Leviticus

Several decades ago I used to be heavily into role playing games even being a game master for a while. It was fun coming up with challenges and seeing how the characters fared as the dice rolled. One of the things that have been seemingly normalized out of that gaming culture is the alignment chart. Maybe that was a thing before Dungeons and Dragons, but it seems to have become increasingly popular. There are alignment charts for all kinds of things. Memes depicting Lawful Good characters and characteristics to Chaotic Evil and the Neutrals between are on Facebook, Twitter, meme generators and a simple web search will give you a massive selection of these alignment charts. But not for Lego fans. I simply could not find one. I looked. I wanted to find one that had Purists on one corner and the sharpie wielding clay molding, element cutting evil little modders on the opposite corner with a chaotic good example of some train guy using a non-Lego battery for his high speed MOC. Or maybe the evil ones are the ones who mix Megablox in with the Lego? Maybe one of my readers could make one and if you do please share! But that brings me to the topic for this week.

Are there rules on creativity? Are there limits to what you can should, ought, must make with Lego? The art medium that is the Lego brick and all the accompanying elements and special bricks, tiles, curves and angled…stuff. When Ole Kirk Christiansen founded the company that became TLG (The Lego Group), I wonder if he was in any way aware of the potential his toy could become. The ABS bricks in various forms from the pedestrian and simple 2×4 and 2×2 bricks to plates, angles, special connectors and slopes can boggle the mind. Explore sometime, what is available on Bricklink or Brickowl and look at the hundreds of pieces that grew from the simple building system into the complex Bluetooth connective battery powered monster that is today’s experience with Christiansen’s invention. Then add in the digital world. Not just the Lego games but the various computer aided design programs like Ldraw and Stud.io where you can build in a virtual environment, create instructions, convert the build through another set of programs to make your digital creation look like one out of real bricks! It is incredible, the world of Lego!

But…is everything – really — awesome? Having been around the block a few times I have noticed much vitriol poured out on those deemed non-purist by the Lego only faithful. Contests I have been part of in the past limit the builds to real bricks, real Lego (no 3rd party elements like Brickarms). Modification of the ABS by cutting, drilling, painting, adding non-Lego stickers, I can go on for several more lines here…is deemed anathema! Call in the paid activists and hand out the torches and pitchforks, lets go burn down a webpage! Well, I get some of it. Poor use of the felt tip marker, bad use of Play Doh or modeling clay to make a head or chest piece, shoddy paint work, all represent the worst of the modder ilk. On the other hand, I have seen established and incredible builders drill holes in plates and bricks and street lamps to run wire so that the bridge or building or spaceship can have lights and maybe even a remote-control option of the micro-LED array so that it changes color or flashes at a certain rate or has a hatch or door that operates, a working elevator…again I can go on for several more lines…and yet these people are not vilified. In fact they win prizes, get interviewed by bloggers/vloggers and seemingly only the jealous have any negative comments regards the molestation of the ABS brick.

henley street bridge lego


Peter Campbell, TNVLC , Henley Street Bridge located in Knoxville, Tennessee, MOC in Lego

Are Arduino computers, Sbrick, Buwizz and other third party additions including Trixbrix, BrickTracks, really that bad? I guess it depends on who you ask. The use of these non-conformist elements is gaining traction and even a bit of respectability in the community at large. More conventions are seeing the non-standard track radius parts being used by various train LUG’s (Lego User Groups) and acceptance seems to be growing. But true hatred is reserved for those who mix clone brix in with the “real” stuff. It does not help that some Chinese companies have stolen ideas from individuals and even from TLG itself and then sold and marketed the sets as their own! Lawsuits have finally seemed to put a leash on that whole thing in recent months. But the venom and vitriol are still there. I hear the cry of clone pieces, non-Lego elements…it is like being in a church hearing an argument by King James Version Only people when someone carries a New International Version of the Bible into the sanctuary. But I get it, it is a respect for tradition, for what Ole created back in the day. But I also get why people buy the clones as the price of sets continues to climb on store shelves. Too many agreements with Disney, too many sets that are giving a piece of the pie to Marvel and DC Comics, it all causes the cost the escalate. Note the price for a Ninjago or Lego Movie set and compare the price for the same number of parts in a Star Wars set or a Superhero set, it is bizzaro world.

