Have LEGO products become more violent?

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PYROX

©2013 LEGO Group

New Zealand based academic and author of the minifig catalogues Christoph Bartneck has just published a paper that examines whether LEGO products are becoming more violent.

Here's the abstract:

Although television, computer games and the Internet play an important role in the lives of children they still also play with physical toys, such as dolls, cars and LEGO bricks. The LEGO company has become the world's largest toy manufacturer. Our study investigates if the LEGO company's products have become more violent over time. First, we analyzed the frequency of weapon bricks in LEGO sets. Their use has significantly increased. Second, we empirically investigated the perceived violence in the LEGO product catalogs from the years 1978-2014. Our results show that the violence of the depicted products has increased significantly over time. The LEGO Company's products are not as innocent as they used to be.

I think we can all agree that yes, they are becoming more violent. This paper proves it using rigorous research techniques and calculations.

The paper concludes:

"The results from both studies, weapons count and perceived violence, showed significant exponential increases of violence over time. LEGO products have become significantly more violent. This increase is not in line with their policy that “LEGO products aim to discourage pretend violence as a primary play incentive. The designs are meant to enrich play with engaging conflict scenarios where aggression might be used for the purpose of overcoming imaginary evil”. The violence in LEGO products seems to have gone beyond just enriching game play."

You can read the entire paper on Christoph's site and at Plos one although I don't recommend the latter as all images have been removed.

Kids today are exposed to much higher levels of violence on TV, in films and in video games than when I were a lad so I guess it's only natural that toys have followed suit. Boys in particular almost expect there to be some sort of conflict they can play out with their toys, so LEGO provides it.

It's not necessarily a good thing, but does it actually matter? Does it turn kids into murderous psychopaths, or is it just a bit of harmless fun?

 

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85 comments on this article

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By in United Kingdom,

If TLG isn't killing creativity with instructions, they're creating instructive ways to kill.

I just apply Betteridge's Law and be done with it.

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By in United Kingdom,

With all the licensing Lego has now, could you have Star Wars without lightsabers and laser pistols and superheroes without various weapons, guns, repulsor blasts etc.?

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By in Poland,

I see no propblem here, but yes there is a lot more cartoon violence in Lego nowadays. Even back in the 80, violence was in the sets. Maybe not pictured as dramaticaly as it is now, but still.
Castle was one of my favorite lines (and still is) and even back then I loved to "kill" my badfigs by dissasembling them. Many of my friends used to build guns and laser swords out of lego.
I do agree it would be nice to see mopre Mars Mission like stes where Aliens and Humans HAD to work toghether.

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By in United States,

Legoland Space was 'peaceful until 1987 when Blacktron showed up... but even back in the 80's the spaceships were bristling with what looked like weapons. Some of those rocket transporters remind me of imagery from the cold war which was then on the verge of experiencing Gorbachev's's Glasnost. The number of sets made each year has ballooned in the last decade and so the same number of peaceful sets may be designed, but they're losing out as a percentage of the whole. I for one don't favor the little shooters getting built into everything these days and prefer a well designed laser requiring pew pew noises to the click zomgosh where'd my piece go theatrics. But both of them achieve a similar result of putting lasers on a ship and thereby conjuring up imagery of ship to ship combat. I am a very laid back nonaggressive person... but I still expect some modicum of combat on my spaceships, even though reality so far dictates that isn't a thing.

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By in United States,

Since the researcher looked at weapon counts as one of the factors, I would imagine that many of the Ninjago sets that include enough weapons to arm 5 or 6 minifigs per one actual minifig included in the set may have skewed the results for recent years.
2 minifigs + weapons = 2 minifigs fighting/violence
2 minifigs + giant pile of weapons = still just 2 minifigs fighting like before, but with lots of leftover weapons
Either way, after LEGO, my secondary hobby is medieval weapons, so I'm personally all for more weapons in sets. :)

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By in United States,

One need not look any further than just the expressions on minifig faces nowadays. Long gone are the smiley faces. What also is very disturbing to me is the aggressive look on the kid on the back of the instruction booklets where it asks for your feedback. The kids on the packaging of 70s Lego sets all are depicted as calm and intelligent by contrast. It's a sad reflection of the further decline of western civilization. I don't even have television in my household anymore. It has gotten so stupid/violent/inappropriate that I just ditched it all.

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By in Denmark,

There are so many awesome varieties of smiling faces to choose from lately, that you can populate a good sized area without repeating any of the minifig faces. I think he looks enthusiastic and pumped up :)

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By in United States,

*sigh* That's not a particularly well-thought-out study. The VERY FIRST thing it says is that violent media makes kids more violent, and then says "Well, it probably doesn't, but because we need evidence, we're going to say it does so we can also say LEGO has jumped on that bandwagon." The whole think is hinged on something that has not been proven at all, and as such shouldn't even be taken seriously.

Also, the whole thing with "weapon bricks" also kind of disproves itself with the whole thing around the Death Star--you can just as easily use weapons for other things as other things for weapons, so clearly, that argument isn't valid either.

I think this guy is just looking for attention by claiming LEGO is doing something horrible. So original.

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By in Finland,

Well, what do you know! Would it now be the time to FINALLY get rid of the Star Wars license?? I see war in all of those sets.

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By in United Kingdom,

It's not really the risk that it will 'turn kids into murderous psychopaths', more that it will normalise violence more generally. This sort of thing could increase lower level violence in society and make people more accepting of violence in general. Look at the massive growth of MMA cage fighting, last days of Rome anyone?

