Image of “BrickArms Bandit — Mr. Black” via BrickArms
Last week CNN reported on a study by interaction expert Christoph Bartneck demonstrating that LEGO figures are getting angrier. In his examination of LEGO miniatures, the New Zealand-based Bartneck found that the little people are sporting harsher facial expressions and more tiny guns than ever before.
I was entirely prepared to pitch in and write a short (but thoughtful) post implying that the increased aggressiveness of the LEGO figures might mirror some sort of increased glorification of aggressiveness in the culture. But then I checked out Bartneck’s blog, specifically this post in which he responds to last week’s media firestorm around his research.
Surely there is a relationship between the artifacts and ourselves. We shape the tools and toys and they shape us. But it is a complex relationship in which causalities are difficult to establish. Our little LEGO study was never intended to give an answer to this question and it certainly cannot even give a hint. We have only been able to scientifically establish that there are now proportionally less happy faces and more angry faces. But this is the main question that has been asked by the reporters. I feel sorry to have to disappoint the reporters and readers. I am not able to give you any scientific proof that LEGO is good or bad for your children.
There seems to be another narrative embedded here. One in which the tools we use for play as children end up profoundly shaping our lives as adults. It’s the same sort of question involved in asking whether your kid should be able to play violent video games or use an adult’s iPad. It’s a question I think I’ve also been circling with posts about Keystone’s children’s rifles the V&A’s exhibition on war toys.
Obviously our objects and built environments inform how we think. But do angry LEGOs make angry children?