More Than A Toy: Lego Enthusiasts Have Built A Community
It's almost impossible to think of a toy that's more ubiquitous than Lego bricks. The popular interlocking building blocks are everywhere — from the big screen to kids' rooms around the country.
So it may be hard to believe that in 2003, the Lego Group almost went bankrupt.
The company's near fall and meteoric rise is chronicled in the new film A LEGO Brickumentary.
Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge, who co-directed the documentary, tell NPR's Arun Rath that the problem was that the Lego Group drifted away from the creative community that had grown up around their product.
"They lost track of why this toy is so great," Davidson tells Rath. "That there's infinite possibilities with just building with Lego bricks."
To hear their full conversation, which touched on gender balance in the Lego fandom and what separates Lego from other construction toys, click the audio link above.
On how hackers, reprogramming Lego's Mindstorms robot kits, helped get Lego back on track
Kief Davidson: One big factor in their resurgence was the fact that they opened the doors to the hackers. The hackers came in and made that product better. ... They made a very conscious decision at a certain part: "We could keep this closed as a company or we could open it up." And as soon as it was opened up, you know, they realize and they say in the film, "Look, 99 percent of the people out there are smarter than us," you know, so they took that knowledge that's out there and they embraced it, and that was I think the big turning point for Lego as a company.
On AFOLs — adult fans of Lego
Daniel Junge: It's a huge community and it's maybe a little bit geeky at its core but it really embraces all aspects of our culture ... We interview famous AFOLs ... in the film including, you know, NBA player Dwight Howard, pop musician Ed Sheeran — these are adults that are playing with this so called toy but we're also seeing people use it in ways which are far different from whatever Lego probably expected. It's being used as a tool in the film. It's being used for therapy. It's being used for engineering and city planning. It really makes you question whether at its core it's a toy or something greater.
On Lego conventions
Davidson: They're all over the country. We focused mainly on 3: BrickCon, Brickworld and BrickFair, and that was really the first glimpse for us as to just how enormous these conventions are in the fan base and just how many AFOLs there are — the adult fans of Lego.
I always looked at Lego as being something you just sort of played with on your own as a kid, but here's a huge group of adults that would actually build remotely together, someone, you know, in Tennessee would build one part, where someone else in South Carolina may build another part, come together at these conventions and show their stuff together. There's a really sort of collaborative, wonderful thing going on at the conventions that was surprising to see.
On using Legos as part of therapy for autistic children
Davidson: It was definitely one of the most unexpected things for both of us. ... With this boy, it was a tool that really helped him ... focus and focus was ... his biggest problem, but he sat down with a Lego kit — a Star Wars X-Wing fighter — and he would uninterrupted just build this thing.
Junge: And we found a doctor — Dr. Dan LeGoff, yes that is his name — who's using this formally as a therapeutic tool and he's actually been printed in scientific publications doing so, so that was greatly surprising to both of us.
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