As some of you will be aware, I’ve been on the LEGO Group’s site for a while now (as well as here), posting creations on their galleries and writing stories on their Message Boards.
It’s a great community in a lot of ways, and I’ve made some good friends there. Yet it’s not without its downsides.
One of the big ones is the amount of control you agree to cede to the LEGO Group when you post something. If you post a creation on their galleries, for instance, the fine print says that they have arrogated to themselves the right to use that creation however they wish, up to and including basically copying it wholesale in a new set without any recompense for the creator at all.
I’m not sure I like this very much. I build primarily for my own amusement rather than trying to make the next Ideas set, but this seems a little extreme. I guess it’s there so that they aren’t subject to intellectual property disputes if someone builds a similar model or uses a similar technique to one they have in the pipeline. Still, it’s a little scary to consider how many rights you don’t have if you use their site.
The other main downsides mostly concern being an AFOL (Adult Fan Of LEGO, for the less-informed) in a forum full of kids.
Don’t get me wrong; I said it’s a great community and I mean it. I’ve got some very good friends on the Message Boards, mostly among the TFOL community, though it’s absolutely forbidden to let out anyone’s real age so I can’t be sure. It’s mostly a pretty good place, all things considered.
But the LEGO Group’s site is designed to be child-friendly and there is no lower age limit on getting an account and starting posting, and this can cause friction for an AFOL like me.
On the galleries, this is one sort of issue. There’s an awful lot of stuff that gets posted that’s, for want of a better word, crude. Not crude in the sense of indecent potty-mouthedness or Donald Trump, but unrefined. Primitive. “Spaceships” that consist of six plates stuck together with a minifigure perched on top, or LEGO-themed drawings that look like the sort of thing my art teacher always handed back and said “now finish it”.
Of course, there’s also stuff that isn’t, but you do have to wade through the primitive to find the exquisite. And I don’t actually mind most of the time. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and genius master-builders don’t spring fully-formed ex nihilo overnight. A six-year-old making “cool spaceships” that look like something an eight-year-old would do is remarkable rather than rancorous; besides, if they’re having fun, who am I to tell them they can’t?
No, it’s the Message Boards where the fact that it’s a kid-friendly place has bitten me on the butt a few times.
See, I couldn’t say that on there, because it’s heavily moderated and they’d reject it out of hand. And probably rightly so. As a parent, I approve of the desire of the LEGO Group to maintain a site that’s a safe haven for children where they aren’t going to be exposed to anything objectionable. But as a writer and AFOL, it does have a tendency to bite me in the arse.
It’s never because I’m intentionally putting out “mature content”; it’s always because something I said that I considered basically innocent triggered a Mod rejection.
The classic one for gathering rejections for me personally has been killing off characters in my stories. I was quite disconcerted in my first story when I had an episode rejected with the abrupt and slightly unhelpful message “No killing and death in your stories”.
The issue was not that I vaporised a minor character’s spaceship with an alien death ray; it was twelve episodes or more later when I mentioned in passing that he had been killed.
“What?” I exclaimed. “I already killed him on-camera, as it were! You’ll watch while I do it without saying a thing, but then balk at me mentioning that he didn’t walk away when his ship became a cloud of atoms? Absurd!”
The arbitrary nature of the rejection and the disconnect between what fan users are allowed to post and what the LEGO Group themselves will endorse by making a theme out of might have turned me off of the whole Message Boards if I hadn’t been in the middle of a story. I mean, Jurassic World has people being eaten alive. Star Wars has armies of people being mown down with laser beams and entire inhabited planets blowing up. Harry Potter has a strong “death” subtheme with the Philosophers’ Stone, the Horcruxes, the Deathly Hallows. And yet “No killing and death in your stories”. 😛
After I calmed down again, I realised that if they’re going to have the Boards be safe for all ages of kid and maintain their traditional nonwarlike stance, they have to be a bit arbitrary and blanket about it. Not everyone’s going to be able to off a character gracefully and in a more-or-less kid-appropriate way, and if they let me get away with it, they have to let everyone. Otherwise JediMasterWicket (or insert other crazy made-up username) is going to justifiably complain that “You let him do it!”
