You may make it, though LEGO most definitely won't
December 11, 2017 12:47 AM   Subscribe

Why Lego won’t ever make military-related toys. "While you’ll see a lot of spaceships and weaponry like swords or tiny 18th-century muskets, you’ll (sic) definitely won’t ever see military-related Lego toys. Plastic toy soldiers have never gone out of fashion among grade-schoolers, yet adhering to a strict internal policy Lego chose to forfeit some pretty good profits because it doesn’t think war should be seen as child’s play."

This helps to explain why we might get the aerobatic display version of the RAF Hawk before long, but not the Eurofighter Typhoon. However, even though the prohibition may appear black and white on paper, for some it's a decidedly grey (or at least discoloured white) area, and confusing too.

Bonus

- Lego refuses to make political sets [sorry POTUS45 content warning] but still manages to be political.

- Lego refuses to make a set due to "mature themes". How about a set based on a sci-fi spoof show? Nope.

- SHOCK! Lego refuses to make all the IDEAS finalist sets. And refuses to say why.

- You can actually get the X-files minifigures now, but not from LEGO.
posted by Juso No Thankyou (52 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
War is inherently a failure to "play well".
posted by loquacious at 1:26 AM on December 11, 2017 [26 favorites]


Considering they leave Brickarms alone, I think that's a fair trade-off. They're leaving the money on the table, but aren't too fussed if anyone picks it up.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:18 AM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


I respect this policy but the fact they have done many themes revolving around fighting and battles including, but not limited to:
The Old West (soldiers, rifles, cannons), pirates (soldiers, swords, muskets, cannons), castle (soldiers, swords and other melee weapons, bows & arrows, siege weapons), futuristic castle (future-soldiers, future swords and other future melee weapons), Star Wars (military figures, laser swords, guns, artillery, many many space-military vehicles), ninjas (swords, other melee weapons, more weapon-equipped vehicles), Lord of the Rings (swords etc again)...
shows up the "no war toys" policy as extremely limited in scope. And they've made a couple of World War I era fighter planes too.

And don't get me wrong, I love Lego, and have owned a bunch of the above (as a kid and adult), but come on. And I'm not saying that they should release modern military sets, either, because I do think that stuff is particularly inappropriate for the age ranges that play with Lego (I'm looking at you, Call Of Duty Megablocks).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:30 AM on December 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


I appreciate the sentiment expressed in the article but as a parent of a LEGO-obsessed kid I think the distinction they are making is a bit fine. To a 7-year-old, what’s the difference between an F-16 and an X-wing? They are both fantasy vehicles unless you go to an air show. The X-wing LEGO kit has numerous shooting and bombing facilities.. it’s a military vehicle. The difference between a minfig “blaster” and a hypothetical minifig AR-15 or uzi or whatever is so small as to be negligible.

I guess it strikes me as a bit hypocritical to paint this as an ethical decision when they are still producing a huge fraction of their kits including guns, bombs, and the people and vehicles to deliver them.
posted by bgribble at 3:45 AM on December 11, 2017 [18 favorites]


It makes sense to me. A kid who plays Lord of the Rings or pirates isn’t told he or she can grow up to be that (their parents might encourage them to be an actor or write stories, though.) A family might tie that in to “freedom fighting” or something but that would be a stretch. A kid who plays with war toys that actually are achievable, like realistic guns and soldiers, is likely to hear about being in the military, valorizing combat, etc. and to hear that they could grow up to do that. I don’t like war toys either but fantasy war is at least all the drama, none of the realism.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:32 AM on December 11, 2017 [28 favorites]


The closest they've come.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:39 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think this is a good policy though, of course, I've got tons of lego-compatible minifigs that are war toys. I've got WWII infantry (US, Commonwealth, Wehrmacht and Red Army). I even have a lego (compatible) Hitler - I'm sorry to all but it was so awful I had to buy it (in a Sunday market in Kota Kinabalu).
posted by pompomtom at 4:43 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


(Oh, and lots of US Special Forces not-lego)
posted by pompomtom at 4:46 AM on December 11, 2017


