Late last year Activision announced a licensing deal with LEGO competitor and toy maker Mega Brands to make building toy sets based on its popular mature-rated action game series, Call of Duty. The toy sets, which were launched in January, are finally getting the attention of children's advocacy groups and one outspoken UK MP – UK Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee.
It is not shocking that MP Vaz, who has been critical of video games and the video game industry's more violent content, would be happy to jump on a hot issue related to video games.
Activision also licensed Skylanders Swap Force (rated "E10+) and World of Warcraft (rated "Teen") to be made into toy sets by Mega Brand.
But Activision is not alone in signing a licensing deal to sell branded toys based on "Teen" or "Mature" rated games: there are also toy sets based on the Halo (Halo 4 is rated "M") franchise from Microsoft, Assassin's Creed (Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag is rated "M") from Ubisoft, and EA's Need for Speed (most NFS games are rated "Teen").
The toy sets themselves are harmless and generic; it's the connection to mature content that concerns people like Sarah Williams, co-founder of education pressure group Parents Forum, and MP Vaz.
They point out that many of the Call of Duty Mega Blok play sets carry age recommendations of "10 – 15," "12 – 15," and "14 – 15." They also point out that these toy sets are being sold alongside other toy sets in UK retail stores such as Argos, Tesco and Toys R Us.
Their argument is that, by creating play sets based on "mature" rated games, both Mega and companies like Activision are marketing that game content to children.
"I think a lot of parents wouldn't really know what goes on in these video games, and so if they see these toys being marketed at young children might think the games themselves are ok," says Sarah Williams, co-founder of education pressure group Parents Forum.
Williams also said that she was shocked at the lack of apparent Government concern or responsibility on this particular issue.
"They aren't taking it very seriously," she said.
Labour MP Keith Vaz has raised concerns in the past about the "harrowing and gratuitous" nature of the Call of Duty video game series (among others – he also has a fondness for demonizing games like Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt).
When informed about the toys by Express, MP Keith Vaz said, "The name Call of Duty brings to mind a violent video game which is only on sale to adults."
"It is totally inappropriate for a company to use this name for play materials for those too young to play the video game," he added. "They should think again and not promote this brand to children."
Mega Brands told the publication that it does not actively promote its Call of Duty Collector Construction Sets to children and that the toy lines give parents the opportunity "to satisfy older children’s interest in the COD property without them being subjected to the more graphic gameplay at a younger age, allowing some of the less desirable attributes to be naturally filtered out."
A spokesman for UK retailer Argos said that they are very careful not to market the Mega Bloks Call of Duty collectors construction range to children and have received no complaints from customers.