Yet, we are talking about the limits of creativity and using a kid’s toy as an art medium… So… Um… what if some person or group chooses to…umm…use it to recreate say, the nose art of World War 2 bombers, to copy a pin up girl or even a centerfold? Murals have become a true artform in the greater Lego community over the last decade with awesome examples of super heroes, WW2 generals and the aforementioned pin-ups. These works take planning and talent to use the limited palate of Lego to recreate a semi-realistic and even supra-realistic simulacra of the human body. I know this stuff isn’t for everyone, but it is a part of the community and still takes talent and effort that I can respect. Should there be rules? Perhaps. Should we decry and limit the viewing of this genre? For young kids certainly, but perhaps no more and no less than we do for other forms of controversial media. I am not recommending convention zones with PG, R and NC17 sections curtained off from the general masses! Many conventions have rules regards what can be displayed. The internet does not. If someone made it, you can find it. Sadly…

Again, are there rules on creativity? Are there limits to what you can should, ought, must make with Lego? In reality, there are no limits on creativity. The same talent that can recreate the Mona Lisa can also recreate the centerfold from last months porn magazine. The same talent it takes to make a stop motion Lego movie depicting minifigs in simulated combat can also be used to make minifigs simulate more “compromised” activities. Ultimately, like in life, the hobbyist has a choice. I will not like and will not accept all that goes on in my hobby community, especially the sexualizing of minifigs and such! You may not see a problem at all. I am libertarian enough to say that is your right. I am conservative enough to disagree with you if you do such things. I think there should be rules and set my limits as I see fit. Certain things should not be done with Lego minifigs and minidolls no more than they should be done with Mattel’s Ken and Barbie! As one of my favorite radio personalities would say, “…that is my opinion feel free to make it your own.”

Apples and oranges? Personal preference over purists and modders is not the same as using the brick building system or its virtual world CAD program to make “trash”. I say either way it is still personal preference, and I strongly lean, for reasons obvious, against making Lego an outlet for niche pervs. This is the world we live in. And I did warn you that this is about adults in the hobby. I also want to make it clear that as with any hobby, including woodworking or jewelry making, there are people who do things that make one “uncomfortable”. Recognize it as a reality. Make sure you have all the filters on to protect your kids and young teens from accidentally coming across this feldercarb. Maybe keep it on for you too. It would not hurt.

Meanwhile, until next time…play well.

Advertisements

Exodus: or why people are leaving …

One of the first sites I found when I began my online involvement with Lego was MOCpages.  At the time it was a very active site with a wide variance of MOC’s (My Own Creation)’s and a decently wide variety.  There were contests, competitions, RPG’s and lots of conversation!  I learned much about the community from Halo Kiddies to LUG cooperatives and all the builds in between.  I found many favorites and followed groups with increasing happiness as a wide world of Lego fun revealed itself.

But slowly the site began to lose the gloss, the heat became tepid and now a bypass has been built around the site as technical and security updates (basic site maintenance) has been ignored.  The ‘pages which once rocked the virtual Lego community from the UNE and COP “war” to Works of Incredulity by Daniel Jassim and other Lego artists slowly became a wasteland.  I think there are several reasons for this and it may be a warning to the hobby in general…  MOCpages is perhaps a microcosm of the hobby.  I have seen both pedestrian and high flying builders come and go.  I have witnessed a variety of  people leave both the site and the hobby in whimpers, in tantrums and some few simply disappear, perhaps into a new dark age.  So lets look at some reasons for Exodus!

