Lego and imagination

There is no piece of Lego I covet more than the Death Star… well, maybe the Super Star Destroyer (but at over $1000 – it isn’t going to happen). At 3152 pieces and over 48″ in length, the SSD is a piece of “crazy”. The Death Star of course is more affordable, at $500-odd. At 3,803 pieces it’s not exactly a small model. But here’s the thing – LEGO has become more about building a specific item, than about playability, and thinking outside the box.

When I was a kid, the Lego I received from my relatives in Switzerland usually consisted of a box of many different parts, and sometimes there was some book included to give you ideas about what to build. Consider this letter from LEGO to parents in 1974, first posted on Reddit by user fryd_ first.

Letter from Lego circa 1974

Specifically, consider the phrase “It’s imagination that counts. Not skill.” I mean LEGO has always had these sets to build specific items, but years ago they also had what were called “Universal Building Sets”, where you could build numerous different things, or explore your own creations. As cited on the example set below: “…provides a full range of creative possibilities…”. Now the closest you can get are the boxes of LEGO “Creative” bricks, from their “Classic” collection (or maybe the Architrecture Studio all in white). But ultimately it’s probably not as cool as “The Lonely Mountain” set from the Hobbit collection with a lego Smaug™.

Universal Building Set

Universal Building Set

Real creativity may not be a goal anymore. Getting all the sets may be. I mean who wouldn’t love to own all the Star Wars models. Problem probably lies with where to put them when you’ve built them all! Lego sets have moved away from imagination into the realm of skill – it does take skill to put together 3000+ pieces of LEGO, but it doesn’t take much imagination if you are following the instructions provided. I recently bought my (13 year old) daughter the “Ghostbusters” Lego set (No.21108) – one of those limited time sets. It looks cool, and intricate – at 508 pieces with a specified age of 10+. The “building instructions” are 92 pages long – which may make sense considering there are 162 different parts in the set. I imagine that there are 5-year old kids quite capable of putting this (or the Death Star) together because frankly you don’t even need to read, just have the ability to follow visual instructions.

Some will say, that you could build anything you want out of these “sets” – and yes these is technically true. You could buy a whole bunch of sets, dump them together ad build anything you want – however the sets by themselves are limited, because of the specificity of the parts. I could take the Ghostbusters car and build, well – a car that resembles a 1959 Cadillac chassis.




One thought on “Lego and imagination

  1. robodas says:

    There has to be some correlation between playing with Legos as children and becoming programmers as adults. I love/loved Legos. I do agree that there is a general decrease in the application of imagination to the sets, but for the smaller set of true fans, I think the “newer” Lego parts have spurned an expanded freedom in expression and creativity (esp. Lego mechs and Krieger maschinen (sp?) esque designs). I’m not sure it is still around, but I remember downloading a program from the Lego main website. You could create a Lego model in that program, then order the parts. I think of the standard, store bought sets as gateway drugs for “real” Lego playing 🙂

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