This was originally published on thesquircle.com in July 2013. I am bringing all the Dad Blog stories over to modernfatheronline.com
Our eldest, Master Four-Going-On-Fourteen has just gotten into Lego. I loved Lego when I was younger and I’m happy to see him getting into it. What I am not so pleased about is that the range that he has taken on first up is the Ninjago theme.
I started with Town (now known as City) and moved onto the Space sets followed by the Medieval range which had Knights and Castles. Sure there were factions, the Lion Knights versus the Black Falcons, but these were released in 1984 when I was 10, so I had already had many years of Lego playing before the introduction of a range that focused on battles came along.
And there was no magazine, no booklet, no television show or movie to go with this. We had to use our imaginations. I can remember playing with a friend from down the street, using bricks from other Lego sets to build the biggest castles, fortresses to protect our mini-figures from the catapults we built to attack each other.
I remember his sister who is three years younger joining in with her princess who had a “proclamation of the end of the battle” because she didn’t want us to have battles, she just wanted the Kingdom to bask in her princess’s glory. Random, I know, but whilst I didn’t get it then, I get it now.
For the most part, except for the police sets which had bad guys you could lock up in the jails, Lego was a toy focused more on the building of the main set, and then the construction of the alternative ideas that were on the back of the box. Lego really wasn’t about playing with the toy, it was about making the toy. How’s that saying go? It is not the destination, but the journey that you learn from. I could Google it, but, I’ll leave that up to you if you wish.
Somewhere along the lines, at some point where I had well and truly left the younger child’s Lego behind, and even the Technics sets designed for the older children, somewhere there they went and changed things. The Space theme introduced “evil” aliens or space creatures for the spacemen to fight. When I had the Space range, it was about exploration and discovery, not about fighting.
And the Town built cleverer criminals but bigger police stations to compensate (if you ever get to watch the National Geographic Megafactories episode about how they design a Lego play-set, watch it and you’ll truly appreciate what I just wrote). They produced Vikings and Pirate sets, allowing children to rape and pillage to their heart’s content (although, the raping might not be on many young children’s agendas, if any at all).
Around the turn of the century (or should that be millennium?) the Lego Company faced harsh economic times and were being slaughtered in the marketplace. As a result, the Bionicle range was produced to get children into collecting many different characters to battle things out; in films, on television and in DC comic books. Lego had become less about the build and more about the play. And the way I see it, what’s the point of building a robot just to have him battle it out when you could easily just get a Star Wars figure, or He-Man and his mates to do the same?
And now, there’s Ninjago. At four years old, our son’s ability to take a 70 something piece set and build it is far from great. So as a result, I got down on the floor and was whisked back to an earlier time when all life consisted of was my new Lego set and a tall glass of Milo. I loved putting the toy together, having my son find the pieces as I pointed them out in the instruction booklet. And there were stickers to place on some of the parts too (stickers that he wanted to stick on the forehead of his younger brother I might add).
But now the set is built, there’s no glint in his eye as to what alternative construction he can come up with. It is all about the battle. It is all about the good guys versus the baddies. Having watched one of the movies and a few episodes of the show on DVD at a friend’s house, he knows what the item I built was built to do; go into battle.
And I find that sad. Not the battling bit (when I was 4 we had Star Wars figures that fought each other), but the fact that Lego is now about the battle. That’s not what Lego was to me. Lego was different. But now it seems like every other action figure on the market, only you get to build it, and you might lose some of the pieces.
What from your childhood is still around in some form but has changed for the better or worse?