Monday, December 31, 2012

Et tu, Legos?

I love Legos.  Correction:  I love old-school, random piece, let-your-imagination-go Legos. The new-style of heavily-engineered, piece specific, commercialized Lego packs, I could live without.

Don’t get me wrong.  I truly enjoyed building the Lego Friends Café© with my 6 year old daughter this Christmas.  It was a quality hour-plus of child parent bonding and building, including a stretch of time I spent alone cursing the microscopic plastic cutlery while she ate lunch.  When we finished, the family adored our creation, and my daughter played with it pretending to be the waitress.  And when her younger sister joined in, she moved up to the café owner, and the younger one became the waitress. 

Lego Friends Cafe - note the missing front railing and the
paultry amount of flowers in the window box.  
The whole Friends Café fun – construction to grand opening -- was a lesson in engineering, hard-work, cooperation and, apparently, growing a small business.  All with minimal creativity required (other than the imaginary play part). 

Then, of course, our 2 year-old decided to do his Godzilla impersonation. Lego people screaming.  Café parts everywhere. Total construction/play/destruction time: two and a half hours.   Eventually, we cleaned up and put all the Café pieces back in the general population Lego bin, a collection we’ve been growing for a few years. 

The next day my daughter wanted to build it again.  And we tried.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find some of the pieces.  I know they’re in there, somewhere.  Still, it was only a few days since we got the Lego Friends Café package set from Santa.  And parts have already escaped.  A year from now, I’m sure the Café will have gone the way of the Lego Cottage we got a few years ago, never to be built again due to specific missing pieces and lost directions.

And these cafes and cottages are the easy ones.  The Lego aisle at the local toy store has a whole host of ridiculously engineered, pre-fab Lego fun – many of these sets mysteriously packaged in pinks or blues.  There’s the Lego Star Wars, the Lego Ninjago, the Lego Harry Potter, the Lego City series, more Lego Friends … it goes on and on.  And all have intricate specific pieces designed to serve only a single Lego purpose.  But what happens to the Hogwarts castle after it’s built.  Do you display it somewhere?  Hopefully, some place out of reach of the children.

When did Legos become like this?  And what happened to the old Legos?  Remember them?  Back then, we used random blocks to build random structures.  We didn’t care that the house we built didn’t have a flower box, or shutters, or shingles even.  It was a house we imagined and we created.  And we certainly didn’t care that the Lego people we built didn’t have utensils.

Now, most Legos are just disassembled toy models.  Really disassembled.  And once painstakingly put together, you can’t play with them, because if you do they will break and you will lose a critical piece.   

Well, this year, I saw all this coming.  I had an inclination Santa was going to get our kids a well-engineered Lego set with great specificity and limited future creative worth.  So I also found and bought the kids a pack of 650 regular old Lego pieces, called the Lego Creative Building Kit. It has lots of colors and shapes, with a few wheels and a handful funky pieces, but all are versatile and none have any specific, pre-ordained Lego fate.

Ahh. That's more like it. Lego animals created, then caged. 
And guess what, the kids love them.   My eldest daughter has spent countless hours playing with the plain Legos – far more than the pre-designed ones.  She has built cars, houses, people.  She even built really cool animals.  Then, of course, she built a zoo to house them (sorry, PETA). 

All the kids have played with the plain old Legos far more than the Friends Café set.   And it cost about a third as much.

I’m sure the people at Legos will keep engineering, awesomely complex new designs.  And we will keep buying them.  But at least, after each is built and destroyed never to be constructed again, we will have some regular, old-school Legos to fill the void.

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