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.
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.