June 17, 2013
LEGO Characters No Longer Smiley, Happy People
You’d think being able to pilot a space shuttle, captain a pirate ship and getting to live in a castle would put a smile on anyone’s face – and for years that’s exactly what we’ve seen with the LEGO characters. Despite their setting, the tiny plastic people that have been a staple of LEGO playsets for generations have had a smile on their face.
However, in recent years the characters have been increasingly less happy looking, and moreover while war toys have become more benign — toy guns that look less menacing and feature orange tips — the LEGO characters have become more menacing, and often carry weapons.
This is according to new research by robot expert Christoph Bartneck from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, as reported by CNN. He found that the number of happy faces on LEGO figures has decreased.
“We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts on how children play,” he said in a statement.
LEGO can’t get all the blame, however. While Danish-based LEGO was the first to show up on the scene with its building blocks, other companies followed suit. Originally, LEGO had a monopoly in the toy construction department, but its patents for interlocking plastic expired and Canadian-based Mega Blocks was successful in fending off a lawsuit by the Danish giant.
The result is that there are now several different companies involved in creating playsets that very much resemble LEGO’s own sets. As the Brick Blogger noted, there are even companies that specialize in providing weapons and other accessories for LEGO-style characters. The result is that the once happy nuclear family of LEGOLAND now engages in a lot of other activities.
KRE-O, which is now owned by toy giant Hasbro, has long offered a line of military themed vehicles, including tanks, warplanes and warships. It has official G.I. Joe and Star Trek licenses; while LEGO offers official Star Wars and Indiana Jones toys.
Perhaps this is the bigger issue, too. In the “good old days,” LEGO — and its competitors — offered sets that included building bricks and allowed the child’s imagination to determine what could be built. While kids can still build anything they can dream up, the emphasis in the last 20 years has very much been on specific things to build. So instead of the builder having to create an A-10 Warthog or M1 Tank and determining what might work, KRE-O offers very specific parts.
LEGO, of course, has been in the “model kit” business for years. And while it might be fascinating to build a massive Death Star from LEGO bricks, is it really that compelling if LEGO gives you the instructions and the exact parts? In other words, LEGO and the other brick makers just make model kits, thus taking away some of the imagination from the process.
That could be enough to take the smile off anyone’s face, because this has regimented play – and in turn made the building process almost like work. This could move from positive faces of buildings to more negative faces, especially as some of the kits became increasingly challenging to build.
Image Credit: Lego