Get almost any group of adults – certainly those with children – onto the subject of LEGO and you can pretty much guarantee a few topics will come up. It’s quite expensive. It hurts when you tread on it in bare feet. It’s really quite clever what they can do with it these days. And the oldest chestnut of all: With all these specialist sets and pieces, all children (and adults) do is build the model on the box.
A set of instructions is a comfort. A safety net. It’s knowing that if you can follow a number of simple, or not so simple, steps, then you’re going to end up with an exact replica of the picture. No pieces left over, no parts that don’t quite look right. But those parents have a point. When you’re given a clear path to follow, it lessens the urge to explore. To head off the beaten track.
When LEGO CITY Missions was announced, with no manual, but a set of guidelines and suggestions gleaned from a tablet or phone, there was the expected muttering among certain sections of the fan community: ‘Don’t children spend too much time looking at screens already?’ And that is a valid point. But as the concept has percolated through our grey matter, we’re starting to think that this might be just what the LEGO Group needed to do to counteract those criticisms.
There’s a saying in the IT community: “Tell a programmer what needs to be done. Don’t tell them how to do it.” And that’s the approach that the new Missions sets take. After building a spaceship, the child is asked “Now can you make the wings stronger?” It doesn’t tell them how to do it – that’s entirely down to them, so two children might come up with equally valid, but radically different ideas.
After years of slavishly following instructions to the letter, might this remove the safety net and encourage those of us who like things just-so, to take a few chances and indulge our creativity?