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By in United States,

Yet weren't replica toy guns a thing back in the 80s and 90s...?

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By in United States,

@Picnicbasketsam
I can not like you post enough.

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By in United States,

Not only do I not see a problem I'm thankful for the increase. It's similar to the nostaliga fueled argument that Lego has too many specific molds now. If Lego never made anything other than creative brick boxes they would probably not be around today; and if so certainly not as popular. We don't see trailers for The Lincoln Logs Movie.

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By in New Zealand,

I had a skim of the paper and it seemed a bit hand-wringy. And the line 'The violence in LEGO products seems to have gone beyond just enriching game play' bothers me because any academic paper containing the words 'seems to' is basically just an opinion piece.

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By in United States,

Yeah, this guy is all-around wrong, even in his data.
"In the years 2005 and 2006, many new weapon bricks associated to the Bionicle theme were released. "
Um, nope. There were fewer new weapons then than ever. Try Knights' Kingom II

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By in United States,

I feel like I remember reading something about LEGO flat-out AVOIDING making standard war-based themes and sets? Because war shouldn't be made into a toy? I'd call that pretty non-violent compared to the toy companies that make all those soldier toys...

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By in Australia,

Ever step on a piece of LEGO? Thats so violent!

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By in United States,

Generally I do not disagree with the premise that LEGO has become more violent, but I think that's a good thing, not a bad thing. Designers have known for decades that kids love conflict play, hence why they put all those forward-facing "antennas" and "radar arrays" in LEGO Space sets, and so many swords and axes in LEGO Castle sets. But they had to feign innocence and pretend their toys were designed for purely non-violent play when presenting them to parents or upper management. They even were prohibited from putting green and grey basic bricks in a lot of sets for a long time because upper management was afraid kids would use them to build tanks! Clearly, LEGO knew that some kids would want to build weapons and war machines, and yet literally tried to police what kids should be building, all in the name of being anti-war.

As LEGO has evolved they've recognized that many kids are naturally drawn to good-versus-evil conflict play, and that this does not necessarily make them any more violent. They've also recognized that kids can differentiate between fantasy and reality, meaning there's a difference between sets focused on realistic, modern-day warfare and sets focusing on spacemen with laser guns or ninjas with magical energy swords.

In LEGO themes that do include conflict, "good" characters are generally motivated by strong values like freedom, equality, and protecting the innocent and the people they love, while "evil" characters are typically motivated by negative values like greed, selfishness, and a thirst for power. What's more, the LEGO Group's good-versus-evil set designs and stories make it abundantly clear who is good and who is evil, that good routinely triumphs over evil, and that good characters are the ones kids should try and emulate the values of in real life. No kid is going to look at Hero Factory's Pyrox (pictured in the paper and the article above) and think "I want to be just like that guy!"

So overall, while this paper's methodology is riddled with flaws, I totally agree that LEGO is more violent than it used to be. I do not at all agree that this is a bad thing. It just means the LEGO Group is more honest and open to the many ways kids play than they used to be.

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By in United States,

Yeah, this paper uses some bad data in the first place. It doesn't take into account licensed themes like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, each having PLENTY of weapons. Ninjago also produced a number of weapon-centered sets, but if anyone has seen the cartoon, all the weapons do is smack people around. There is no presented violence or even suggested violence, only the violence kids create. Even then, I once made quite a few imaginary guns out of normal bricks for my Dimensional Marines. The main point is, violence wasn't new to Lego or society ten years ago. It's been in Lego since the seventies.

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By in Netherlands,

"The designs are meant to enrich play with engaging conflict scenarios where aggression might be used for the purpose of overcoming imaginary evil”

So what's a kid going to do when he gets a Star Wars set? Have all of the Clones and Droids lay their arms aside to talk about their differences?

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By in United Kingdom,

Even Lego friends released a set with a weapon

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By in United Kingdom,

When will the spiderman reviews be released?

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By in Sweden,

Personally I liked LEGO much better when it was strictly non-violent. This paper shows that LEGO's non-violence policy is pretty much hollow. I hope LEGO reads it.

I guess the violent sets contribute too much to the bottom line of the group's profit statement to be abandoned. I think that is too short-sighted. Any company must stay true to its vision, core values, to be a winner in the long run. Not dilute them.

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By in United Kingdom,

"Compared to other toys, the LEGO products could still be considered to be relatively mild", seems like they're rather burying the lead. Why not mention supposedly more violent other toys in the title of the paper? Because they're hoping to generate publicity (and hence funding) by choosing to criticise the largest toy brand which will doubtless delight the more reactionary parts of the press who like to lazily print "press releases" as news I suspect!

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By in {Unknown country},

Indeed, LEGO products are becoming super violent because of the stud-shooters. Just don't produce them anymore and put non-shooting more accurate blasters in the Star Wars battle packs.

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By in United States,

@Dude45
Have you read any of the other comments? The data used in the paper was not relevant, and Lego is still non-violent outside of licensed sets. The paper does nothing to show that Lego is violent, as its credibility is lost when you consider a few key factors, such as the prevalence of licensed sets, the number of weapons in Ninjago, and the fact that Lego has never, and I mean NEVER suggested killing anyone. Weapons in Lego are, as Lego has said, there to promote "good vs. evil" conflict and to help kids create storylines and adventures.