To a 7-year-old, what’s the difference between an F-16 and an X-wing?
Probably not even as fine as the difference between a rifle and the handheld blaster that my kids opened up last week. I'm sure gun aficionados could point at a hundred features which distinguish it from all the miniature LEGO-compatible replicas of real modern+historical weapons, but it sure just looks like a gun to me.
posted by roystgnr at 4:47 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


(for brikwars, obviously)

Yes, I'm the problem.
posted by pompomtom at 4:49 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


To a 7-year-old, what’s the difference between an F-16 and an X-wing

There are no extant 7 year olds who have had their parents killed by an X-wing.
posted by pompomtom at 5:02 AM on December 11, 2017 [76 favorites]


All the adult Lego enthusiasts I've met are obsessed with making hyper-accurate military models (including battleships, tanks, and minifigs carrying realistic modern guns). I'm quite glad Lego hasn't embraced this subculture.

I still don't understand how Lego shifted from "here are a bunch of bricks that are fun to play with," to "here's this expensive model building set and you must follow the instructions exactly to build the thing precisely as we say."
posted by miyabo at 5:36 AM on December 11, 2017 [8 favorites]


There are no extant 7 year olds who have had their parents killed by an X-wing.

What about Batman?
posted by thelonius at 5:55 AM on December 11, 2017


I still don't understand how Lego shifted from "here are a bunch of bricks that are fun to play with," to "here's this expensive model building set and you must follow the instructions exactly to build the thing precisely as we say."

They didn't, the shifted from "here are a bunch of bricks that are fun to play with," to "here are a bunch of bricks that are fun to play with or alternatively if you like making very detailed models here's this expensive model building set and you must follow the instructions exactly to build the thing precisely as we say, if you want, or you can just ignore the instructions."
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:55 AM on December 11, 2017 [20 favorites]


The only adult lego enthusiast I know is all about the monuments. She loves her London Bridge and Parliament House, and is getting a bit annoyed that the size of her flat requires some deconstruction before the next thing can be built, or re-built (it's not her first flat).

how Lego shifted from...

I don't think it did. It's still up to you, no? Also, since anyone can make the blocks now, the "here's some blocks, do whatever" is even better.
posted by pompomtom at 6:00 AM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


The kits are a good jumping-off point for kids who might otherwise be overwhelmed with a couple hundred parts in a box. A kit shows them exactly how to build the very cool spaceship they saw in their favorite movie -- satisfaction guaranteed if that's all they want -- but it leaves them plenty of room to diverge from the instructions.

Over and over, I've seen my kid start by building the basic kit and then make up his own stuff from there. He has never just built according to the plans and left the finished thing on the shelf like a scale model.
posted by pracowity at 6:14 AM on December 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


I still don't understand how Lego shifted from "here are a bunch of bricks that are fun to play with," to "here's this expensive model building set and you must follow the instructions exactly to build the thing precisely as we say."

It was right after that Shazaam movie with Sinbad came out.
posted by bondcliff at 6:26 AM on December 11, 2017 [11 favorites]


You can still buy boxes of basic bricks. They're still on the shelves right next to all the other stuff.

There is also the Creator line of sets if you want something that's not a specific theme or license like Ninjago or Star Wars.

It's weird how in every Lego discussion on the internet people don't seem to know this. It's always the direct leap to conclusion of "Lego was better when I was a kid and it wasn't all this special stuff." Lego still makes the classic stuff, there's just more of everything now.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:27 AM on December 11, 2017 [21 favorites]


I like how the basic brick sets now come in way more colors.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:30 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


The life cycle of things in our house with branded lego sets has been:

1. Frantically put the damn thing together per instructions while and impatient 6 year old bounces around you, handing you incorrect pieces to help.
2. It gets several weeks of play as The Thing it was supposed to be.
3. After a few weeks or days, all bets are off and chaos rules supreme with jets and space ships and submarines that can ALSO go into volcanoes and this guy is the leader of these guys and they're all trying to stop the volcano and now the ninjago guys are helping with the volcano and now can you make a cat hey lets make all these guys start surfing and lets do stop animation of batman driving his car around with everyone doing a dance party around the batmobile, which can totally be red and white, because batman doesn't care about that kind of thing and lets make a bridge.

