What Happened to Plain Old Lego Bricks?

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When I was a kid, my brother and I built all kinds of things out of Legos -- spacecraft, buildings, pseudo-Voltrons, abstract art pieces, and so on. We kept all our bricks in a gigantic denim bag that so heavy it was hard for a four-year-old Higgins to carry. But even the bag itself was well-designed: when you opened the bag, it actually laid out as a flat circle on the floor, allowing easy access to a fantastic Lego collection heaped within.

As kids, my brother and I only had one or two "themed" Lego packs -- one was a set of "moonscape" plates that you could presumably build a moon station on, and another had something to do with knights and castles. But in general, we just had a metric butt-load of bricks, no Indiana Jones, no Star Wars, no custom "only fits in one place" bricks from those sets that kids get nowadays.

So what happened to good old generic, non-themed Lego bricks? The New York Times says: Turning to Tie-Ins, Lego Thinks Beyond the Brick. From the article (emphasis added):

Even as other toymakers struggle, this Danish maker of toy bricks is enjoying double-digit sales gains and swelling earnings. In recent years, Lego has increasingly focused on toys that many parents wouldn't recognize from their own childhood. Hollywood themes are commanding more shelf space, a far cry from the idealistic, purely imagination-oriented play that drove Lego for years and was as much a religion as a business strategy in Billund. ...

In the United States, Lego's biggest market and the biggest toy market in the world, games with themes like "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" were among the reasons Lego sales jumped 32 percent last year, well above the global pace. But experts like Dr. Jonathan Sinowitz, a New York psychologist who also runs a psychological services company, Diagnostics, wonders at what price these sales come.

"What Lego loses is what makes it so special," he says. "When you have a less structured, less themed set, kids have the ability to start from scratch. When you have kids playing out Indiana Jones, they're playing out Hollywood's imagination, not their own."

What Do You Think?

Do your kids play with Legos (or do you still play with them yourself)? How do you feel about the themed kits overpowering the general-purpose brick sets? I'd be particularly curious if anyone out there knows of good sources for buying just the regular bricks, as indeed they can be hard to find in some toy stores. (Note: if you search on Amazon for "lego bricks" there are some good options there, particularly the "Basic Bricks" set.) Leave your thoughts in the comments!

See Also...

The Early History of Lego, The Lego Lifestyle Home, and Stop the Lego Mania!

(Story via Kottke.org; photo "United Colors of Legotton" by Flickr user Guillermo, used under Creative Commons license.)

September 11, 2009 - 11:17am
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