This week’s New York Toy Fair has proved a surprisingly fruitful source of videogame news, with the announcement of a Destiny line of Mega Bloks coming hot on the heels of a toymaker being fooled by Twitter and confirming the return of Crash Bandicoot.
For the uninitiated, Mega Bloks is a popular line of construction toys based on interlocking plastic bricks, with numerous sets available based on family-friendly brands such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spongebob Squarepants. If you’re thinking, that sounds a bit like Lego, you’re not alone, the Danish toy giant having unsuccessfully sued Mega Bloks several times for copyright infringement over the use of a block with eight protrusions (the courts concerned ruled that the block was a patent rather than a trademark, possibly whilst wondering what exactly they have done with their lives).
Whilst it also produces branded sets based on blockbuster franchises such as The Simpsons and Indiana Jones, Lego’s morals clause influences the design of these sets, so its Simpsons playsets feature no Moe’s Tavern and its Indiana Jones recreations are shorn of Swastikas and Nazi insignia.
This is an area that Mega Bloks has wholeheartedly seized, extending an Activision partnership that started with Skylanders Mega Bloks sets (what I guess would be a called a game-toy-game transition) into Call of Duty and now Destiny. Assassin’s Creed and Halo sets are also available, with the result that a wide range of adult subject matter is being transformed into what we will call for the sake of familiarity fake Lego.
With this production line showing no signs of slowing down, this whole enterprise is presumably profitable, which brings up the overriding question, why? Who exactly is buying these strange fusions of violence and play and what exactly is the point.
Now, I want to make clear that I do not feel the same way about gaming action figures, numerous members of the GR team passionately collect such figures, and while it’s not something I partake in, I can sort of see the logic, a way to bring the game character out of the screen in which it is imprisoned and a lasting reminder/trigger of the pleasurable experience of playing the game. Moreover, many of these figures are exquisitely detailed and the product of obvious passion, fitting objects for a collection.
But gaming-themed fake Lego, really? In its press statements, Mega Bloks makes clear that its gaming sets are for collectors rather than children, a good thing given that those old enough to be familiar with the subject matter are likely to be just growing out of playing with plastic bricks, plus the whole putting guns in tiny plastic hands just feels wrong, like a Barbie with a drink problem. But which adults feel the ideal way to show their passion for a particular game series is to buy a set featuring figures with blank faces and rounded proportions, like an ultraviolent Playmobil. Of course, there are gaming vehicles to construct too, but again, there must be a more evocative recreation of Destiny’s ships than these strange knobbled versions.
The success of Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions has proved that there is a fertile market for toys as games, a progression that makes sense as it brings the figure alive on the screen, enriching it with the anima that was previously resident in the child’s head.
Making a toy out of game however, does the opposite, and this attempt to inject adult themes into what is arguably the ultimate children’s product just feels a little sad and depressing.
Whoever it is that’s buying these travesties, please stop, the world was just fine when plastic bricks were just for kids.