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By in United States,

Does he have a percentage anywhere in the paper? I don't feel like reading it right now, especially because based on above comments, it seems pretty poorly written. Clarifying questions for anybody who has:
1. Does he define "weapon brick" anywhere? 'Cuz a lot of MOC's these days, especially sci-fi ones, are trending toward custom, brick-built weapons as opposed to the specialized pieces TLG makes, so that seems like an irrelevant point, anyway. Like, if he defines "weapon brick" only as pieces designed by the TLG to be weapons, like SW blasters, or the relatively new Galaxy Squad double-barrel guns, or the Indiana Jones weapons, there aren't actually that many...are there?

2. Does he ever give a ratio of total number of sets to number of weapons? Because with the huge number of sets TLG releases each year now, then relative to that number, there probably aren't that many new weapons, meaning the rate hasn't change, meaning that TLG isn't as "violent" as it used to be.

3. Isn't there something in TLG's rules or whatever that prohibits depictions of violence outside of specific licensed themes?

4. Finally, what does "more violent" even mean? How do you quantify that?

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By in United States,

*record needle scratch*
Wait, WHAT!? Look, in a lot of storylines there has to be some sort of conflict. Conflict in LEGO most is always portrayed in a humane way. When there is fighting it isn't even that violent most of the time. Take the LEGO Videogames for example. Enemies just fall apart comically when defeated instead of having dead bodies lying around the place. A lot of themes even have alternative ways for the heroes to dispatch villains. For example in Mars Mission, Space Police, and Alien Conquest there are options in set to just non-lethally capture the evildoer instead of just blasting them with laser.

Compare some older themes to themes that have currently came out. I will be using Dino Attack and Dino for the first, and Bionicle (classic) with Bionicle (reboot). Dino Attack was set in a dark, gritty, half destroyed cities where the humans had no qualms about gunning down a T-Rex or a raptor on sight. Dino on the other hand had the humans using weapons yes, but they were all to just re-contain the dinosaurs with tranquilizer guns and traps. Classic Bionicle was very, very dark a lot of times with quite a bit of violence. Remember the Barikki? In the "Creeping in My Soul" music video Kalmah's tentacle got cut off, and there was blood coming out of it! It's not a cut or bruise, blood came flowing! Meanwhile in Reeboot Bionicle there's mainly transformer-like cartoon violence that don't last terribly long.

Another thing I would like to point out is the violence is not portrayed in a way that's harmful. It's always in a Hero vs Bad Guy scenario where the characters are fighting for a good cause. Whether it be saving a princess or stopping a mutant person from putting toxic waste in a river, there's always a good reason as to why exactly our heroes are fighting for the reason. Dino Attack may have been dark, but those dinosaurs were causing lots of harm to innocent people most likely.

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By in United Kingdom,

I've always felt that simulated or imaginary conflict is an outlet for aggression rather than a stoker of it. If anything is liable to stimulate violence, it's PvP in games, which actively encourages you to be aggressive to other people. I don't play PvP anymore because I hate the atmosphere it generates, but I'll happily kill hundreds of Russian soldiers and African mercenaries for days on end because they're just a grey box in human skin. They're not real people, which really does make all the difference.

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By in Canada,

Maybe I'm the odd man out but personally don't see the need for violence depicted in Lego sets. I certainly would be fine without weapons. All that said I don't think Lego would have survived without weapons and conflict as it seems Stars Wars had a lot do with them surviving if I understand the history of Lego correctly.

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By in Czech Republic,

As an AFOL and father of two kids, 9 years old girl and 6 years old son, I would like to share my observations:

While LEGO sets definitely got more violent, I do not see any effect for the worse. My daughter is a big fan of Star Wars, but plays more often with Friends, Elves, Winter Village or modular buildings. She even placed LEGO Friends beds all over our Death Star :)

My son plays much more often with his racing sets and LEGO Creator 3-in-1 cars than his Castle collection, Galaxy Squad or Super Heroes.

Yes, we do occasionally play some battles (with Lord of the Rings sets, space battles, even Friends minidolls defending Olivia's house against throngs of evil Orcs), but not more that I did with my cousins when we were kids. And a lack of weapons and shooting parts didn't stop us then :)

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By in United States,

"I think we can all agree that yes, they are becoming more violent. This paper proves it using rigorous research techniques and calculations."

Rigorous research techniques? the author counted the number of "weapon bricks," whatever that means, and the "perceived violence" in catalogues. Neither could come to a sound conclusion without further data analysis. One thing he most likely doesn't account for is the classic space sets, which could be violent or not. It was is all up to the person playing with it. The same could be true with modern sets. The ultimate decider of violence in Lego sets is the person playing with the set.

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By in United States,

As other have said, this piece of paper is more an opinion piece that said, LEGO has introduced better building techniques and molds for pieces that make the violence surface in a more obvious form (DC, Marvel, SW, Harry Potter, their own police and Castle sets, etc.).

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By in United States,

What struck me isn't the fact that LEGO products have become more violent, but rather that they've become more violent *when they don't need to be*. I completely understand that depicting wars and battles will inevitably be a part of the Star Wars, Ninjago, and superhero themes. However, what I don't understand is why LEGO Movie and City sets are as violent as they are. Benny's Spaceship and MetalBeard's Sea Cow are two of my favorite sets, but they're armed to the teeth. Benny's Spaceship could single-handedly wipe out half the Star Wars universe. The Sea Cow has, literally, dozens of cannons on it. And I certainly wouldn't mind if the LEGO City universe put a little less emphasis on cops and robbers, and a little more on doctors, teachers, artists, etc.

