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Shoppers Told of Violent Toys

'Sniper' action figure, carjacking video game on list by parents' group of items to avoid.

November 27, 2002|Eddy Ramirez | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A gun-wielding creature called Sniper, a war-ravaged "playhouse" and a video game that allows players to hijack police cars and shoot pedestrians are among the most violent toys and games for sale this holiday season, a national parents' group said Tuesday.

Released just before the holiday shopping rush, this year's "Dirty Dozen" list includes toys that, according to the Lion & Lamb Project, promote violence and aggression as fun and harmless. The group is urging shoppers to steer clear of these toys and instead buy those that made their top 20 nonviolent toy list.

"We've lived through the horror of Sept. 11, the war in Afghanistan, the anthrax scare, the sniper shootings and just recently the string of unrelated killings in L.A.," said Daphne White, a parent and executive director of the group. "So the question is: What kind of toys do we want to give our children during a season of peace on Earth? Do we give them toys that remind them of terrorism and violence ... or toys that will make them laugh and make them think and have fun?"

But some retailers and manufacturers defended the toys, saying their decisions about which toys to sell or make are based on demand and the notion that parents will use discretion in choosing what to purchase for their children.

Also Tuesday, the government issued a separate warning to consumers to return potentially dangerous products for children that they may have already bought but that have since been recalled. In a report titled "Trouble in Toyland," the U.S. Public Interest Research Group said balloons and toys with small parts continue to pose the biggest choking risk to children.

Among the potentially hazardous toys cited by PIRG were:

* About 280,000 toy sponges and about 310,000 stuffed polyester pool animals, recalled by Dollar Tree Stores Inc. of Virginia, because they pose a potential choking hazard;

* About 140,000 air-powered toy rockets recalled by Colorado-based Estes Industries, because defective parts can break off and cause eye or hand injuries;

* About 152,000 toy tracks attached to children's activity centers recalled by Graco Children's Products Inc. in Pennsylvania. The tracks can break into pieces that risk choking young children.

A list of the recalled toys is online at

At the news conference held by the Lion & Lamb Project, a parent-based initiative that aims to halt the marketing of violence to children, the toys on display included Hasbro's Zoids: Gun Sniper, a toy figure equipped with "missile-launching side cannons." Also displayed was "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," the sequel to the best-selling video game of 2002. A complete list of toys the group found violent -- as well as toys it recommends -- is available at

Susan Villani, a child psychiatrist at the conference, warned that toys and video games depicting violence and sexual images might cause children and teens to engage in risky behavior.

"Parents need to be better armed themselves to resist the pressures of their children whom marketers are targeting," Villani said.

Hasbro, the manufacturer of the Zoids game with the sniper figure, called the Lion & Lamb findings "off-base." In a statement Tuesday, the company maintained that the sniper toy and another toy that PIRG deemed a choking hazard in its report are both "appropriate" for children ages 4 and older.

White and other parents are also pressuring the major toy retailers to either pull violent toys and video games from store shelves or separate them by age group. Already, Toys R Us has stopped selling the Hasbro "sniper" action figure. The company's online shopping Web site says the toy is out of stock or was discontinued.

John Reilly, a spokesman for KB Toys, which sells some of the toys on the "Dirty Dozen" list, said the company will continue selling them as long as they are in demand. The retailer also sells toys named in the Lion & Lamb's top 20 recommended list.

"The bottom line is this: Parents need to be actively involved in purchasing decisions," Reilly said.

Through the first 10 months of 2002, video game sales exceeded $6 billion, a 20% increase from the same period a year ago, according to NPDFunworld, an online marketing information group. Sales are expected to reach $10 billion, compared to $9.4 billion last year.

But other toy retailers are finding that violent toys and video games are not as popular with younger children. All 169 Zany Brainy stores, which are owned by FAO Inc., plan to stop selling video games after the holiday season.

"Not a whole lot of video games were geared toward our target customers ages 4 to 10," said spokesman Alan Marcus. "Even if video games depict playful violence, it really is not what our customers ask for."


Army Forward Command Post, Ever Sparkle Industrial Toys: Dollhouse that has been hit by a bomb (pictured at right)

Zoids: Gun Sniper, Hasbro: "Posable action figure"

NRG Paintball, Toymax: Toy version of paint ball

Nerf Blastin' Zurg from Toy Story, Hasbro and Disney/Pixar: Action figure for preschoolers that shoots Nerf "laser darts"

Galidor "Ooni," Lego: Fantasy "constructible action figure"

Burnout 2: Point of Impact, Acclaim for the PlayStation 2: Extreme racing video game

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Take Two Interactive for the Playstation 2: Vice City allows players to hijack police cars, gun down pedestrians, kill policemen, pick up prostitutes in order to get "health points" ... and then kill the prostitutes in order to get their money back.

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