The study we performed on the emotional expressivity of LEGO Minifigures is currently receiving an enormous attention in the media. Much more than the LEGO Minfigure Catalogs that I am publishing as books. I am being bombarded with requests for interviews and statements. The Norwegian news paper “Morgenbladet” even asked me to confirm that this is not an action from the infamous “Yes Men” or any other artist group alike. I share their disbelief how such a little study could cause such a ripple in the global media landscape. I do not think that it deserves that much attention. Why then has it sparked such an intense consideration?
The study showed, amongst other things, that the number of unique LEGO Minifigure faces has increased dramatically over the years and that the proportion of happy faces is declining. Anger is the second most frequent expression. As my wife put it to me yesterday: “So what, there are some angry faces!”. I agree, there is nothing wrong with having a variety of faces, including faces that are angry, sad, fearful and surprised. They reflect our normal repertoire of facial expressions.
When reflecting on the type of questions reporters asked me I gathered that there is another phenomena that, mixed with the results of our study, does concern many people. Have the LEGO toys become more aggressive and violent in general? This is not a question of the faces on the Minfigures, but on the sets and the phantasy worlds in which they are embedded. Have a look at set 44001 Pyrox (see Figure 1). This certainly looks like a violent demon, if not the devil himself. The question comes up again and again as to whether such toys have a negative effect on our children.
Figure 1: Set 44001 Pyrox
We do already have a big debate about violent computer games and to my knowledge there is no scientific consent as to what effect it may or may not have on children and young adults. The Mega Blocks company even sells LEGO compatible sets that are based on the violent computer game called Halo.
Surely there is a relationship between the artifacts and ourselves. We shape the tools and toys and they shape us. But it is a complex relationship in which causalities are difficult to establish. Our little LEGO study was never intended to give an answer to this question and it certainly cannot even give a hint. We have only been able to scientifically establish that there are now proportionally less happy faces and more angry faces. But this is the main question that has been asked by the reporters. I feel sorry to have to disappoint the reporters and readers. I am not able to give you any scientific proof that LEGO is good or bad for your children.
But I can give you my non-scientific, personal view. I believe the LEGO company has some great toys that help kids develop and the more generic LEGO bricks you buy, the more freedom you give the kids to develop their own imaginary worlds. It is a misconception that the basic LEGO bricks have gone. You can buy a bucket of basic bricks in every toy store right now. I recommend that you, no matter the age, sit down today on the floor and do play with some LEGO. But do not step on them barefoot!
Update: The media has become overwhelming. Have a look at the press section to get an impression of the coverage.
The response of the media to our LEGO Minifigure study has been overwhelming. Not only did the New Zealand Herald report, but also Die Welt, Tagesschau. There has also been an interview on the Australian’s ABC radio:
And I also gave a TV interview today for TV3 News. You can watch it below:
Today the media picked up on one of our studies on the emotional expressions of LEGO Minifigure faces. Some of it is a dramatization, so here is the full text of study for your consideration. The paper received a honorable mention at the upcoming First International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction (iHAI 2013).
While exhibiting at the Auckland LEGO show last weekend, I also took a time lapse movie of the event. Of course I used Mindstorms for the motorized camera head. The iPhone camera did a good job, but its memory got filled completely. So it is only a 270 degree pan. Still, pretty neat.
I finally got my act together to finish up my EV3 R2D2. I had to order two additional head pieces and install the latest beta build. The new programming software is pretty sweet. The new “Move Steering” and “Move Tank” make it super easy to put together a line follower.
Here is a video of this software in action. It has obstacle avoidance, line following, random beeps, random head turns and some flashing lights:
Crocodile is a robust off road LEGO car that has four wheel drive and four wheel steering. It’s frame is very compact and rigid. It drives fast over obstacles and its independent suspension system makes sure that all wheels touch the ground at all times. I also spread some of my “wisdom” on how to build a well designed LEGO off road car.