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I spluttered a response about how I was attacking Evil Lego’s boast that it provided a first-class gym for the creative mind. But I crossed a line that I normally would steer clear of.

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20 thoughts on “Discussion: Bricking It

  1. Oh… Oh my. My name is there.

    For the last Christmas I got my wife the flowers lego set, I got a bonsai from her and together we bought for ourselves 10270 Bookshop. This was the first time my wife has assembled such a complex set (the bookshop), and it was the first time in two decades when she assembled something all by herself (the flowers). It was very fun and calm few hours of assembling, even our son has helped the tiniest bit with the Bookshop, before he got bored with looking up the parts.

    The reason I am mentioning this is in reference to this part:

    > What she loves most are the little, unexpected details like a “working crab oven” in the Ninjago build.

    I’ve mostly been a Technic guy and I got myself a big Technic set a couple of years ago, but in my experience technic things are fairly standard, not many strange techniques. The complexity comes from the number of tiny and weird parts doing their job.

    But the Bookshop had a few really lovely elements! Like the house number mounted on a rotating piece, at a 45° angle, held in place by two bricks on the other side, allowing only minimal rotation. Or the slanted roof tiles, slanted thanks to hinges. Or the flower buds on the cherry version of the bonsai made with 100 pink frogs.

    There is no conclusion here, just wanted to share the fun!

    Some additional thoughts:
    – I skimmed through the “I hate games” article and liked the comparison of some puzzle/word games being like fidget spinners. I think my unhealthy relationship with idle games is kinda like that, plus the novelty effect. Something something adhd something, I should write an article about it one day but I already have
    enough semi-abandoned projects on my plate.
    – I added that Outer Wilds / Rain World video to watch later. Outer Wilds is one of my absolutely favorite games, and Rain World is… a game I think is designed so well I find playing it an experience I hate. The game is great about interweaving the story with the gameplay, and staying true to the premise of being a prey in a world of predators, but it turns out that it’s just not the kind of fun I want. Also random chance. I do love watching capable people play it and hear about it.
    – Trying to grasp the sneak peek of your new video project left me confused, so instead I just added your old Witness video to watch later. If my memory serves me well that’s basically the point in time when I subscribed to your newsletter, I think. Makes me wish once again Witness was available on Switch, because it’s the only platform I use for gaming nowadays. And I’d gladly replay it.

  2. i think it was back in 2018 that i got slightly back into lego again. i bought the Saturn V, and was surprised just how much i enjoyed building it. the joy in small details that Maurycy describes was very much part of it: i got a lot out of the surprising attention to internals of the rocket, and the creative use of old parts (my favourites being the washtubs as the big rocket engine nozzles, and the wee flower heads as RCS thrusters on the command module). i took it apart when i moved out of that flat, and later enjoyed assembling it a second time.

    but… based on that experience, i bought some more lego sets back in 2020-21: three star wars spaceships and the lunar lander. one of the spaceships was fun to build; the other was not very interesting. and the lunar lander was a huge disappointment, i couldnt find any fun in building it. they stood on top of bookshelves for a little while, but i didnt get any joy out of seeing them, only reminders of how unsatisfied i was with building them and how much i had spent on them—so i took them apart and theyre in pieces in boxes now, providing even less value for money. and the third star wars spaceship i never ended up starting. its been sitting unopened for two years now, its box just reminding me now and again of my unwise impulse purchase.

    hypothetically i enjoy lego still, but it seems in practice not actually. but maybe thats more my state of mind: i find it very hard to enjoy any pastimes anymore (computer games included).

  3. I LOVED Lego as a kid. I think I must have mucked around with building new sets, or just making stuff out of my enormous brick collection, every day between the ages of about 6 and 10. I was incredibly lucky because my older cousin also really loved Lego, and bequeathed his entire brick collection to me. My parents cleverly squirrelled it away and doled out individual bricks and components as rewards for good behaviour. I still remember fondly the exquisite excitement when my mum went over to the too-high-for-me-to-reach Lego shelf and pulled out… ooh, what would it be? Ooh, a new foundation plate! Think of the fun I can have with that!

    As an adult I built a castle with my girlfriend one time. It was fun, but it wasn’t the same. I think the main reason is that these days, I don’t have endless rainy afternoons to while away: I could be mucking around in Unity, or vacuuming my apartment, or chipping away at my games backlog. Now that I think about it, 6 months sequestered in a locked apartment with nothing but an enormous Lego set to pass the time doesn’t sound bad at all.

    Ah, the Jeff Vogel thing. I already left a comment on his site, but I’ll just say: if he thinks that the one reason potholes aren’t getting filled in is because Steam has too many games on it… well, I don’t really know what to do with that, actually. That’s just… wild.

    In fact, arguing over Jeff’s take, as weird as it is, would be a fun distraction that I currently do not have the heart for, because the Ukraine invasion is taking up a lot of room in my brain and heart.

  4. being an artist, i prefer goal-oriented games because i don’t want to spend too much mental energy on them. prey (2017) is great so far but i’ve got to sacrifice creative time for it.

  5. The thing in the “I hate games” article about “Art is now structured like games are structured”; sometimes I think that the proof of the impossibility of time travel is that nobody has come back to stop Jane McGonigal from getting that concussion. Well, maybe it’s just not something they’d get points for doing.

    I’m a LEGO set defender because I think there is valuable play in doing things with your hands, following instructions, there’s something satisfying about how it comes together (back in the day I got very familiar with how to assemble one fire engine), and you can move on to freelancing as well. And I feel like Maurycy about open play frustrating me sometimes. This applies to videogames as well, I don’t feel like I’d get into building in Minecraft, though I do sometimes like twiddling with things like that floating city app you mentioned? Maybe what I don’t like is work.

