Lego products are becoming increasingly violent as toymakers engage in an "arms race" to retain children's attention in the digital age, New Zealand researchers said Monday.
The University of Canterbury team said child's play was becoming more brutal, with a higher proportion of weapons appearing among Lego's building blocks and war-like scenarios featuring in its themed kit sets.
"The Lego company's products are not as innocent as they used to be. The violence in Lego products seems to have gone beyond just enriching game play." lead researcher Christoph Bartneck said.
In a peer-reviewed study published by the online journal PLOS ONE, the researchers concluded that Lego "showed significant exponential increases of violence over time".
While Denmark-based Lego has been making plastic building blocks since 1949, the study found its first weapons were issued in 1978 when a castle kit included swords, axes and lances.
An analysis found that weapons had steadily become more commonplace and were now included in 30 percent of Lego kits.
Bartneck said the percentage was probably higher as the data included only small, single-brick weapons, not items such the best-selling Star Wars' Death Star, which in itself is a giant planet-destroying ray blaster.
In addition, the research examined Lego catalogues from 1973 to 2015 and found the scenarios depicted in the company's kits had become more violent.
"Currently, around 40 percent of all pages contain some type of violence -- in particular, scenarios involving shooting and threatening behaviour have increased over the years," it found.
"The atmosphere of the violent acts is predominantly perceived as exciting."
The study said Lego was simply reflecting a broader trend in children's entertainment.
"To catch the attention of their customers, toy manufacturers are similarly locked in a metaphorical arms race for exciting new products," it said.
Lego has radically reinvented itself since it almost went bankrupt in 2003-4 as electronic games threatened its future.
Lego spokesman Troy Taylor said the company's products promoted a range of play activities such as construction, fantasy and conflict.
"As with other play types, conflict play is a natural part of a child's development," he said.