BrickArms Controversy in Mainstream Media

It would seem that BrickArms has garnered international attention. The article “Lego-Style Islamic Terrorist Figurine Sparks Outrage” appears on Fox News and similar articles appear in a number of other sources; see Google News report for the story for more.

The gist of it is that one of the “bad guy” kits that BrickArms sells has pissed off some Islamic organizations in Britain, who’ve raised a stink about it. BrickArms calls the kit “Bandit — Mr. White” without any implication that it’s an Islamic terrorist, but the Ninja-style headwrap it comes with, combined with a substantial arsenal of weapons, does remind some peole at least of a stereotypical Islamic terrorist.

The article quotes a source at LEGO disclaiming any endorsement of BrickArms, saying “The LEGO Group is committed to developing toys which enrich childhood by encouraging imaginative and creative play — and does not endorse products that do not fit with this philosophy.” They’re implying that BrickArms are not encouraging imaginative and creative play which sounds like pretty strong words. While I’m not a fan of the BrickArms and BrickForge products personally, I would not go so far as to say they don’t encourage imaginative and creative play!

It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out. There’s a saying in Hollywood that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right” and if that’s true, BrickArms is sure to have a big boost in sales. On the other hand, I wonder if LEGO’s lawyers might decide to send them some kind of cease and desist order if enough bad publicity is sent their way…

Via Dr. Miniman on Flickr in the Flickr LEGO group.

BrickForge, BrickArms, or MegaBloks?

Lately it seems everyone is getting all excited about the latest from BrickForge and BrickArms. Every LEGO convention includes a sample of their products in the kit. They’re featured all the time on sites such as the Brothers Brick blog and LAMLradio podcasts. Frankly I just don’t get it. Yes, they make parts that are not sold by LEGO, which some people really need to complete their MOC.

But then, so does MegaBloks.

Most people in the AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) community wouldn’t be caught dead with a MegaBloks set, or even with a MegaBloks part included in their model. When you buy a big pile of random LEGO parts at a garage sale or flea market or eBay auction, there are often “clone brands” parts included, since many kids (or their parents or other well-meaning gift-giver) don’t really understand the difference. What do you do with those parts? Most AFOLs I know would either throw them away, or perhaps collect them to give to a children’s charity, but would certainly not build with them.

True, the BrickForge and BrickArms guys came from the AFOL community, unlike MegaBloks which is a big company that sells products in big toy and department stores. But I think they are clones – producing parts that compete directly with some of the parts LEGO makes. BrickForge produced a set of barnyard animals last year, and now LEGO makes cows too. Both companies produce realistic weapons, but some of the recent Star Wars and Indiana Jones sets include them too; plus you can create a lot of realistic weapons using unmodified LEGO parts, as Nannan points out with his Guns Museum. Looking only at the products, the only difference between MegaBloks and BrickForge/BrickArms is that the latter don’t make basic parts or complete sets, just accessories.

Is it just because BrickForge and BrickArms are fan-run, small companies? What if one of them got a big infusion of capital and scaled up operations to a large scale, and started appearing on the shelves of Toys ‘R’ Us?

So if people are happy to use BrickForge and BrickArms products, why not MegaBloks? People complain about MegaBloks having poor quality standards, which is true to a point, but even if they changed to a higher grade of plastic and met LEGO’s exacting standards, I still don’t think the AFOL community would flock to the MegaBloks banner – there’s more to it than just quality, something more abstract and harder to pin down.

To me, the LEGO hobby is an art form using a limited palette of parts to achieve a desired goal. Once you open up that palette to parts from other sources, it’s a different art form. Using parts from other companies lets you get around the limitations of the medium, which in my opinion changes its essence entirely. And it doesn’t matter if those other companies are a multinational company or a guy in his garage; it’s still not LEGO.

What do you think?