But still, it’s illustrative of the hoops you have to jump through. “Kill” is automatically disallowed, except for a very few minor uses like “kill the lights”, but “smash” is acceptable instead, despite how much messier it sounds. “Stab in the back” as a way of saying “betray” is unacceptable, and the mods suggest the completely illogical “stab at” as an alternative despite it not meaning the same thing at all. I’ve since developed ways of saying “we’re all gonna die” without using “kill” or “die”, but the very fact that I have to is rather artificial. I’m doing an end-run around the rule, because the way it’s written and enforced is arbitrary to the point of silly, but I am disobeying the spirit of it, and I will continue to do so. It’s hard not to. Without conflict, there is no story.
For all that, though, I am a parent, and I do wholeheartedly approve from that perspective.
Actually, it’s the presence of so many kids on the galleries that’s getting to me right now.
As I said, objectively I don’t mind at all. I’m glad there’s a place where any kid of any age can post their creations. I’ve told my five-year-old son that as soon as he can read and write he can get his own account, and then you’ll see some cool primitive models!
But as an AFOL, is it really the best thing for the LEGO galleries to be my primary, near-sole creation-posting forum?
I’ve been toying with the idea of joining MOCPages for a while now. Technically I have an account, if I can remember the login, but I’ve always held off from posting anything, partly from nerves and partly from logistical reasons, so the account has languished unused and even unvisited for months.
Nerves, because MOCPages is a much more capable and adult forum, and when you’ve been a big shark in a kiddie pool, it’s a little nerve-wracking to venture into the deep ocean and swim with the fishies that are even bigger and much more badass at building than you. (Yes, there are plenty of people on the LEGO Galleries who I consider equal or superior builders, but they are a minority of the whole, not the majority of the community).
And logistical reasons because I don’t have a lot of time. Ten-hour work days six days a week are pretty normal for me, especially in the summer, and that leaves me with a lot less time than I’d like for getting on and off of multiple websites in the 30ish minutes of online time I have in the morning before I have to go to work.
(I can write during work hours, in the five-minutes-here, couple-minutes-there sort of way that my day runs between checks of the ground elevations for excavation machinery, but I have limited posting time because I’m marginally tech-averse and I have the dumbest dumbphone on the planet).
I can cope with one posting site, semi-intermittant blogging and my minimalist relationship with Facebook. I have not been confident I can do the same if I add in other sites.
Recently, though, I’ve been getting less and less contented on the LEGO website.
I plan to continue posting, particularly stories, but there’s been a lot of, without trying to be insulting, fairly juvenile-type posting topics, and I’m becoming less and less inclined to comment on the majority of it. There’s apparently only so many times my patience will put up with the same “We need LEGO <insert TV show or computer game I’ve never heard of>!!!!!” or “Who’s your favourite <fill in the blank>?” or misspelled or badly punctuated or whiny or gushy topics before I’ve had enough.
I’m feeling increasingly like both the galleries and the Message Boards are becoming a case of, well, an adult in a room full of kids. I’m doing something that a lot of kids do, so in some ways it’s inevitable, but I’m choosing to do it on the site set up most especially to cater to the kids that do it, and that’s less comfortable. I’m beginning to crave more adult interaction, the company of builders of greater ability who can actually critique my models, offer tips and spur me on to new heights.
MOCPages looks like it might be a solution, but I’m still somewhat hesitant. If anyone has any advice, I’d appreciate it. If you’re actually on MOCPages, what’s it really like? Should I take the plunge, knowing that it might well mean eventually letting my LEGO website account languish if I can’t logistically keep up with both?
Help me, all ye Obi-Wans. You’re my only hope.