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By in Canada,

^ I don't think you can argu that City is in any way violent. Cops are armed with handcuffs and flashlights. Robbers get crow bars and burlap sacks. Every single scenario in a set is of a robber, not a murderer.

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By in United States,

If you become a violent psychopath from playing with Legos, chances are you were already a psychopath to begin with.

I think its also important to keep in mind, that, in the world of literature/writing, plot is almost always driven by some sort of conflict. The two are basically inseparable. Very few would rather hear a plot about people buying groceries (with no conflict whatsoever) than an army of ninjas invading said grocery store for our heroes to overcome.

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By in United States,

Alright, here are my two cents about this subject. First of all, I don’t agree with the notion that Lego sets have depicted more “violence” as of late. Ever since I began collecting Lego sets, most themes have always depicted two or more factions in a struggle (Castle, Pirates, Space, Western, etc.) There have continued to be themes too that depict no violence and have continued throughout the ages, like City and all its subthemes. The “violence” hasn’t increased, just the realization that it is there: we didn’t dwell upon philosophical ramifications while we were children, so we didn’t perceive it then.

Second, I think the use of the term “weapon brick” is misleading. All bricks can be considered weapon bricks. One can easily take normal bricks and build them to create a giant boulder that crushes minifigures, or those same pieces can be used to make a lovely summer home for those minifigures to visit. Those so-called “weapon bricks” can also be used in normal ways, and Lego has demonstrated this in many of their sets! For instance, while most Lightsaber pieces are put into minifigure Jedi hands, the same pieces are used to create ladders, banisters, grating, pole connectors, and other such non-violent concepts. In fact, I saw just the other day a neat idea for taking 5 space ray gun pieces (the ones with the studs on the sides) and combining them to form a ring that can be used for modification purposes. It is all about how we perceive the pieces, whether we take what we see at face value (this is obviously a gun, this is obviously a brick), or we are creative enough to conceptualize it into something beyond what we first perceive.

The whole idea of Lego sets becoming more “violent” is a misleading remark meant to rile up the masses. It isn’t like the pieces themselves have gained sentience and started to attack people or other Lego pieces! Heck, those so-called “weapon bricks” weren’t even designed to bring harm to people or even fellow Lego pieces; the only serve to look similar to their real-life (or fantasy) counterparts. Once again, it is all based on the wills, desires, and actions of those who are building & playing with the sets. Those people who have violent tendencies (we all do at some level) will bring that out in their play with the pieces. Even if the Lego Company were to halt all “weapon brick” manufacturing tomorrow, it wouldn’t change much, if anything. People with violent tendencies would still find a way to make the pieces depict violence. I would argue that most Lego sets that show feuds & battles on the box are actually a challenge to young builders (and adults too) to be creative enough to overcome this event; use your imagination to finish the story. Make this world a better place.

Those are my thoughts on the matter.

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By in United Kingdom,

^wow
Two cents? More like 2 small fortunes

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By in United States,

^^ Agreed

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By in United Kingdom,

There have been "Weapon Bricks" in Lego sets since the first Castle sets. I remember getting the jousting set 383 / 6083 as a present in 1980 when I was eight years old and I was absolutely made up that the set came with lances and axes. I remember the Space sets had rockets and some of the minifigure accessories could be used as weapons but I felt that this added to the play value of the sets, I loved 442 The Space Shuttle (The white spaceman has some kind of green & grey space blaster) and 462 Rocket Launcher and they are no more violent than the current Star Wars sets. Ninjago is just a Ninja version of Castle sets and my son loves Ninjago, Chima and the new Nexo Knights sets. Neither of us are fans of real life violence and have had a happy life avoiding violence at all costs!!! My point is that as the new generation of Lego sets and Lego fans buy and build from a growing & mind blowing array of sets and themes, Lego has not deviated from it's goal of having only fantasy violence in its sets in my opinion. Some people would like Army Lego in a modern or classic form such as WW2 Tanks, but Lego see that as a step too far, and many AFOL's build MOC's of all sorts of "violent" vehicles, aliens and minifigures, which is the whole point of Lego, you can literally build anything, but I know there are some sets or themes Lego will never do...and I am okay with that. There are so many Lego sets now that if you don't agree with a set or theme you can vote with your wallet and not buy it, but there are plenty of other sets to choose from that don't have any weapons or violence of any kind so most people's tastes are catered for. I think Lego has the balance right at the minute, and while the weapons have got more varied and detailed, they are no more or no less violent than my first "Weapons set" 383 Jousting Set back in 1980!!!

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By in United Kingdom,

This is a rather weak study that tries passing off opinions as factual without much basis for the overall message they are trying to convey. It screams of someone being given an assignment and deciding to put very little research into creating a well balanced article. It also feels rather obnoxious, given the writer has also worked on multiple issues of the Lego Star Wars Catalogue which feeds off a conflict scenario constantly.

One of the first things that should tip you off to this is when the article starts to try setting a definition or measurement of violence by casually mentioning rape, murder and other aspects which are not represented at all in the Lego sets themselves. Along with trying to claim that violence in toys is relative to violence in real life, with no factual evidence to back up the claim.

