New War Games Exhibition Investigates Why Boys Love Playing War

By the pester power of grey skull! What is it with boys and guns? A recent study by anthropologists from the University of California entitled “Weapons Make the Man (Larger)” stated that, “knowing that an individual possesses a gun or a large kitchen knife leads observers to conceptualise him as taller, and generally larger and more muscular, than individuals who possess only tools or similarly mundane objects.” (Something to bear in mind next time you challenge a burglar with a pair of long-nose pliers.)

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Whatever the cause, our early obsession with re-enacting warfare goes way back, as a new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London’s Bethnal Green shows.

Drawing together toys from 1800 to the present day, War Games considers the controversial phenomenon of kids learning how best to kill their enemies (hypothetically, of course) through play.

From the jolly 1914 board game Get Rid of Huns to the ray-gun fad that kicked off with the space race of the Fifties and Sixties, the show looks at how toy manufacturing has been affected by real-life military events — or in the case of the final section, “Secret Weapons”, which looks at how computer games are being used to train troops — the exact reverse.

War Games, 23 May to 9 March 2014 at the V&A Museum of Childhood, London E2