scenes of violence on their products over the years, starting with the introduction the very first LEGO weapons in the 1978 Castle theme (sword, halberd, and lance) and obviously continuing with trademarked themes like Marvel and DC. But the study leaves several important questions unanswered. Should we shield children from violent toys? Is there a causation between violent toys and games during childhood and actual violent tendencies in adulthood? Should LEGO reduce the number of weapons and scenes of violence in their products? And would such a change impact customer satisfaction positively or negatively overall?

What do you think about all of this? Let us know in the comments!

8 comments on “Has LEGO become too violent? [News]

  1. rangerwez

    With my 7 kids (and mine), we have TONS of Legos … it does matter if it’s my 4 year old playing with her Duplos … up to my 12 year old with his UltraAgent sets … even my daughter with her Friend’s … they always pretend to be in a war or in a bad guy / good guy scenario. I’m actually surprised (and wish they would) that Lego hasn’t come out with a solid Army/Navy/Air Force/Marines series. But regardless, the bad guy / good guy mentality will continue … Emma won’t like Stephanie for some reason and they work it out … Blacktron has to battle someone … isn’t no fun to build a castle and let it just sit there during play. While guns and so forth may be a hot topic in America … even if you don’t have guns in your home or even show guns or anything, kids (specially boys) will make their finger into a gun … or a stick … or a rake will be a cannon … or whatever. It’s just life these days.

  2. rkc62

    This research is of appalling low standards – they should never have released it, but when they found that their original theory was wrong, they just jazzed it up to look more dramatic.
    Just the proliferation of Star Wars sets, which have steadily increased as a percentage of sets in the last 10 years would account for the results by itself, but add in the Pirates series and the Police sets in the City range and suddenly we’re not looking at violence after all.
    We have sci-fi pulse rifles, ion cannons and light sabres, pirate sabres and law enforecment – not a lot of violence there. No army men, the robbers are never armed, they won’t even make military vehicles. The only navy ship was a Coastguard cutter, and the only military jet is an unarmed formation flying team for airshows.
    The demand for non-genuine weapon parts shows that Lego is way below the community in their approach to these parts, but that doesn’t fit the narrative these people are trying to spread.

  3. Still a Sentinel

    My only real input here is that, regardless of motive, violence exists in the real world. There are real ‘bad guys’. LEGO goes a long way toward teaching that to kids without being really brutal about it or resorting to gratuitous gunshows like Megabloks does. I have always loved the fact that LEGO manages to portray violent scenarios like medieval battles or superhero showdowns without making it too extreme. Because, as rangerwez says, it’s no fun to build a castle without a battle involved. In today’s world, conflict is a reality. Refusing to portray that as a reality is just as bad as profiting from that reality, and I think LEGO has found a pretty good balance.

  4. Cheefachi

    What I’d like to see is how many of those violent sets are related to licensed brands like Star Wars or super heros and I’ll bet there are a lot more there than in Lego’s own brands, though there are certainly violent concepts like Chima in Lego’s worlds too. Ultimately, this is a business decision, unfortunately. A very large part of Lego’s success is their licensed brands and you get what you get with those. You can’t tell Lucasfilm that you are interested in licensing Star Wars but without the Wars part. So Lego has had to toe a delicate line between the needs of a business and sticking to their guns (pun intended) with respect to their morals so they draw the rather arbitrary line where they do. So they’ll make a model of a Star Wars “tank” they will never produce a WWII tank. While I can’t back it up with evidence, my suspicion is that European cultures do not emphasize warfare nearly as much as American culture does (for I think obvious reasons), and so I think they hold their nose at the violent brands because they know they are a global company now and would never be successful if all they produced were sets of log cabins.

  5. Creative Anarchy


    This is 1978, a glorious and nostalgic era of our hobby. But the thing you’re going to notice very quickly is that maybe half of the sets have people in them and of those that do very few of the people have identifiable roles. It made it very challenging at this primitive stage of Lego to express any kind of violence or conflict of any kind and that was certainly by design, but using this as the beginning of the study creates a framework where any depiction of opposition or weapon increases the amount of violence in the toy. The same argument could be made about money. Lego has shown an increasingly trend towards depictions of money and depictions of commerce since the invention of coins, dollar plates and gems for mini figures and printed elements for safes and cash registers. That doesn’t mean children weren’t building stores out of rainbow blocks back in the 70’s.

    One of the things I love about Lego is that even in the most inhumane of settings you are still dealing with somewhat tubby stiff characters. It makes it very challenging to create scenes that are dark or jarring and tends to predispose creations towards the more positive aspects of human interaction.

    I also don’t lend any credence to the unsubstantiated theory that exposure to violence at any age is a cause of violence. I was part of a generation where it was normal for pre-teens to have a rifle in their room and where kids played with toy guns in the street. I was allowed to watch movies with grotesque violence as a child and as a child I was advised on how to brawl with my playmates rather than being told to avoid conflict. If there was even the slightest measure of truth to the idea that violence can be taught I would by necessity have to be more violent than children that were brought up without these things and I’m finding throughout my life that almost universally that this isn’t the case.

  6. Leigh

    An interesting choice of images to accompany this article. When I first heard about this study a few weeks ago, the article was accompanied by a picture of Ninjago characters fighting with imaginative weapons built from general-purpose bricks. I think most Lego violence is superficial at best, and therefore not truly worrisome.

  7. Mnemonyx

    As has been often pointed out, if LEGO don’t provide them, people (and kids) will build them. I see the number of ‘life size’ guns from video games featured on The Brothers Brick and wonder if that is a wise idea. But I guess, for both LEGO and many of its fans, ‘moar gunz = moar fun’.

  8. TargetBoy

    There’s a significant flaw in their methodology.

    They are only using the bricklink minifig weapon category. There’s several weapons that were common in early LEGO that are in the minifig utensil category, such as the torch/ space gun, camera / space gun, or megaphone / space gun.

    Even then, since they discount brick-built weapons, they are skipping all the weapons that existed on the space ships in Classic Space and the other early themes if they didn’t happen to come with one of the utensil weapons as a side-arm.

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