The Bricks of Truth

Photo taken by author
Photo taken by author

Today’s off-topic topic: Legos!

I’ve been a Lego fan on and off for most of my life now. Aside from some too-cool dry spells during parts of high school and college, I have enjoyed building and playing with the bricks and other pieces as a diversion from the rest of life. I also think there’s something profound about the relationship between the directions that come with most sets and the eventual uses people find for those pieces.

As one of the most concrete, widely available mechanisms for deconstruction and remixing, Legos can offer a starting point for understanding far more abstract concepts like religion or literature. Like a piece of scripture, you can always interpret the direction booklets literally, or you can use them, consider the final product, and decide whether you want to leave it as is, rebuild it differently, or combine it with other pieces of scripture to build something new. (Yes, this smacks of syncretism and heresy, and I’m sure there are some Lego fundamentalists out there who view such remixing as such; however, I suspect they’re less numerous than fundamentalists of other sorts.) 

A tiny, futuristic manufacturing plant. Photo taken by author
A tiny, futuristic manufacturing plant.
Photo taken by author

Similarly, you can treat Legos like literature, with certain recurring tropes, tools, and foundational texts that are constantly remixed. Certainly lines like the Creator series (which explicitly includes three model designs with each set) encourage this sort of thinking, as do aspects of The Lego Movie and the general enthusiast culture the Lego company promotes.

For the past several months, I’ve been acquiring and working through the soon-to-retire Master Builder Academy (MBA) series. This started last spring when my wife and I did a long weekend in Chicago and our hotel happened to be within walking distance of the Lego Store there. I picked up the first MBA set then, enjoyed the experience, and have worked through most of the rest.

Tripod mech Photo taken by author
Tripod mech
Photo taken by author

The underlying principle of the MBA sets is great: Help builders consciously learn and apply some of the key techniques Lego uses in developing its models. Most of the sets give you a collection of pieces and a very detailed book that introduces a couple of key techniques and annotates the process of building three variations on the same theme. Then, the reader/builder is given some starting ideas and encouraged to create and share their own original variations on the theme. The first set does this for spaceships (of course), the second for small-scale microbuilds and robots, and the third for planes, creatures, and cars. The fourth set changes it up a bit by adding the narrative element and walking you through the design of spaces for characters to inhabit and explore. It also adds some specific “springboard” builds that aren’t complete places but that further explore and expand on the set’s techniques.

I'm clearly less into good plane design. Photo taken by author
I’m clearly less into good plane design.
Photo taken by author
Space cat-thing! Photo taken by author
Space cat-thing!
Photo taken by author
The plane caption also applies to cars. Photo taken by author
The plane caption also applies to cars.
Photo taken by author

(The pictures so far have been of original designs I’ve built with each of the first three sets. I haven’t done that for the fourth set yet, so here’s a picture of the completed official design.)

Photo taken by author
Photo taken by author

Is the Lego company perfect? Of course not. The way they’ve succumbed to gendering pressure with their Friends system is very problematic. But on the whole, I think they’re on the side of good in the world, and their product certainly can be put to use that way.

Whatever your building toy of choice, I’d encourage you to haul it out of wherever you keep it and spend some time just playing around with it. Especially for those of us who sling words every day, it’s nice to have a purely visual/kinetic activity that still allows the brain to think about story, detail, and design. Nor does everything have to spring wholly from your own head – I had great fun figuring out how to build Klingon warships from K’Nex.

So go forth and build!

Advertisements