Column: It’s time to do away with the LEGO term ‘AFOL’

LEGO is a hobby that is open to all, so why is it that the fanbase is so hung up on creating tribes within the wider community?

Consider 10696 Medium Creative Brick Box. It’s pretty much LEGO in its purest form. A bright yellow box, filled with basic elements. A doorway piece is about as exotic as it gets. And if we look at the label, the suggested age range is 4 to 99. That’s about as inclusive as it’s possible to be. Under the age of four and there’s a good chance that you’ll try to eat the bricks instead of building with them. Over 99… heck if you’re over 99 and you still feel like building with LEGO, then more power to you!

10696 Medium Creative Brick Box Classic

But I can guarantee that if I were to walk into a department store and buy said box of bricks, someone would ask “Is it a present?” or say “Your kids will enjoy that.” The perception being that if I’m buying a LEGO set it can’t possibly be for me. Because it’s a toy, I am a man in my 50s and society has a view on that.

Now if we look at another hobby that is ostensibly toy-based – model trains – it’s viewed completely differently. Around Christmas, somebody like James May (okay, it’s always James May) will pop up on our TV screens and take us on a nostalgia-fuelled trip down memory lane with a ‘Toys from our past’ type thing. And without fail, somewhere in there will be a segment on model trains. 

It’s a safe bet that there will be a visit to music producer Pete Waterman’s epic railway layout, at which point the two middle-aged chaps will wax lyrical about gauges, tenders and the difficulty of representing gravel at OO scale. But at no point will the question be asked: “Why are you, a grown man, playing with a child’s toy?”

The LEGO Group welcomes all ages, as demonstrated by the big yellow box we’ve already seen. In the last few years it’s actively courted the adult market with some huge sets (with equally vast price tags) and the phenomenally successful Ideas theme. But despite that invitation, many of those in the community who won’t see their teens again feel the need to somehow justify their participation. “It’s okay for me to buy this set,” they say, “because I’m an AFOL.”

Cast your mind back to the original LEGO Movie. Remember this?

The Man Upstairs: You know the rules, this isn’t a toy!
Finn: Um… it kind of is.
The Man Upstairs: No, actually it’s a highly sophisticated interlocking brick system.
Finn: But we bought it at the toy store.
The Man Upstairs: We did, but the way I’m using it makes it an adult thing.
Finn: The box for this one said “Ages 8 to 14”!
The Man Upstairs: That’s a suggestion. They have to put that on there.

If it’s a toy, I shouldn’t be using it, because I’m an adult. But a highly sophisticated interlocking brick system? I can justify that to my non-LEGO friends.

And another thing. Fan? Adult Fan of LEGO. A fan suggests distance; a remoteness. Fans admire something from afar. A sports fan isn’t on the team, they sit and watch the team. A LEGO fan sounds less like someone actively involved in the hobby and more like someone who hangs around… looking. It’s a bit odd.

All of which leads to the question: if not AFOL, then what? Well, personally I’d just like to do away with the term altogether. All of the terms in fact. Adult Fan of LEGO, Teenage Fan of LEGO, Kid Fan of LEGO, Adult Female Fan of LEGO. If I said to you, “Steve is a fan of model trains” or “Jenny collects Pokémon toys,” you’d have no idea how old they were, but in the LEGO world there seems to be this compulsion to establish your age.

I suspect I’m fighting a losing battle here. LEGO is a hobby that loves its acronyms. BURP, STAMP, SNOT, MOC and LUG will be familiar to most. SHIP (Seriously Huge Investment in Parts) is a particular favourite. And so I doubt whether AFOL is ever going to die out. Many people probably like the fact that they have an identity that means something to those ‘in the know’.

But look at it this way. There are 8 billion people on this planet. You could take, say, six people from anywhere – any race, gender or background. They could be young or old. They could have no common language between them. But put them round a table with a pile of LEGO bricks and I guarantee that within a few minutes they’d all be clicking bricks together.

11021 Green and Blue Bricks

I cannot think of another hobby that crosses so many boundaries and is so inclusive as ours. If ever there was a pastime that doesn’t need a label for its participants, it’s LEGO. Which is why I find it so frustrating that wider society views it as slightly odd if anyone over the age of about 14 collects, uses or plays with LEGO bricks. And why I find it equally frustrating that people inside the LEGO world perpetuate the issue by wishing to label older participants as AFOLs.

We’re all people and we all collect LEGO. Can’t we just leave it at that?

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3 thoughts on “Column: It’s time to do away with the LEGO term ‘AFOL’

  • 28/11/2022 at 07:48

    What a waste of time reading about all those imagined problems.

  • 28/11/2022 at 07:09

    Good points and will written. On the boxes of jigsaw puzzles there’s also an age rating like 9-99 and nobody bats an eye when a 50 year old buys a jigsaw puzzle in the toy store, or gets asked if it’s a present for a child. In a way building an intricate Lego set is like building a 3D jigsaw puzzle.


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