Another brick in the wall

Few ‘analogue’ companies have managed to splice their product so convincingly with the digital world as Lego (we’re still puzzled by the pluralisation of the word in the US. After all, “Lego” already encompasses the plural). This appears to be a multi-pronged strategy. On the one hand, you have the undeniable appeal of nostalgia, wherein the internet’s curatorial component has been allowed to seize upon both the company’s vast and visually intense history and reproduce them in loving detail. Sites like Brickset’s LEGO guide are museum-quality archives (we spent a happy afternoon recreating a few half-remembered models from a vast tub of old Lego, using instructions downloaded from Brickset).

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There’s also the company’s ‘blend’ projects that mix computing and modelling, most notably the Mindstorm series and also applications like Lego digital designer, both of which encourage and nurture a strong community. Throw in the importance of independent web sites that catalogue and chronicle the product’s infinite adapability, bringing together a ‘Lego community’ of modellers and enthusiasts – see sites like Brickshelf, BrickBuildr, 62 Bricks to name just three, as well as the very YouTube-friendly Lego factory – and you have a franchise that can only grow with the internet, rather than run scared from perceived copyright infringement or abuse of their product.

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The company has also worked hard to acquire some of the major intellectual property licenses in contemporary culture: Star Wars, Toy Story, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Prince of Persia, Spongebob Squarepants (which have the unfortunate side effect of making Lego’s own in-house themes rather pallid, generic and imitative in comparison). Most importantly, many of these licenses have resulted in cross-platform video games, all of which serve to (literally) animate static objects. Wikipedia’s list of Lego video games dates back to 1997, with the release of LEGO Island (all caps is Lego house style, but looks universally horrid on the page), the introduction to which can be seen here and gameplay here. Only in the past three or four years has PC and console processing power advanced to the point where a solid, unyielding plastic object can be convincingly rendered and animated, without losing its essential ‘Lego-ness’.

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Finally, there’s Lego Universe, the company’s first massive multiplayer online game. This takes the premise of Second Life and its ilk and fixes the most broken elements – namely that their graphic shortcomings make for an unsatisfactory immersive experience. Instead, you have pixel perfect virtual representations of real physical objects, with animation serving to enhance, not degrade, our emotional response to them. Animating minifigs is a stroke of genius; not only does it humanise the product, it also opens up a constantly expanding realm of user-created content, be it CGI or stop motion.

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Lego’s success in the digital world could ultimately eclipse its physical origins. Despite the literal billions of precisely engineered plastic bricks in the world, a generation could be emerging that knows Lego only through its digital properties. This will horrify the purists, no doubt. But it’s hard to find another toy manufacturer achieving this kind of cross-over success.

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Other things. Legos, a tumblr / Shane Lavalette’s Journal, a designer’s weblog / Scouting NY revisits the Abandoned Palace on Beekman Street, with some new images / This belongs in a museum, a tumblr / Bernie Madoff’s Shoes, on the auction of personal effects / at the end of the day / Rare Digital Watches, nostalgia central / that site isn’t too dissimilar to Casio’s current site, which is badly in need of an overhaul.

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Sending Your Holiday Newsletter Just Got Easier. No-one tell Simon Hoggart. Open Buildings, a ‘crowdsourced architectural database’ / Projects by Peter Garfield. We especially like ‘Objects with Potential‘ / The Lost Generation, the origins of post-rock / Vinyl Engine, record player culture / home (away from home), a photo series.

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One Response to Another brick in the wall

  1. Pingback: Nice photos available on Flickr - Urban Expression And Depression

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