Why some adults disapproved of kids playing a new type of tag

A high-tech twist on the game of tag was catching on with Canadian kids in the mid-1980s, but not all adults approved of the trend.

Lazer Tag was flying off the shelves in 1986 and critics found its popularity problematic

A new game called 'Lazer Tag'

35 years ago
A new game is being advertised as one that will carry the game of tag into the 31st century. 2:51

A high-tech twist on the game of tag was catching on with Canadian kids in the mid-1980s, but not all adults — excluding the toy manufacturers, of course — approved of the trend.

The game was called Lazer Tag and involved using toy guns to target opponents and armour that used infrared sensors to confirm when a player was hit.

The hype surrounding the toy was huge, given that it had its own promotional cartoon TV show on Saturday mornings and it was selling strongly on both sides of the border. Fortune Magazine had even named it as being one of the top 10 high-tech products of the year.

"Kids have been scooping them up faster than they can be brought into Canada," the CBC's Jerry McIntosh told viewers in a report that aired on Midday a week ahead of Christmas in December of 1986.

The CBC report focused on whether the toy — which McIntosh said had sold more than 100,000 units in Canada that year — could be considered a "war toy" and how it could affect children.

'They don't even call it a gun'

The game of Lazer Tag saw players use a gun with an infrared sensor and don a corresponding piece of armour, which registered when a player was hit. (Midday/CBC Archives)

According to McIntosh, the toy industry didn't consider Lazer Tag a war game.

"They don't even call it a gun — instead it's a StarLyte," said McIntosh, referring to the part of the toy kids held in their hands to point and tag other players.

As Doug Sommerville of Charan Industries saw it, "if the toy is directed as a non-violent, play atmosphere, I don't think there is a connotation of violence associated in the child's mind."

It was his opinion, he said, that "most kids who play Lazer Tag take it as being a futuristic game of tag."

A report in the Toronto Star on Dec. 10, 1986, identified Charan Industries as the parent company of the Canadian distributor of Lazer Tag.

The Star reported that the U.S. manufacturer of the toy expected to sell two million Lazer Tag units by the end of that year.

'That's the end'

Kids are seen playing with Lazer Tag toys in 1986. (Midday/CBC Archives)

In its own report, CBC spoke to those looking at Lazer Tag with a wary eye. They saw problems with a game in which children were facing off with opponents in a detached manner as they blasted away with their StarLytes.

"Children have always played tag and it's probably a healthy kind of endeavour," said Jennifer Hardacre, an academic at the University of Toronto's Institute of Child Study, who spoke to CBC News for the piece that aired on Midday all those Christmases ago.

She said the traditional game of tag forced children to negotiate with one another on the game's rules and interpretation of play.

"Always, there should be the option of restitution and reconstruction whereas guns and tanks and so on destroy and that's the end," said Hardacre.