This is a very different post compared to anything previously published on the blog. Like most companies we get a lot of unsolicited emails and letters. Some ask for contributions, some try to sell you their wares and a few just ask you questions. The vast majority can be quickly discarded, but I read one today that actually made me spend a good half an hour or so typing out a response. This was the email:
Dear sir/madam, I am writing to talk about the topic of war toys, we as students of oakgrove school have been taking part in a arts project to do with war. We are currently collecting military toys in Milton Keynes to create a sculpture of a war based toy. I am also writing to talk about why you as one of the main companies think it is acceptable for your children to play with war toys. Children view war as a game, when in reality it is a horrible thing that no child should ever view or experience as a ‘game’.
Although I certainly would not describe us as “one of the main companies” supplying such toys, army toys and toy guns and weapons do certainly form a part of our range. I have very occasionally encountered people who object strongly to this, and whilst I do not agree with them myself, I respect their feelings on the matter.
My attitude on the subject really comes back to my own experiences as a parent and as a child. I was in fact the father of two sons before starting the Comaco Toys business and found that, although both myself and my wife actually encouraged play with “more peaceful” toys, the boys seemed to naturally graduate to want to play with toy guns, action figures and knights etc. At the time I thought this was particularly interesting since I was keen to try not to reinforce traditional boy stereotypes in terms of toy choice. I remember that in particular my eldest son would frequently play “guns”, “swords” or “soldiers” with toys that were not remotely designed for this purpose.
As a boy myself these “violent” kinds of toy were always my favourites as well, but I had assumed that this was at least partly the result of nurture rather than nature, in that they were traditional boy toys that were encouraged by my parents. When our second son came along a few years later we quickly discovered he had similar preferences in his choice of toys. I gradually came to the conclusion that this kind of “violent” play might in fact be a way of successfully channelling aggressive tendencies, rather than a means of fostering them in the real world.
A controversial theory perhaps, and a difficult one to prove. However it is certainly true that neither myself or my sons, who are now into their late and middle teens respectively, have gone on to use real firearms, get into crime, have serious fights or even want to join the armed services. I realise this is a very small sample to make conclusions from, but my gut instinct is that play with these kinds of toys does nothing to directly encourage violence in the real world, or even to trivialise the harsh realities of war.
Later, as a toy buyer, it seemed natural to me that these toys would form part of our range and I must say I have no serious qualms about this. I guess it would be possible to find toys out there that cross a line in terms of good taste, but I am personally quite happy that the majority of mainstream toy guns, soldiers and the like are not a bad thing per se. However, I do concede that in certain contexts the use of such toys might take on a more disturbing aspect, for example in a war torn country like Syria where a child playing with a toy weapon might well be called upon to use the real thing a year or two later. I can also readily see that anyone who has come from a war torn environment is almost certain to have a different attitude to these kinds of toys.
I suppose in essence the argument is similar to the old one of whether the things we see on TV and in film actually encourage or endorse the kind of behaviour they show, or whether they act as a kind of harmless pressure release valve. Given the perennial popularity of action films, crime dramas, murder mysteries and the like it is only to be hoped that most watchers of these are not encouraged to go out and commit violent acts themselves. Similarly one would assume that most viewers of, for example, violent murders on television detective shows, would not then adopt a trivialised attitude to the real thing should they ever be confronted by it. To even argue that this might be the case does to my mind seem rather absurd.
Well I’ve had my say. Why not let us know what you think on the subject?