Play with war toys has been associated with aggression by teachers. Although preschool children like to engage in fantasy play with guns and other weapons, this type of play persists into elementary schools, where it is generally banned. Play with war toys is primarily of interest to boys, who use guns and weapons to carry out fantasy play. It seems that boys label the play as play fighting or part of rough-and-tumble play, whereas adults characterize it as violent play causing aggression. Prohibition of war toys themselves does not discourage war play. Children use other substitutes for weapons (Wegener-Spohring, 1989).
It is not clear that the war toys themselves cause aggressive play. In a study of research on the relationship between war toys and aggressive play, Sutton-Smith (1988) found unclear results. Play fighting supported with war toys is generally sociodramatic play in which children carry out movie or television roles. Thus the toys may not be the only or most significant influence toward aggression.
War toys can be used for many purposes. One possibility is when they are transformed in pretend play into something else (Bagley & Chaille, 1996). Goldstein (1995) cites 25 possible reasons that children play with war toys from his study of the literature on this topic. Although some of the reasons are directly or indirectly related to aggression and violence, some purposes can lead to nonviolent play.
Adult views of war toy play are at odds with the perception of the players and researchers. Adults view play fighting in this context as violent and aggressive (Conner, 1989; Kuykendall, 1996). Furthermore, although research does not support the premise that war toys cause aggressive play (Conner, 1989), teachers believe that war toy play will lead to more serious forms of aggression and should be eliminated from the school environment (Kuykendall, 1996).
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