As a kid, I grew up playing LEGO, specialising in the construction of spaceships. I would spend the entire Christmas night, following the instructions provided, constructing my ride out to the universe and beyond. It was only a little later, that I dared to construct things outside the book, breaking apart some of my spaceships to let my imagination run wild. For many, that is the whole point of LEGO, giving children the basic building blocks and letting them construct their own world.
Two robots I built myself many years ago
The world of LEGO today however has been taken over by big brand names — tie-ups with Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, the worlds that children are introduced to today are increasingly dictated as merchandise. LEGO has become just another pre-determined apparel, part of the marketing campaign of a brand to familiar children with them in the hopes of establishing a long-lasting relationship.
Not only do brands shape LEGO products, the physical shape of the brick has to bend to the will of the brands too. Since LEGO has to fashion itself to shape the brand’s products, what one sees increasingly is one-off parts that cannot really be used to build anything else. The bricks are no longer basic blocks that can be used to anything else but what it was sold as. In a sense, this limits the building vocabulary of the child and playing LEGO might simply become an exercise in the construction of the brand’s world and nothing else. Thus, when a child builds spaceships, it’ll be Star Wars ships; if it’s racing cars, it’ll probably be one you see in F1 races.
The fusion of toys with brands is nothing new and to survive in the toy industry, this may be the most viable way forward. Plus, it is not as if every new LEGO line-up is branded, but the introduction of it and increasing frequency is something to pay attention to. Moreover, the imagination of children, and even adults, is not something to be so easily stumped by what a brand dictates. And it is not as if old school LEGO did not have limited vocabulary, look at how long it took me to break out of following instructions!
In this trend, what is worrying is not just the limitation of building vocabulary but also how it is monopolised by a brand — quite in your face too. Take a walk down the aisle of the children section nowadays, you’ll see the reflection of the adult world we live in.