OPINION: Loving LEGO At All Ages
More Than Just A Toy...
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By C.J. Stunkard
On the Thursday before his birthday, a Lego fan received a brand new set from his good friend. The gift included a golden dragon model, a golden ninja, two enemy soldiers, and a host of accessories. The recipient could not wait and opened the box almost immediately. He looked at the various pieces and built the figures - saving the model itself until an ideal quiet night or relaxed afternoon.
The Lego fan was turning 31, and he was also me.
So what gives? Why does a 31 year-old enjoy getting a toy specifically designed for kids age 9-14? Furthermore, why would his friend endorse this interest and behavior? Is this scenario another sign of “adultolescence” affecting the millennial generation?
Those are fair questions, and each deserves an answer, but perhaps that answer should be framed within a different paradigm than age and maturity. I am going to create alternative outlook by making three assertions that provide some perspective and also implicitly answer the above questions.
Lego bricks have become more than a toy; they are a medium for creativity not unlike pencils and paintbrushes. Building with Lego is not like playing with action figures, dolls, or toy cars. For the most part, engaging Lego requires creating--it requires designing and demands mental energies. Even when one is building a set by instructions, one has to trust that the end result will come from placing parts in a way that initially makes little sense. Many times one will have to compose simple machines of various pieces, the function of which are not evident not until later in the building process. But one imagines what these parts might do; one conceives of their purpose.
Of course, few people rebuild the same set repeatedly. Most buy their sets and scrap for them parts, letting the included elements serve as their tools to create not only cars or spaceships but also sculptures and dioramas. If one searches for "Lego art" or "Lego MOC" ("My Own Creation"), most persons will be amazed at what they find. Some artists use stone, others a 4-track recorder, and still more a pencil and sketchpad - but we've now entered a world wherein some also use plastic Lego, making it more than a toy but a new medium for creative expression.
The elements provide limitless opportunity to fill voids in one’s collection or uniquely embrace one’s interests. For several years, I was an action figure customizer. When the toy companies would not waste money developing and marketing a given figure that only me and two other people would buy, I would simply customize one from my existing collection. At one point, this hobby grew to such a degree that I would buy figures specifically for parts (not unlike those aforementioned individuals who buy Lego sets for similar reasons). Of course, doing this left a veritable boneyard of seemingly useless parts sitting in a closet awaiting who knows what fate, and over time said leftovers represented a significant dollar investment.
Lego almost caters to this mindset in a much more practical way. If one wants an unproduced collectible, Lego provides them the tools to make it for themselves without cannibalizing intact items. Sure, one may need to disassemble a Lego model to do this, but he or she does not need to destroy the various elements of that model. The builder simply reconfigures them in another way that suits them, and unused parts are still wholly compatible with one another and of great use for additional projects.
But this extends beyond collectibles or pre-branded properties. As I said, Lego is a tool for creative expression in a variety of interests. So it can be used for things like physics demonstrations or atomic models used to show the binding or breaking of molecules or creating a layout of a historical battle to give a sense of scale and location. Lego allows for all of this and far more. As I am coming at the hobby from the collecting perspective, my ideas are limited, but countless teachers and persons with a different outlook than mine have certainly learned to use Lego for their own instructional ends in various fields of interest.
And while these points speak primarily to die-hard Lego enthusiasts, perhaps the best answer to the aforementioned questions is simply this: the Lego brand has become something of a universally accepted value to people of all ages. From my experience, the Lego community embraces everyone and is embraced by nearly everyone. It does not have "noobs", and no one gets "pwnd"--not at least that I have seen at the LUGs (Lego User Groups) where that kind of thing would be expected. New and non-committal fandom is welcome within Lego circles and, shockingly, outside of them by the world at large. Everyone seems to have two universal opinions of Lego: first, the brand has been and continues to be wonderful, at least as a toy (but also as a tool); and second, few experiences are as painful as stepping upon unattended bricks with one’s bare foot. The fact that most people wholly forgive this latter issue in light of their agreement with the former attests to the power of Lego. People of all ages and walks (no pun intended) enthusiastically embrace the brand itself as well as its fans, whether they are age three, thirteen, or thirty (or thirty-one, in my case).
Lego just seems to be something worth valuing in this world of ours. The brands stirs the imagination toward creativity, allows for recycling its parts in order to embrace any individual’s interests, and pleases nearly everyone that is aware of it (despite the hazards it causes). Ultimately, Lego is a product that can be as simple or complex as the user desires, and inasmuch as it is fun, it also engages the mind in a useful way - and who’s not a fan of that?
Story and Photos by C.J. Stunkard