In my view action figures (such as Lego figures, CCBS sets, etc...) are supposed to be battled. Even having a spaceship set with no weapons, you'll have a kid flying it around going 'pew pew pew' or crashing two figures together or pretending they fight because otherwise the playability is simply weakened because there are fewer ways for the figure to interact.

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By in United Kingdom,

This seems like a sound article based on solid research. It is not an opinion piece or hand-wringing, and addresses most of the concerns raised in these comments in its discussion (including the difficulty of the term 'weapon brick'). It is noting that Lego is part of a society-wide trend towards children's entertainment which is perceived as violent, but can't (and doesn't try to) say that this makes children more violent. Aanchir made a very important point that those of us who got Lego spaceships in the 80s gleefully used radar dishes as laser blasters, and so there are still important questions about how much this increase in perceived violent conflict actually makes any difference at all in how children have actually used the toys over time.

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By in United States,

LEGO has all these restrictions on Ideas, but they themselves are belting out some pretty violent original themes. Take Nexo Knights for example, what do you think children are going to do with those laser swords and machine gun turrets? What, do you think they're just going to have playful battles where no one is harmed?

No, I seriously doubt it, the losses will be high and dead soldiers will be reused.

Take it from me, I know what goes on in the imaginary LEGO world, and it's not pretty. So why can LEGO create their own violent sets while mine will be banned from Ideas? I mean, they can just disapprove projects if they want, but why not give them a chance? I'm sorry, but I just don't get it.

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By in United States,

@jmjt4 But keep in mind in Nexo Kinghts there are only really six knights at risk of death, all the rest are just robots.

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By in United States,

kids can read history books too and pick up bad ideas too.

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By in United States,

@Lego_Fox, Didn't realize that. Not really been keeping up on the themes lately. Though they are killing real, ahem, biped animals in Chima. Or where, I forgot that that had ended...

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By in United States,

Must be a slow news day.

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By in United States,

@jmjt4 Well, Chima's kind of interesting. It has some pretty darn violent stuff with characters such as the huge scars over a lot of the character eyes, and if I recall correctly one character had to had their bottom jaw replaced with a metal one after it was knocked off in a battle, but no one really died per se in the cartoon if I remember well.

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By in United Kingdom,

@lego fox, yes six knights, two children, a king and queen, plus thousands of lava monsters. Oh and a weird wizard who lives in a computer

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By in United Kingdom,

Here's another thought. Think about how many turkeys, fish and pigs must have been killed to provide the dinner for a Lego family

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By in United States,

@jmjt4: There are no rules against violence on LEGO Ideas though. Just against "Death, killing, blood, terrorism, or torture", "First-person shooter video games", and "Warfare or war vehicles in any modern or present-day situation, or national war memorials".

I guess you could argue that LEGO Bionicle, Nexo Knights, Ninjago, The LEGO Movie, and even Elves have featured death, but strictly in the story, not in sets. On rare occasions there have also been minifigures with wounds/bloodstains. But deaths in LEGO are rarely violent or gruesome. Honestly the most violent LEGO death I can think of right now is Vitruvius being beheaded with a copper penny in The LEGO Movie. Never anybody dying from gunfire or anything like that. Disney animated movies, classic fairy tales, and even the Bible include plenty of much more violent deaths than LEGO sets ever have.

In Nexo Knights, Merlok's body was destroyed in a magical explosion of his own creation, but he survived as a hologram/computer program. Defeating lava monsters doesn't kill them, merely banishes them back into the Book of Monsters to be summoned another day. The few times the lava monsters have defeated the Nexo Knights it's only ever by tying them up or imprisoning them (several of the sets include prison cells for that sort of purpose).

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By in United States,

And Ninjago can't manage to keep anybody dead. Except maybe Garmadon... and he's not really DEAD per se, just off in some 'Cursed Realm'. Or has he come back since the Season 4 finale?

I think it's pretty clear that the Classic Space designers intended for the "radar dishes" and "communications equipment" to be blasters--I read somewhere the black-suited guys were meant to be villains. Just because it's not directly stated doesn't mean there's not still conflict. ;)

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By in Australia,

"It's not necessarily a good thing, but does it actually matter? Does it turn kids into murderous psychopaths, or is it just a bit of harmless fun?"

Well it's the old discussion, isn't it? Does the media (TV, movies, video games) make the problem of violence-in-society worse?

I personally think that there's a roundabout connection there, certainly. I saw something on Facebook once, a statistic that by the age of 20, your average TV or movie-viewer has seen, like, a thousand violent murders. I can't actually remember the actual number, but it was staggeringly high. And one of my friends replied, "Well that hasn't affected me at all!" And I remember thinking that, if you can honestly say that it hasn't affected you, then it *has*, it quite obviously has. You're numb to it, you're desensitised to it. When an idea is reconfirmed and reiterated so often (like the idea that a single human life has no intrinsic value, that it has no worth beyond entertainment to watch it end), then absolutely, it's gonna sink into your head and settle in there.

And I have no doubt that five thousand people disagree with that idea, and you're allowed to, that's the beauty of living in a free world. But Lego certainly features storylines more than it used to, and storylines (by default, almost) need protagonists and antagonists, as well. Drama and conflict create interest and sell (and TLC is a business, after all), and they always have. *shrug*

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By in United States,

Violent is a bit of an exaggeration. I mean yeah there is more movies with fighting but they make such cool Lego sets. Just think about Star Wars without light sabers and blasters. If you think Lego is getting violent, just sick with Lego City and Creator.

