It’s the season of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men — unless you happen to be perusing the aisles of some toy retailers around town.
Then it’s shoot first and ask questions later.
Project Peacemakers, a Winnipeg-based organization that promotes non-violent solutions to conflict, said while retailers are better at promoting more peaceful toys and games than they used to be, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
In its 12th annual examination of the city’s toy scene, its staff visited 11 stores to look for the preponderance of weapons, both historical and modern, the location of toys and games on shelves and in displays and whether video sections followed Manitoba ratings and age-appropriate rules.
Dianne Cooper, chairwoman of Project Peacemakers, said smaller independent stores tended to fare better in its poll — an admittedly unscientific endeavour — by avoiding violent games, while larger players often carry warlike items.
"When we first started this, we thought, ‘This is crazy.’ Anybody could buy one of these explicit games or have their grandma buy it for them and they wouldn’t know any better," Cooper said.
At the top of its survey with "excellent" rankings are Humboldt’s Legacy, McNally Robinson Booksellers, Ten Thousand Villages, Winnipeg Art Gallery, The Children’s Museum and Scholar’s Choice.
Next in line and considered "very good" places to shop are A Child’s Place, Kite and Kaboodle and Toad Hall Toys.
Big-box store Toys "R" Us was given an "acceptable" rating and Project Peacemakers noted it had made some positive changes in the displays.
At the bottom of the heap is Walmart, which was rated "unacceptable," primarily because the video section of its Polo Park store did not carry provincial rankings for games and the staff were not trained to use the rankings.
Lynn Popham, manager of McNally Robinson For Kids, said it was very happy to hear of its ranking from Project Peacemakers. She said it selects toys that are a little less mainstream and tend to be more educational.
"That’s a conscious choice. We haven’t gone out of our way to be peaceful, but the philosophy of the staff buying the toys is we don’t buy violent ones. It’s just the kind of people we are," she said.
Popham admitted the store stocked foam pirate swords prior to Halloween, but she said most of its toys promote creativity, such as science, puzzles and crafts.
Cooper said she doesn’t have her head stuck in the sand by believing a day will come when toy shelves are completely devoid of war-, violence- and fighting-related games, but she said parents and grandparents should at least consider what impact particular purchases could have on the young people in their lives.
"If you’re looking at buying a toy helicopter, don’t buy one where (the packaging shows) people shooting; buy one where the helicopter is helping with a rescue," she said.
One possible repercussion of overexposure to video-game and other violence is children could confuse news stories on television with the games on their consoles, she said.