NEW YORK – Terrorism has even changed playtime in America.
Violence that once seemed like make-believe to children has suddenly become all too real. As a result, playing with characters that save lives instead of destroy them is quickly gaining popularity.
The ground zero heroes — firefighters and police officers — are the models kids want to emulate these days. And parents are stocking up on make-believe rescue workers instead of toy soldiers.
Mattel Inc.'s Fisher-Price "Rescue Heroes," a line of action figures and accompanying accessories, hit the shelves in 1998, but have been flying off them since the terrorist attacks last month.
Long before Sept. 11, plans were in the works for a special Billy Blazes — the fireman in the Rescue Heroes series — outfitted in FDNY gear. The action figure will be available in November.
"Little did we know how poignant this symbol of the dedication and spirit of New York firefighters would become," Fisher-Price President Neil B. Friedman says in a letter on the company Web site.
FDNY Commissioner Tom Von Essen suggested that proceeds from sales be put towards fire safety education, which Fischer-Price agreed to do. The funds will help educate the flesh-and-blood Billys of New York.
A cuddlier line of collectibles is also adding an altruistic member to its family. Ty Inc. said it will introduce the "America" Beanie Baby as early as this week, with all the profits going to the American Red Cross.
The company has pledged at least $1 million from the sale of the new blue bear with the American flag on its chest, but the company expects the donation to be even larger. Following Princess Diana's death, the company introduced a Beanie Baby Princess, which raised $21 million for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
The flip side of the rising popularity of these do-gooder playthings is the removal of what some consider overly violent and perhaps inappropriate toys from stores.
Mattel pulled the Max Steel MX99 Heli-Jet Vehicle from store shelves. The toy included a written scenario challenging children to save New York City from a villain atop the World Trade Center.
Consumer Products Safety Commission Chairwoman Ann Brown said on NBC's Today Show that the toy was inappropriate in light of the attacks. "Kids don't need to be acting out with a toy like that right now," she said.
And even some video game makers are re-thinking their visuals.
Microsoft Games will remove the World Trade Center from the New York landscape in the 2002 version of its flight simulator game, due out this fall. And game maker Konami reportedly may revise the latest version of its anti-terrorist game Metal Gear Solid, which debuts in November, because some scenes involve New York.
The worrisome cliché, "But what about the children?" has taken on a new note of sincerity in the last few weeks as toy makers attempt to create appropriate playthings for kids traumatized by the attacks. But now American children have new superheroes. Instead of characters that fly or have X-ray vision, kids are embracing today's real heroes — ones who risk their lives for others.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.