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By in New Zealand,

The perceived conflict in Lego themes definitely seems to have increased since the 80's. However, I clearly remember the games I played with my Lego in the 80's involved imaginary weaponry or inferred weaponry, with death race themes, crashes down the stairs and Lego space ships armed to the teeth.

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By in United States,

What was more violent, a kid facing a bully in the 1950's or a kid with a plastic figurines with plastic guns in 2016? Not a hard thing to figure out.

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By in United States,

I think a lot of people sounds pretty defensive about it. As someone who's been playing with and collecting LEGO for almost 40 yrs, the change is pretty obvious. Any implied violence/conflict in the 80s was pretty subdued compared to the sets of today, esp the licensed stuff.

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By in United States,

Of course they are--what a silly question. Early 80's: Town, Castle, Space. Town had police, but no overt criminals. Castle had two clans, neither of which was aparrently "bad guys." Space had spacemen working peacefully together. Other than castle, nobody even had weapons. Even space Police didn't have guns, and that was 1989. I'd say it was the licensed themes that really got weapons (and violence) going.

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By in United Kingdom,

Fascinating to note that the users who disparage Bartneck et alii are teenagers or have large collections of Bionicle or Star Wars sets, so it's possible that they are too young to note the trend or are already - and unwittingly - immersed in a culture of violence.

This trend of more violent LEGO products is a reflection of Western Civilisation, which reminds me of the 'Boiling Frog' scenario, best summed up by Marge Simpson: "You know, FOX turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn't even notice."

I despise Star Wars and superhero themes because they have a dangerously simplistic morality: "our violence is justified because we are the good guys."

Oh, and 'conflict' is not the same as 'violence'.

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By in Australia,

Yes, they are getting more violent! But I'm not really seeing the effect as of yet. This could of course just be my velvet pillowed context.

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By in United States,

@ra226: LEGO spacemen and spaceships have ALWAYS had guns. The designers simply weren't allowed to ADMIT they were guns. Quoting from Mark Stafford's interview with Jens Nygaard Knudsen (inventor of the minifigure) and Niels Milan Pedersen (another Classic Space designer) in BrickJournal Issue 6, Volume 2:

"Explains Jens '...We started with only Red and White figures, we considered the red ones to be the 'bad' guys, and they were two competing factions.'

...I asked about the colors of the classic spacemen and if they had any particular significance to the designers. 'The original two colors were explorers, yellow were scientists, blues were technicians or mechanics, and I guess the black were warriors, but we were not allowed to make a big deal out of this. We were not allowed to make war.'

Niels nods in agreement at this point. 'There were a lot of disagreements about the aerials and other elements that pointed forward on the ships because of the 'no war' policy.' Jens takes over. "We were not allowed to make weapons, and these things we built looked aggressive, so there were a lot of 'radar dishes' added, and 'sensor probes', but to us they were really guns!' In fact, there was also a fair bit of controversy about making black suited spacemen at all, as some at LEGO thought they were too threatening, and Jens had to use the Town police and firemen to prove that hero figures could indeed wear black!"

If the inventor of the minifigure himself admits to putting guns in classic Space sets, I don't think that can really be disputed.

Another note: while LEGO may be more violent than they used to be, the notion that violence in kids' toys and media is a recent trend is complete balderdash. Toy guns have been a popular kids' toy for decades, and toy soldiers for CENTURIES. In fact, the first toy LEGO ever patented was a life-size toy semiautomatic pistol that really fired, back in the 1940s! http://en.brickimedia.org/wiki/325_Halvautomatisk_Leget%C3%B6jspistol Another LEGO pistol that fired Modulex bricks was released in 1960: http://en.brickimedia.org/wiki/LEGO_Pistol

So the notion that violent weapons are NOT appropriate subjects for kids' toys and media is much younger than the notion that they ARE. If you think enjoying a theme like LEGO Bionicle and Ninjago where people use medieval-esque weapons — not even to hit each other but to generate beams of fire, ice, and lightning — makes today's generation "immersed in a culture of violence", what does that say about kids of the 1940s and 50s who grew up on realistic toy guns and shows like The Lone Ranger that glorified gunplay?

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By in United States,

@aanchir. no, you're mistaken--those are megaphones and flashlights! Ok, I know, there have been weapons, but they were never emphasized like they were later. My favorite set of all time, the FX Star Patroller had obvious missiles mounted on the tail, and as a kid (having grown up on Transformers and Robotech), I certainly used them as such. But on the other hand, I never thought of the Red and White space men as good guys and bad guys. In fact, even today, I interpret it as an optomistic future vision of the Americans and Soviets working together in space toward peaceful ends.

That's some really interesting info, though! I had no idea those were the designers' intentions. I always assumed there was a "no war" policy, and I always assumed they put subtle "weapons" in because they knew kids would want that. But I appreciate that they weren't overt about it. Children were not steered toward war unless they chose to be themselves.

Anyway, I think everything is summed up by comparing Life on Mars (2001) to Mars Mission (2007). It's pretty obvious that Lego has moved toward violence and conflict. Now, all that said, I don't have a problem with it. There's value in kids understanding that there really is good and evil out there, and that it's important not to let evil win (which it will when we do nothing). I'm rather neutral on the increase on violence/conflict in Lego. But asking -if- it's increased? That's just silly.