Kids are playing with legos correctly. Don't worry. It's still as crazy and chaotic and awesome as it ever was. I would actually say that the explosion of specific minifigs has increased some of the specific stories that kids can tell.

The only bad thing about legos is the widespread use of what used to be 'tehcnics' pieces when I was a kid. It adds a frustrating dimension of precision needed to make some things work correctly.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:39 AM on December 11, 2017 [22 favorites]


Kids are playing with legos correctly. Don't worry. It's still as crazy and chaotic and awesome as it ever was.

QFT
posted by chavenet at 6:44 AM on December 11, 2017


Any time I got a new Lego set, the first thing I did was to follow the instructions and make the model that was on the box. I'd play with that for a while and maybe make some modifications. Then that whole set gets broken down into individual pieces again and added to the giant rubbermaid plastic bin with all the others so that I can build whatever the hell I want.

The cool new set is cool and new but the part I was always most excited for was combining any new and unique pieces from my new set with all the Lego I already had to build something myself.

The instruction booklets were all dutifully saved and occasionally I'd decide to rebuild one of those past sets which usually meant breaking up some goofy spaceship or something I'd made.
posted by VTX at 6:48 AM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


What I find really funny about the "Lego used to be just bricks, not models and kids don't play with them correctly anymore!" thing is that you can find all the old set and catalog information on-line and a quick look will show you that a) there have always been models b) there have always been some manner of specialized pieces and c) you can still get sets that are just basic bricks.

Licensed sets are new, of course, and there certainly are a lot more specialized pieces now, but another quick glance at what people are building will show you that all those special pieces are being used in all sorts of creative ways.

Your "Lego was just bricks when I was a kid" memory is false, unless maybe you were around when Ol' Kirk was making them out of wood.
posted by bondcliff at 6:49 AM on December 11, 2017 [8 favorites]


I don't have children but I do have two nephews, one of whom has really taken to war-themed toys, as I did at his age. I had a set of plastic army men with tanks and artillery, tons of Star Wars toys (my brother was more of a G.I. Joe kid and I'd play with those, too) and when I would play with Lego I would often build spaceships with guns, etc., etc,. etc.. It's hard to remember what, exactly, I thought war was, but I definitely regarded it as an exciting adventure full of unambiguous Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, derring-do, last-second heroics and that sort of thing. The turning point for me was when I got old enough to sign books about the first and second world wars out of the school library, books that included photographs of dead soldiers and civilians (and in the case of WWII, sections about the Holocaust) and realized that it wasn't fun the way, say, the G.I. Joe cartoon made war seem fun and exciting.

Anyway, my nephew just turned eight so of course he's still very young, but my wife and I have noticed that he definitely seems somewhat caught up in the same sort of thinking. Last weekend we took him to his local library and he signed a few books out, one of which was about Canada's role in Vimy Ridge. It was a decent book in terms of spelling out the human cost of war in kid-friendly terms, but it also was pretty heavy on the "THAT'S THE DAY CANADA TRULY BECAME A NATION"-style propaganda. So we sat and read the book with him and tried to impress upon him that war's a Bad Thing and he should hope he never has to fight in one, and he nodded his head and said he understood, but it's sobering to see how quickly children can internalize the bad lessons of previous generations.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:58 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm really really glad that Lego hasn't picked up DoD money for making sets based on current gen military tech. This is good.
posted by odinsdream at 6:59 AM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


I once wrote a letter to Lego because I wanted them to make a dragon (as I had castle, robin hood and pirates).

My son now plays with some of my sets, but he's also terribly excited about Minecraft, Ninjago, police, etc Legos. (He doesn't care if his themes mix.) The movie/theme tie-ins I'm sure make them enough money to stay afloat, which I'm okay with.

The Lego movie reinforced the play message (Mr Business wants to keep everything perfect) vs following the directions. If you're ever dug through all your Legos to try to rebuild a set from many years ago, it's a lot of work, but also satisfying to have the option to do either.

