What is the LEGO Group's position on war toys? Other brands make tanks and army stuff. I noticed LEGO sets include more realistic guns in the Star Wars range than they used to. What's up with that?
From the LEGO Group's Corporate Responsibility report:
Guideline for weapons and conflict in LEGO experiences
A large number of LEGO minifigures use weapons, and are – assumedly – regularly being charged by each others’ weapons as part of children’s role play. In the LEGO Group, we acknowledge that conflict in play is especially prevalent among 4-9-year-old boys. An inner drive and a need to experiment with their own aggressive feelings in order to learn about other people’s aggressions exist in most children. This in turn enables them to handle and recognize conflict in non-play scenarios. As such, the LEGO Group sees conflict play as perfectly acceptable, and an integral part of children’s development.
We also acknowledge children’s well-proven ability to tell play from reality. however, to make sure to maintain the right balance between play and conflict, we have adhered to a set of unwritten rules for several years. In 2010, we have formalized these rules in a guideline for the use of conflict and weapons in LEGO products. The basic aim is to avoid realistic weapons and military equipment that children may recognize from hot spots around the world and to refrain from showing violent or frightening situations when communicating about LEGO products. At the same time, the purpose is for the LEGO brand not to be associated with issues that glorify conflicts and unethical or harmful behavior.
Page 26 of the 2010 report.
Their position has shifted over the years, in response to changing attitudes as well as commercial pressures, and the rising age of LEGO enthusiasts!
Originally LEGO bricks were only available in bright primary colours e.g. red blue and yellow, with the conspicuous absence of green, aside from baseplates. It seems quite likely that this was a deliberate attempt to prevent people from building tanks and military vehicles which in Europe were generally painted green. The creator of LEGO was known to be a pacifist and have strong opinions on the issue.
I remember that when the Pirates series came out in 1989 they were the first sets to include pieces that were explicitly firearms: muskets, pistols and canon. The Pirates series was also the first to include non smiling faces, allowing figures to show more emotion, including anger. Although LEGO castle sets had featured weapons a decade earlier, the wide smiles on faces of the knights and guards suggested a lack of aggression.
Space sets have always had some ambiguity between what is a weapon and what is a scientific instrument, though the same trend is observed toward more conflict in later sets. Competition with other brick toys which feature military sets as well as movie tie-ins have caused conflict/aggression to be a major feature of many LEGO sets made more recently, which is probably what triggered LEGO's shift in official message on the subject, as detailed in the corporate responsibility report linked to above.
I believe that war sets have not been allowed from day one at lego, with the oft-quoted reason that Ole Kirk Christiansen did not was to reduce war to a 'state of child's play.' He was also reportedly a pacifist, and I have found a source stating that while lego may produce generic gun pieces, they will never directly model a contemporary gun, or likewise produce a set of one.
As stated (I think) in the 'Ultimate Lego Book,' Christiansen made sure that bricks in 'army colours' (i.e. green, brown, and olive green) were not produced. This changed later on however, when various sets required these colours, of course.
Hope this helps!
LEGO has always been a bit iffy on it's stance towards war related sets, which might be part of the reason most custom part makers specialize in realistic guns.
Being primarily a children's toy, they had shied away from depicting tanks and battles in the beginning. It might be said that as popular culture in general had an easier stance with "playing war" (video games were probably a big part of this), LEGO also eased it's policy. I think the fist time LEGO sets included toy guns for mini-figures might be it's Western theme in the late '90s.
There might have been laser blaster type guns earlier than this with the Space and Star Wars themes. Now it seems that with Indiana Jones and other movie licenses they have obtained, Lego is again allowing their sets to be portrayed in a more violent manner.
While the current plastic Lego "guns" are generally more tame (blasters, pirate pistols), that was not the case with wooden toys from the 1940's including this machine gun from 1945. It's about 18" long and makes a rat-tat-tat sound when turning the crank.
Even some of the classic sets had castles/knights with weapons, though most minifigs were decided in the non-violent category (astronauts, etc.).
As other posters have noted, many of the new licensed sets (Star Wars & Indiana Jones) are more violent, though often in a fantasy setting.