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By in United States,

@ra226: Oh of course. I agree, LEGO has certainly gotten more violent, or at least, more open and honest about the violence inherent to their sets and how kids play with them. Even as recently as 2001, Bionicle characters officially didn't have "weapons". Those swords and claws and hooks and axes and buzz saws? Those were "tools". It wasn't until 2006 that LEGO started calling them weapons, and it was honestly a Big Deal for fans of the Bionicle story that year when two characters with swords were finally allowed to engage in a real swordfight! Previously characters from themes like Bionicle and Knights' Kingdom were mostly just permitted to use their "tools" to fire energy blasts or to interact with their environment, not to strike at each other, as silly as that sounds.

Personally, though, I think the more honest approach is actually an improvement. There's definitely something to be said for the subtlety of classic Castle and Space sets that never made it clear who was fighting who, let alone who was good or bad, but I think putting weapons in sets but pretending those sets are entirely non-violent feels a bit deceitful. It's like LEGO was enabling violent conflict play but refusing to take responsibility for it. "Oh, sorry, parents, if your kids are building guns or acting out fight scenes you must just not be raising them right!"

Some people think it's hypocritical of LEGO to put violence in themes like Star Wars, Legends of Chima, and Ninjago while still claiming to be anti-war. But to me, what's hypocritical is publicly stating that violent play in general is bad while knowingly enabling it by putting weapons like swords, axes, and laser guns in sets. So I greatly respect LEGO's current stance that kids wanting to engage in conflict play is normal and acceptable, while still keeping realistic, modern-day violence that could be traumatizing for many kids off the table.

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By in Netherlands,

"A well regulated Police sub theme being necessary to the security of a free City, the right of the Minifig to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Weapons have and will always be a part of LEGO, even if LEGO themselves don't like it. n the 80's, all the policemen had megaphones. Guess what those were used at in my City? You bet - guns. And what do you think those swords and cutlasses were used for in Castle and Pirate sets? Certainly not to put jam on scones... Heck, they had actual rifles, pistols and revolvers in some themes way back when too.

Having weapons is a part of the play experience, whether we like it or not.

As an AFOL, I'm just happy that there are sellers out there who allow us to properly outfit our police and citizenry with appropriate weapons these days. I've got a properly kitted out SWAT team, which wouldn't have been possible without it.

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By in United States,

The "violence" in Lego today is pretty tame IMO. Most of it stems from their licenses, but even the licenses are limited in how they depict conflict in the Lego-verse. Lego is still leans toward creative building play, but it's hard to deny that their current practices are popular and successful.

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By in United States,

"Perceived violence" cannot be measured empirically. Period. This paper isn't even wrong because it's not science.

It's just a convoluted opinion piece using science-y sounding words.

The conclusion is as absurd as the premise. Evil cannot be beaten with stern language and finger-wagging. Ever. It must be met with overwhelming physical violence, or in the case of the Cold War, the threat of such. We have thousands of years of actual empirical evidence of this. It's called history.

The author of this paper has confused means of play with the motive for play. What needs to be asked is: have LEGO sets caused children to play more violently than they have in the past? Only then could we judge whether or not LEGO has truly violated its philosophy.

But of course this question is impossible to answer. Hence, his opinion piece.

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By in United Kingdom,

I think LEGO has gotten more violent than before, but its all fantasy violence. There's not that much in the real world to identify it with. I don't think this study was good at all- it makes loads of unsubstantiated links, and reads like an opinion piece that tries to be passed off as a methodical investigation.

@ Missing Brick

Sorry, but you are on the wrong end of the internet. This is the end that doesn't spout meaningless claptrap.

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By in United States,

Thankfully, they have, or else the battles in G1 BIONICLE would have been much lamer.

Also, what does he not get about Star WARS?

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By in United States,

I wouldn't say more violet, I'd say more grumpy. Everyone looks grumpier in the themes, even City has a lot of grumpy people fighting fires and criminals. Even the fire monster above looks grumpy. haha

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By in United States,

Also, it won't let me add this to my earlier comment, but I would certainly love to see a realistic tank as an official set. No more halftracks or armored cars!

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By in United States,

If I were a liberal, I would say that violence found in LEGO toys result in violent behavior. If I were a conservative, I would say that the kids who use LEGO toys can be violent, but the toys in and of themselves are not. I won't say which one I am :D

At any rate, Huw is right about TLG keeping up with the trends. They can't help it! Especially with the influx of more and more licensed themes over the last several years; licenses of movies or shows that are, in some ways, violent.

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By in United States,

Like several people here have been saying LEGO was, in a way, violent from the very beginning with Castle weapons and subtle Space armament. However, the innocent "two dot eyes and simple smile" almost portrayed the characters as having fun, and not intent on murdering one another. Every minifigure was content with their job, and nobody was angry or upset (an emotion commonly correlated with violence). But when grimaces and frowns started showing up on minifigure faces, that's when I think violence and ill-will between characters began. The first thing that jumps to mind is Exo-Force and their pioneering of the reversable heads: one side was mild, the other angry and ready to fight. That's the huge difference between LEGO now and LEGO back in '78, in pertinence to violence.

I don't know if anyone mentioned all that yet. If so, sorry about that!

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By in United States,

Interesting how you never see this controversy with transformers...

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By in United States,

More backwards alarmist opinion pieces? Meaningless "data" taken from arbitrary definitions and subjective perceptions? No thanks.

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By in Czech Republic,

Study has just been posted online on (arguably) the biggest Czech news server. Not impressed at all, and I found even the article here quite shallow.

