It's the game, not the toy.
Take guns, for instance.
Do they mean that the kid who plays with them will become violent, even trigger-happy?
A gun today may become a pen or another type of instrument tomorrow.
The question is, how does the kid play with guns? How can the parent give content/context to the game. The kid must know why must the rebels defeat the Empire, and show both creativity, grit and humanity in his task. And he must learn to choose sides: be the fighter for independence, the GI-Joe in Normandy, the Vietcong, the Knight of Freedom, the Zapatista against the "Pelones" (and talk proudly with a heavy peasant accent), the proud defender of the slave escapees in their route North. And understand that the Indian killing cowboy, the henchman of the Nottingham Sheriff, the invader, the tyrant, are bound to lose, for they have no moral grounds to hold a sword, a gun, an arch and arrow.
Or take Barbies.
A big part of the creativity of that game is making/designing clothes for them, doing and undoing their hair. And making stories: the key here is the story to be played.
My daughter happily recalls the times when she played Barbies with my mother (God bless her soul), and my mom managed the "Cuban Barbies", who spoke with a heavy Cuban accent and always created some type of havoc, disgracing the male dolls and the "Sissy Barbies". Once the Cuban Barbies, tired of the machismo of the Jesse Ventura doll (yes, my daughter had a Jesse Ventura doll; my second son makes strange gifts), practically abducted him, made him dress in a Barbie Butterfly costume and paraded him in front of all the other dolls and stuffed animals.
The guns thing is interesting.
Lots of parents here won't let their kids have toy guuns...and there is actually a huge "thing" between people working with kids about whether there should be guns amongst the toys.
My personal take is that if they're seeing lots of gun violence in real life or in fictional form, then playing with them is a way of dealing with this. Like, they use sticks and such if they don't have guns.
The interesting thing is the data that appears to be coming out re TELEVISION and violence.
I haven't read the studies myself, so I cannot comment their design and validity, but I have heard people who have written overviews of the research saying that, when television is introduced to a country, violence goes up about 40%. If that is true, that is pretty amazing. And we know that kids exposed to real violence tend to be more disturbed and violent.
So, I don't think the toy guns are much of a problem (doubtless, historically, it was toy bows and arrows and spears and such...though these were a way of rehearsing for real adult hunting and warrior roles...just as playing with toy guns in some places in the US is likely a realistic preparation for life in gangs) but I do think it quite likely that the constant diet of fictional violence IS a bad influence.
You know, if it were not for television, most Australian kids would likely never see a gun. Apart from farm and station people, who have them from necessity, of course, and people in the shooting sub-culture, and bikies and some crims, ordinary Australians just don't tend to have them.
I do not know anyone, except police officers, in my circle who have guns.
I wonder if they would have been part of my play if I hadn't seen them on TV?