Portsmouth researchers study ‘war toys’ influence on children’s view of real conflicts

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Researchers at the University of Portsmouth are trying to work out how much action figures alter children’s perception of real war.

With collegaues from the University of Exeter and Royal Holloway University of London, they expect to report their findings in 2016, shortly after the expected withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, which itself will inform the study.

Principal investigator Dr Tara Woodyer of Portsmouth University said: “Play has frequently been overlooked as irrelevant to how people come to understand the world, yet it is precisely this apparent banality, the taken for granted nature of play, that allows its role to go unchallenged.

“Toys, and how children play with them, are not just a response to the world, they help shape our culture.

“The role of action figure dolls has been unduly neglected, especially given the enormous academic attention focused on their female equivalent, Barbie.”

Research collaborator Professor Klaus Dodds from the Royal Holloway University of London added: “We are not examining whether war toys are good or bad, or the psychology of such play.

“We will be examining how such toys help shape British attitudes to our armed forces, how do we learn to buy in to the Help for Heroes culture, for example, and what ideas are children incorporating from outside sources, such as television news footage and children’s films addressing war and conflict.

“The war on terror is being played out everywhere and since 9/11, our security and surveillance has come under intense examination. Understanding war, conflict and security in modern life is an urgent task for social scientists.”

The research will focus on the best-selling military action figure toy range, Her Majesty’s Armed Forces (HMAF) dolls, licensed by the Ministry of Defence.

HMAF dolls are modelled on current British armed forces and the current best-seller is a ten-inch high infantry soldier in desert combats - an image that is often seen on television news about Afghanistan.

The doll comes with an assault rifle, radio, flak jacket, body armour, helmet and goggles.

The £492,508 project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The action figure toy arrived in the UK as a repackaged American GI Joe toy in 1966 and was then re- branded as Action Man, which ceased to be made in 2006.

The current HMAF dolls were launched in 2009.