As a child, my obsession with LEGO was arguably unhealthy. I dreamt of filling a pool with the tiny multi-colored bricks; my dream-self diving deep into it, searching for that one 5×1 gray piece to finish my castle wall. Any time someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday/Christmas/being brave at the dentist, I excitedly mustered a two syllable grunt: “Le-go.”
I had pirate themed sets, medieval themed sets, sci-fi themed sets, and even a boring civil engineering set that included construction workers and a tanker truck. My room was a minefield of pointy plastic; bodies of small men with yellow heads and smiley faces strewn everywhere. I had more LEGO than I could keep track of, and I’m sure my mother was simultaneously happy with the joy it brought me and infuriated with the mess it made.
Although I grew out of formally playing with LEGO many years ago, my admiration for the versatility and creativity of the toy remains. I have a LEGO pirate on my key ring and a menagerie of various LEGO men (from knights to spacemen) on display in my office. On occasion, I even find myself engrossed in a video of the latest MindStorm creations, secretly wishing I had become and mechanical engineer so that I could still play with LEGO all day.
But then it hit me; I do still play with LEGO all day. Well, for large chunks of the day, anyway. It may not be LEGO in its original, multi-colored form, but it involves some sort of building blocks backed by logical order, used to create something tangible.
At work, I use Visio; a flow-chart program that involves logically placing and connecting blocks, to create an image. I organize SharePoint directories into logical hierarchies; like bricks stacked on bricks, color-coded for clarity. Even writing and editing is just a logical process of putting the right parts in the right places; anyone who has ever had to do a Reed-Kellogg knows exactly what I mean.
It follows me home too. I may not have huge plastic bins of smaller pieces of plastic tucked under every bed, but I do have a computer full of games. I just realized that some of my favorites – Minecraft, Terraria – are almost perfect digital reflections of my favorite childhood pastime. You literally collect and stack blocks of different kinds to create buildings and other large inanimate objects. It even includes elements of the incredibly frustrating but furious search for the one last block that you need to finish your architectural masterpiece. How many hours did you dig through that box of LEGO looking for a black block with a single dot (I called them “oners”)? About the same amount of time you spent mining deep into the blocky, 8-bit earth looking for a few errant diamond ore.
I think this is why I love these games. Their basic game play is the evolution of everything I loved as a child. My brain matured, the LEGO matured. All video games seem to contain an element or two of what made LEGO so engrossing and fun. Role-playing games have that element of subtle progression; each new item you get for your character is like a new tier you built on your underwater sea-fort. Real Time Strategies play out like an interactive LEGO instruction manual; build the spawning pool before you upgrade to a lair, place the blue blocks near the bottom, before you attach the wheels. Not spot on, but not overly tangential either.
Interestingly enough, the official LEGO attempts at games, while quirky and very fun in their own way, aren’t very much like LEGO at all. They play like traditional platformers, with very little homage paid to the pure art of brick-building. The focus in nearly all of the LEGO games I’ve played seems to be faithful recreation of the subject matter over innovative gameplay. They have many elements of collecting, rebuilding, and revisiting, but I can think of dozens of games closer to brick-building LEGO than the formal, licensed LEGO games.
So are video games just the adult version of LEGO? Do they fulfill the same intellectual urges, prodding our creative sides and stretching our imagination to fantastic new highs? For me, almost certainly. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to make the connection. Anyone else out there a LEGO-Maniac turned 1334 Gamer?