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By in United Kingdom,

The Green Brick Giant said "I wouldn't say more violet [sic]". I would. We've definitely seen an increase in the number and variety of violet, purple and lavender pieces especially over the last few years. And who knows what detrimental effect that might have on kids and eventually on society? It could be catastrophic and we need to ban those colours now! {/tongue in cheek}

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By in United Kingdom,

Just harmless fun i say! I grew up surrounded by Lego Star Wars and essentially every set of that kind has some form of weapon involved; yet i haven't become some savage violent man. Let kids be kids and play with mini revolvers and blasters as i believe the real threat from Lego comes in stepping on them rather than the themes they represent.

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By in United States,

A better title for this study would be, "LEGO finally catches up to the rest of the toy industry."

What has ever been innocent about children's toys, especially the boy's toys segment. The industry evolved from Britains lead soldiers to green plastic army men to GI Joe and Action Man to Star Wars. LEGO, if anything, was an outlier until the late 1970s, when the popularity of Star Wars changed the landscape.

Actual historians will note that it was George Lucas who demanded guns be packed with Star Wars figures over the objections of Kenner, who thought guns inappropriate so close to the Vietnam War. Stephen Sansweet documented that in Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible.

Note that LEGO's first Castle weapons appeared within two years of the release of Star Wars. Playmobil had weapons with their knights and Native American lines from their debut in 1974. Schleich has made medieval knights with weapons since 2003.

If you want non-violent, there's BRIO and not much else. Even then, there are plenty of opportunities for fatal train accidents.

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By in United Kingdom,

@EternalBrick

I think its the way of thinking that says 'Well, its my opinion, so its obviously right, so obviously its scientific!' Everyone's just supposed to agree with these articles, because to them its obvious... but they don't seem to realise that its not for others.

It annoys me no end! I like hearing reasoned criticisms of my pursuits, such as LEGO, because it means I can become more informed, but I don't like people who make these studies and try to tell me what to think with no evidence. I call it 'the Sun Newspaper effect' (or perhaps more recognisable to you in the United States, as I know it is read online sometimes over the pond, the 'Daily Mail effect.') They tell us what to think, without evidence, because they 'know' they're correct.

@ Stud_Nerd98
Um... don't you mean the other way around? Pretty sure its the conservative Christians and the like who believe the first instance.

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By in United States,

Although LEGO toys certainly feature more (obvious) violence than they used to, that's not necessarily a problem. TLG has (to a certain extent) held to their precepts; there almost never is any graphic violence or morally-questionable violence.

Star Wars does feature a lot of violence, but the fighting is obviously justified; the Empire is completely evil, and the fighting is mostly bloodless. They still don't feature any modern-day conflict, although at times they get very close. Some themes like Indiana Jones get very close to modern day and feature some more questionable activities, but the LEGO sets of such themes avoid featuring these more questionable elements. Licensed themes are getting closer and closer to violating LEGO's precepts, but non-licensed themes are still nonviolent, even if they feature conflict.

It's silly to complain about TLG's themes featuring nonviolent conflict; as others have said, it is hard to entertain kids without a conflict-driven story, and today's society does indeed expose kids to increasingly realistic violence. Themes like castle and pirates do have weapons, but the focus is definitely not on killing, and are still less violent than most other toys.

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By in United Kingdom,

Just heard an "awful" interview on Radio 5 Live with a Lego representative discussing this issue. The presenter, having by his own admission having spend a few moments searching online, reeled off a list of Lego products supposedly supporting the violence allegation which began "Sniper Rifle", "AK47"...

My immediate thought was those don't exist as products, is he referencing "clone" products? But a quick search suggests he was in fact referring to models that people have made using Lego (or possibly BrickArms I guess). Well that's some quality journalism right there, pity the Lego rep. didn't even rebut his incorrect "evidence" choosing instead to focus on restating that any conflict contained within sets was within a narrative.

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By in Japan,

Seems like food for thought but it is not. LEGO has had violence implied in many of its lines for a long long time. Those muskets in those old pirates sets weren't for "authenticity." How about those cannons that actually propelled shot? Or the castle line with all those spears and swords. Just for show right? I remember the old Space line too, those megaphones were not megaphones. Those camera pieces that everyone attached antenna pieces to? Long range radar right? I think not.

LEGO makes toys and for the longest time, boys' toys. Violence has been implied or near explicitly depicted (in toy form of course) for a long time by LEGO. Looking at the themes out now I don't see how they are going to get away from it. Plus looking at the entire toy industry taken together, LEGO is actually probably the most lighthearted of the bunch.

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By in United States,

To be honest, when I was growing up I never used LEGOs in a violent way, no matter how violent the sets represented them. There were certainly fights at times, but most of the creations I built were shops and houses, and I had the charachters talk to each other a lot. I literally had enemies come together and discuss why they were fighting and than they would stop. The issues of violence in LEGO sets is only created by other media, As lego sets never need to be used for combat. instead, its other media that causes this, media that makes it far more clear when violence is the point of the toy. Also, can people please just be quiet about how LEGO is directed to boys and therefore it's okay to be violent in them? This is 2016, I thought we moved past those horrible ideals.

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By in United States,

The fools who wrote this article are totally ignoring the hundreds of clone brands that rely on violent themes for all of their income (cough cough"mega bloks" cough cough) although I'm the kinda guy who make massive gory fight scenes with my Minifigs so who am I to talk?

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