20180826_085943

The Narcissist:  Our hobby has a variety of characters found within.  Like most hobby and fan groups, there are the common trope-like characters.  The Lego narcissist is a bit unique however.  First they tend to be talented builders.  They excel in one of the core building MOC formats; trains, space, modulars.  They are exceptional builders, usually, and build a fan base quickly and this feeds and frees the ego for a cockiness that ends up driving away the casual consumer.  As popularity wanes these self-centered egoists slow the builds, lose more fans and eventually fade back into the oblivion from whence they came.  They may leave shadows on Flickr or Eurobricks but cease to matter to the community they fed off for a time.  Rather than a focus on the hobby they are focused on their own gratification and the recognition and regard of others.  It is not the brick they enjoy but accolades and applause.  When this dies the sun retires on a once promising artist.

The _____________ Kiddie:  There is a large presence in our hobby, as there should be, of kids in the hobby.  These KFOL’s, Kid Fans of Lego, are usually fans of a franchise.  Halo, Star Wars, Bionicle, what-have-you; and they build echo chambers around themselves.  Immersed in the franchise they build to the mutual delight of the echo chamber and denigrate other builders or MOC’s.  Of these groups, the Halo Kiddies were the most obsequious.  But as they grow out of the franchise or move on to other things, they leave the hobby and the sour taste behind.  Some of these showed promise: nice ideas but poor execution, decent execution…but how many versions of the Warthog does one need? But it seems inevitable that as the franchise dies, so does the builder.  This may not be so true in some ways because I have seen KFOL’s and TFOL’s turn into AFOL’s and continue to build Star Wars only no longer simple fig barf or sets from the store, but intricate and involved dioramas or minifig sized star destroyers that defy not only back engineering but parts count!  Yet these who move on into greater talent and ability tend to be sadly few and far between.

The Gateway Artist:   Some talented builders left MOCpages and the hobby in general because of a new or budding interest.  There are several former builders I still follow from their days on the ‘pages who have now become professional photographers!  A passion for building cool MOC’s and taking pictures to post online turned into a career, just not with Lego.  Another few started with stop action movies and entered the world of digital arts.  These gateway artists used the brick as a stepping stone to move on to other things.  Maybe they occasionally come back to the touchstone, build a MOC and throw out a morsel to a starving public hungry for quality, or maybe they fade away completely immersed in building a video game or attempting to launch a career in CGI.  Maybe they are now building robots?

20180826_085826-1

The LUG Master:  These tend to be grumpy old Natty lite swilling convention crawlers whose best days were in the 1980’s.  They built freaky great stuff back when and still have what it takes to build incredible creations, but the distractions of life, work, middle age and raising teenagers keeps them from future builds so they withdraw to the past.  These “has been” AFOL’s tend also to be echo chamber builders surrounding themselves with other LUG masters to form a Lego User Group equivalent of the group of old guys drinking coffee at the fast food restaurant for 4 hours in the morning, or maybe pub crawling through the work of others contributing sometimes helpful and sometimes snide comments…wait, I need more coffee.  It is not that these guys leave the hobby, they just have too much real life stuff going on to contribute more than words.  I currently put myself in this category though I anticipate a change when I get my room ready and my bricks out of storage!

The Private Entertainer:  Some builders leave the public eye due to privacy concerns or fear of what others may say or think when they find out they still “play with ABS bricks”.  These now live in seclusion from the public eye of the hobby while having a room to display modulars in dust proof acrylic cubes lit with soft white pot lights.  They shop at IKEA and LEGO.com and build in secret hoping the boss at the corporation never finds out they like  to play with toys and end up losing out on a promotion because  they are too immature.  What they should do is own the hobby and emphasize how it aids creativity and as MOC builders they can “think outside the box”.  How it builds not only cool creations but pattern recognition, trend coordination and hand eye coordination as well as being a hobby with members around the world!

The Present Moment Pragmatist:  This group of builders received all their Lego from grandparents and later as college students realized how expensive the hobby is (or can be) and they would rather spend money on something more important, like beer.  So they trade the Lego for a keg.