Lego totally could at this point make a very educational movie and historically accurate movie about say, going to the moon, and upteem kids would now watch it. We'll see where they go with it.
posted by typecloud at 7:00 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I was someone who worried that the sets would impact my kids' creativity but as others have noted, the sets have been great for giving them ideas of how bricks go together and in following instructions, and then the sets all get taken apart and merged and rebuilt in very creative ways.

Along the lines of the article though, my concern with LEGO is their militaristic / conservative view of police & criminals. My kids have several sets but I cringe at the look of criminals in stripes. I don't have any suggestions for how LEGO could make a set for a progressive, nuanced criminal justice system but the existing sets and accompanying videos are not so great. I guess they have to draw their line somewhere at what they will and won't portray but the target kid group for LEGO is more likely (at this time) to see/learn about interactions with police and I feel it perpetuates stereotypes. I find it especially strange as Denmark's prison system seems to be quite progressive (not being an expert there, please point out if I'm wrong about that).
posted by biggreenplant at 7:01 AM on December 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


My kid, on the other hand, loves to treat them as model-building sets and leave them on the shelf and gets upset if I mess with them. The message of the Lego Movie (chaotic creation is good!) was I guess entirely lost on him. He seems pretty happy otherwise though. Takes all kinds.
posted by emjaybee at 7:23 AM on December 11, 2017


I'm not quite sure how this discussion has gotten this far without mentioning the LEGO Concentration Camp set (CW: Holocaust and Lego depictions thereof). LEGO was not happy about the artwork, to say the least. (previously)
posted by Ampersand692 at 7:48 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


I do wonder about the fine line between Star Wars and real wars Lego, but I think it is a line worth keeping. That SHIELD helicarrier set, while gorgeous, is getting really close to the line.

Have y'all seen the Ship In A Bottle set that got selected on Ideas? That's definitely going on my desk at work, that set is gorgeous.
posted by BeeDo at 7:49 AM on December 11, 2017


I'm reminded of the Saki story, "The Toys of Peace".
posted by doctornemo at 7:50 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I still don't understand how Lego shifted from "here are a bunch of bricks that are fun to play with," to "here's this expensive model building set and you must follow the instructions exactly to build the thing precisely as we say."

Whoops, comment number 12.
posted by one for the books at 7:53 AM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


I do wonder about the fine line between Star Wars and real wars Lego, but I think it is a line worth keeping.

Agreed. There's a world of difference between "pew pew" and "blam blam". It might be all in my head, or gut, but there's something much creepier about fetishizing real-world military technology.
posted by condour75 at 7:55 AM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


Lego clearly embraces the prison industrial complex... but the minifigs can escape!
posted by cosmologinaut at 7:56 AM on December 11, 2017


Yeah we have the Lego prison island and it's riddled with apparently designed-in escape routes. Not sure if that counts as a "progressive" justice system.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:10 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


To a 7-year-old, what’s the difference between an F-16 and an X-wing

There are no extant 7 year olds who have had their parents killed by an X-wing.


Also, the one eighteen year old has fond memories of pretending to be a space wizard like in that movie, the other one has fond memories of pretending to bomb the shit out of Iraq like in those news clips.
posted by solotoro at 8:43 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


miyabo: "I still don't understand how Lego shifted from "here are a bunch of bricks that are fun to play with," to "here's this expensive model building set and you must follow the instructions exactly to build the thing precisely as we say.""

1964. That's when they started including instructions. I've said it before, I'll say it again: There always have been and always will be boxes of plain bricks, and grown-ups who played with Legos as a kid born on or after 1964 have always had instructions for some of the sets. That, and the per-brick cost is lower now than it was in the mid-80s. So "expensive" is relative - they make quality bricks, that last forever, which is why there is such a strong resale market. A good chunk of my kid's Lego are used bricks I bought online, plus a few sets and random bits I had from when I was a kid.

On topic though. Lego DO (technically) make military sets. Coast Guard is military. Sure, the focus is on law enforcement rather than combat, but it's a uniformed service.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:44 AM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


The focus is on saving minifigs from shark and octopus attacks!
posted by Molesome at 9:09 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Coast Guard is military.

Not necessarily. This really depends on the country.
posted by erdferkel at 9:21 AM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


There are no extant 7 year olds who have had their parents killed by an X-wing.

