Why I Break Open the Box
Being a collector of any kind can be a fickle hobby. We yearn for the exclusive, the rare, the valuable. Often we are driven forward by a quest to quench our never-ending thirst to build up our stockpile. Whether we are propelled by nostalgic emotions, financial opportunities, completionist tendencies, or cultural obsessions, the desire to continue rarely dwindles.
While many items, from action figures to art, are subject to cultural trends and the volatility of supply versus demand, LEGO is a unique class. Unlike other collectibles, LEGO sets have been being built since the 1950’s, and boxes continue to stack in toy stores and collectors’ homes at a regular rate. Additionally, while some sets are occasionally re-released, the fleeting nature of each numbered creation has given rise to an asset that has been shown to rival gold.
While we cannot doubt the clear financial benefits to saving any collectible in the ever-desired “new in box” condition, keeping toys “mint” does still come at a cost: joy.
Let’s take a step back. After all, this article is not about the intricacies or generalities of collecting in general, but instead is targeting a very specific passion: those who love the interlocking block. Unlike action figures, LEGO sets stands as an interesting subset of collectibles because there is a uniquely intrinsic joy that comes the first time you build it.
This isn’t to discount the “buy-it-twice” school of thought which can also be found in comics: buy one copy to read and another for the archives, but that approach is exponentially more expensive in the realm of LEGO sets.
Ultimately, this brings into focus the meaning of “play.” Are LEGO sets even meant to be collected? I’d argue that the focus on the scarcity of sets and pieces has artificially created an environment for collecting that pulls apart the essence of building. For me, the delight comes from bringing an idea to life. I worry that this simple and fulfilling joy is at risk of being lost as LEGO move towards a model that seems more like Apple’s annual upgrade cycle and less akin to participatory creative opportunities.
I’m not discounting collecting as a hobby nor judging those who keep their sets pristine and in the box, but instead conveying a general concern that we may be losing an important part of what made LEGO building fun. I have previously written about the value of the creations we can bring to life as well as the sometimes calming cathartic nature of building itself.
I am advocating that the entrenched means of block fabrication and distribution have constructed an artificial limitation to our ability to play. I also believe that scarcity is serving as an unnecessary motivator that creates an inherent tension as to whether we should allow ourselves to play. This conflict stems from the very act of opening a box: allowing ourselves to enjoy a set simultaneously devalues the set’s inflated market price.
Essentially, every time an enthusiast buys a set, he or she must weigh the value of the joy they’d get out of construction against the potential financial upside of depriving themselves of that opportunity. The fact that this decision is foisted upon us is unnecessary and unfair.
Again, I want to reiterate that I am not anti-collector (my current obsession is with Glyos figures) or even anti-LEGO-collector (I have many sets still in boxes myself), but instead struggle myself with the above philosophical conundrum.
What attracted me to brickly was the chance to be a part in the shift of power dynamics within the AFOL world. I strongly believe that the bricks themselves should be a commodity, and it is the ideas that contain the true value. My hope is that the brick community moves to a place where:
We collect unique works crafted by brick artists where the price is warranted and the scarcity justified.
We enjoy the opportunity to build widely available designs because it is about having access to the plans and not the parts.
While the above would fundamentally change the hobby and the business behind LEGO collecting and construction, I think it is a necessary step in the evolution of the interlocking brick.