The Rest of Us:  In reality, Lego is falling on hard times.  Frankly, the competition of video games, the alternative entertainments, the sheer amount of stuff that competes for our money and attention is amazing!  It takes a passionate person to spread the hobby or even just to stay active.  Creativity is waning as more people consume and fewer make stuff.  Sets from Lego cost more!  Production costs are up, shipping costs are up and then you have the whiners who complain about the ABS material and how it pollutes the environment.  The Lego Company itself is changing in response to this both in going more “green” and also, attempting to extricate the company from costly agreements with Disney  and other franchise owners who expect a piece of the pie with every set sold.  So for the rest of us, we try to buy stuff from Goodwill, Bricklink, Ebay looking for the best deals we can afford in the after market hoping that the lot we bought does not have too many Megabloks hidden in the bulk of Lego we just ordered online!  We like our 12 or 9 volt trains, we decry bluetooth technology as an abomination and yet read every review of Jangbricks with regards to the new sets and discuss the possibility of Buwizz, Sbrick  and jealously appreciate the guy from some IT department that built a computer controlled display that runs lights, crossing guards and 15 trains, a working helicopter and rolls a live cast go pro camera.  Feeling intimidated with all this we take our blocks and go home to sulk….

20170826_170921

Okay, maybe I was a bit overly snarky, but the Exodus is disappointingly real.  Convince me otherwise.  Meanwhile, until next time…play well.

Genesis

The first post is always the most difficult.  In it you are trying to communicate the essence, tone and content of which this blog will consist and find meaning.  Forget that, All in all it’s just another brick in the wall…  This is about Lego.  This is about Adults and plastic bricks.  It is regarding the hobby of brick building, conventions, user groups and communities online.  It may showcase some of my stuff from time-to-time or techniques I have found helpful along the way.  I will likely showcase other builds I find inspirational and definitely discuss trends and the hobby in general.

So a little about me.  I got bit by the bug around the age of 9 when I got a Lego set in a fast food meal. It was a small helicopter and I instantly saw possibility and creative outlet above and beyond the plastic models I had been building up until then with messy glue, paint and stickers that never stuck correctly.  The sticker thing may just have been me, however.  I still cannot seem to get those pesky things to align right or to stay in place!  Regardless, I ended up burning and blowing up my models with various fire works and went to building with Lego.  My first sets were what are now called “classic space”.  The blue and grey bricks with transparent yellow canopies began to multiply and fill larger and larger boxes.   Science fiction was my wheel house and any sets put out by the company were on my birthday and Christmas lists.

The sets would be built to make sure all the parts were there, then dismantled and MOC’s built…fighters, drop ships, space frigates, wheel exploration craft, tanks, APC’s, bases.  Then came other sets including Blacktron.

hqdefault

Dark ships menacing and bristling with weapons became a serious phase…  Then came Exo-force and the Mars sets, Star Wars and…trains and modulars and; well I am getting ahead of myself.  Trains and mods did not enter the picture until I joined the Tennessee Valley Lego Club (TNVLC).  I had been doing Lego for my own enjoyment not really caring that there were others out there.  Not only that but wholly unaware of the huge community of Lego Fans, ie the Cult of Lego.  I built for my own enjoyment and amusement. It was not until I was online and did a search for Lego that I hit upon MOCpages.  Then I learned about other sites and groups around the world and about LUG’s and…an  incredible vista unfolded fill with Awesomeness.

So I began to reach out, branch out, touch base with other like minded nerds and geeks and Lego fans and was introduced to competitions and contests and games like Decisive Action by Michael Rutherford…  Despite college, marriage and kids I never had a dark age.  As kids moved out my hobby evolved!  I have a room set aside for building and research…and I wanted a monorail!

14818521881_DISPLAY

Masao Hidaka was my inspiration.  I wanted to build a realistic system powered and with lights and…it took 2 years of tinkering, fiddling, multiple versions, stops and starts, restarts and frustration.  Then I had it!

Then I moved.

Almost all the Lego is in storage.  The room I want to use for the new lair is in dire need of work.  I have a new RLUG to join and a lot to look forward to.  I hope you will look forward to it as well.  Until next time…play well.