What about Batman?


They were killed by a wingnut.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:44 AM on December 11, 2017


All the adult Lego enthusiasts I've met are obsessed with making hyper-accurate military models (including battleships, tanks, and minifigs carrying realistic modern guns).

I'm not.

I'm quite glad Lego hasn't embraced this subculture.

I am, too.
posted by nickmark at 10:48 AM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Coast Guard is military. Sure, the focus is on law enforcement rather than combat, but it's a uniformed service.

As already mentioned, in a lot of countries (UK for one) the "coast guard" is purely a search & rescue organisation. I'm also curious to know why you think any of the Lego coast guard sets are related to "law enforcement" - they are literally all "a rescue vehicle" and "someone in need of rescuing". Unless sharks are illegal somehow.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:59 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


The Lego Sopwith Camel seems to go against the no-military grain a bit; it certainly has a pair of plastic Vickers mounted up front. I guess in the wider culture WWI bipes are thought of as funny, primitive, putt-putt machines, but you might imagine differently if one of those 100-knot nightmares was firing 1000 rounds-per-minute into your trench.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 12:26 PM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm still mad they put those flick-fire blaster pieces on the Adam West Batmobile and Rey's speeder.
posted by ckape at 12:37 PM on December 11, 2017


Lego DO (technically) make military sets. Coast Guard is military.

Not necessarily. This really depends on the country.


Perhaps the most frustrating thing about being a US Coast Guard veteran is having to explain to people that yes, it is the real military. With the same oath and ranks and everything.

I thought the confusion was a matter of the Coast Guard falling under the Dept. of Treasury for so long, and now under Homeland Security. But now I know better. Now I know where the confusion began.

Now I know I should blame Lego.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:00 PM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, man, the Coast Guard is just a kick-ass place to go SCUBA diving and drive around in cool hover boats.
posted by bondcliff at 1:02 PM on December 11, 2017


All the adult Lego enthusiasts I've met are obsessed with making hyper-accurate military models (including battleships, tanks, and minifigs carrying realistic modern guns). I'm quite glad Lego hasn't embraced this subculture.

You have not met enough AFOLs! Our local LUG does elaborate train-and-building displays; some people are obsessed with Great Ball Contraptions, or with recreating The Shire, or with robot sumo wrestling. A big Lego convention like Brickworld, which takes place in Chicago every year, is a real smorgasbord of all the many things people do with Lego.

I do think the Lego company is making a rather fine distinction, what with allowing fantasy and historical weapons. But it's not a bad distinction, and it's their choice.
posted by Orlop at 3:56 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


SHOCK! Lego refuses to make all the IDEAS finalist sets. And refuses to say why.

• this happened in 2015
• most of the sets in that round were either IP licensing nightmares or had so many pieces that they couldn't be marketed effectively (lego produces a few $300+ sets a year but they're mostly can't-fail licenses like Star Wars Ultimate Collector Series or famous buildings that attract the architectural adult fan crowd)
posted by murphy slaw at 8:31 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite Twitter bots is @LegoSpaceBot, tweeting out Classic and System era space minifigs.

I had many of the late 70s / early 80s sets—even then there are some specialized pieces, though nothing like one sees in modern sets. Back in the day it was totally OK to fly a spaceship with a steering wheel! (Though if memory serves, the biggest fights my brother and I had over LEGO pieces were the computer pieces as they were superior spaceship controls.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:31 PM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


Military violence, bad. Racist depictions of American Indians, sure why not.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:09 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


As an aside, those Star Wars blasters that Lego has deemed falling under the "fantasy" category are just barely-dressed-up real-life firearms. Han Solo's blaster is a Mauser C96 "Broomhandle" pistol with some bits and pieces glued on. The stormtroppers' E-11 blaster is a Sterling submachinegun with bits and pieces glued on.
posted by Harald74 at 3:26 AM on December 12, 2017


My fondest lego memories are of the short lived but entirely civilian scifi set Exploriens. It was sort of dissapointing to figure out later that pretty much all of the space sets since then have included some amount of guns or conflict. I'm pretty glad I was the right age to get the "Digging up fossils in space" set.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


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