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Lifestyle: War Games exhibition explores relationship between conflict and children’s play

PUBLISHED: 15:27 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:27 10 January 2014

Generals, 1985 © John Heywood

Generals, 1985 © John Heywood

(c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London

War games, for boys at least, are an intrinsic part of growing up.

Everything from GI Joe figures and toy soldiers to classic board game Risk are represented at a new exhibition exploring the relationship between conflict and children’s play.

War Games at the V&A Museum of Childhood also uncovers the sometimes secret history of toys as tools of propaganda and espionage.

War play is an enduring aspect of children’s imaginative play. It can be physical, or children can use strategy to beat an opponent,” said a spokesperson.

“It is controversial and actively discouraged by many parents and teachers, as it is thought to encourage aggression. But aggressive play, a type of active play, is not the same as real aggression, in which a child intends to harm.”

They added that over the years toys had mirrored the developments of weapons technology and the geographies of new war zones.

With early toy manufacturers using printed images from news reports to produce battles with tin and paper soldiers, while last century toy-maker Corgi dealt directly with the military to produce accurately scaled military vehicles.

Protests against the war in Vietnam saw toy companies shift their attentions away from representing current conflicts and instead look back in time to historic wars and medieval knights on horseback.

“Although toys are often thought of as innocent playthings for children, this is not necessarily the case.

“Toys have been used in warfare in secret, shocking and surprising ways ‑ to train and to influence, to comfort, to heal and even to aid escape,” said the spokesperson.

Visit museumofchildhood.org.uk to find out more.

The museum, in Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, is open 10am to 5.45pm daily and admission is free.

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