    Anyway we don’t really do LEGO anymore, if we were to clear a big enough space for it we would probably do something else with that space. We should probably give our collection away to some deserving youth center and include the BrickIt app.

    I’ve been looking more into philosophy of games for professional reasons, if I manage to write and publish an article about what it is to finish a videogame I will retroactively convert SO MUCH goofing off into work time, and one thing I notice: A lot of what people talk about is tabletop games? Maybe this is mostly who I’m working with and reading, but I feel like there’s this idea that doing tabletop games is virtuous and you should be doing tabletop games with your family and: I don’t like them that much. They’re a lot of work, I like games to be a fidget spinner sometimes! I’m probably being the Bad Parent by not playing tabletop games to get the kids off the computer but at least one of my kids seems to be taking EU4 as an occasion to learn lots of facts about the Holy Roman Empire to tell us at dinner?

    Anyway I think a lot about what we’re doing when we’re doing games, and C. Thi Nguyen the gaming philosopher talks about games as structuring agency, and in this interview he mentions that in philosophy you have to struggle years for an epiphany and in “Baba Is You” you can get, like, one every twenty minutes, but somehow that seems dangerous to me. The epiphanies we get in the games are the ones laid out for us, and it’s nice to have the conversation with the developer like that, but we’re not really making anything new!

    And now that I think of it Crayon Physics hits a sweet spot here, it has a clearly defined goal but a lot of creativity in how to achieve it. So you can do amazing stuff like this and it’s not something a hundred other people have done. And that goes along with its being entirely your choice what to mark “awesome.” My Crayon Physics issues are with the way it structures unlocks to make you do things (old school solutions are grindy and you should be able to use “awesome” solutions to skip them, instead of needing both for an extra star; and normal play should unlock the ending animation while getting tons of extra stars gates a few super-difficult levels, instead of vice versa).

    Maybe my issue is that getting epiphanies from games isn’t, like, real work. Unless I manage to write that paper!

  6. Something I find interesting is the little dialectical differences between pockets of spoken English, with reference to the Stephanie Sterling note. In my north-eastern English and then south-eastern Scottish upbringing, the singular neuter 3rd person pronoun was really common. It was just what you said to refer to a person who’s gender was unknown or undefined.

    “I asked the shop assistant if it was in stock.”
    “Oh, what did they say?”

    It’s a complicated thing, because to some people it’s totally natural, to other’s it’s totally alien. For some it’s a simple adjustment, for others it’s a difficult one. For some people it’s a good faith discussion about choosing to adjust their vocabularly, for others it’s a bad faith agenda and not about the words at all.

    This is not a criticism, or even a comment really, and we all know Joel is a Very Good Egg. I just find linguistics (and gender) interesting, and because singular they/them was in my vocab since I learned to talk, and to me it’s not like a 21st century discourse thing.

  7. MrB: “They” for a single person of unknown gender has been around I think in most English dialects for a long time. There’s lots of examples of it for variables that call for singular contexts, I just found an example of Thackeray saying “A person can’t help their birth.” And even with a known gender, someone gave an example of “Someone threw their cigarette in the urinal in the men’s room.”

    Using it for a specific person is new, and was definitely an adjustment to me, but I’ve found it easier as you keep doing it. I think most people are cool with people who make a sincere attempt to respect their pronouns.

  8. I find myself stuck going back to the Vogel thing in spare moments of pondering. In a similar vein to James Patton, I think the problem is less that he’s wrong about games per se than that he’s wrong about the economics. As millions of people pointed out on twitter, if something is fun and rewarding then people will do lots of it (see art of all kinds, of which games are clearly and indisputably a subset). Maybe our societies spend too much time and resources on art, fun, and leisure pursuits – conservatives like Ross Douthat make a big deal out of “decadence” and I’d be shocked if there’s not a rich vein of socialist/leftist criticism on the same theme – but Vogel’s critique here is just baby stepping around that critique without seeming to grasp which things are really being traded off against each other in any meaningful way. It’s less flashy than this kerfuffle, but he had another recent post about the stock market (lamenting the decline of dividend payments in lieu of focusing on capital gains). It was similar in terms of identifying some big changes over the last thirty years but doesn’t quite get the causes or effects right – it’s almost more of an aesthetic critique in the end.

    So I imagine starting some sort of dialogue to unpack the economic and other considerations and separate what (if anything) is game-specific. But it feels like trying to do that would just be pissing life force into the void (that’ll be the name of my next game or album, I reckon, if I ever start making games or music).

    P.S., good on ya for recanting, Joel. It’s rare and tough!

  9. Thanks for all the comments, everyone. 4 newsletter unsubscriptions is quite a record this month. If you’re wondering how many subscribers there are in reality: it’s over 460 but only around half will read any particular newsletter.


    It had never occured to me that building a Lego set could hold “surprises” in this way. This was a surprise to me!

    I think the fidget spinner effect is really there for me too at times. I love playing the Android implementation of “Simon Tatham’s Puzzles” but half the time I’m just going through the motions. I’m just killing time and not doing anything, or discovering wonder.

    I’m probably not going to play Rain World for exactly those reasons. But whenever I say I’m not going to play a game because of the frustration curve I think back to how I got a lot out of my aborted Dark Souls run and NaissanceE which is the defintiion of a frustrating game.

    Micro Wizards: Confusion is expected! Confusion is fine.


    There’s a real problem with how pastimes transfer into becoming tasks, something you do “to get them done” instead of chasing joy, especially when there is no end to the things you can do/watch and especiallyw when so much digital social capital is associated with the culture you can flaunt. I’m working through Understand which I have definitely enjoyed but I’m beyond a certain point where I wonder if I’m playing just to say I’ve done it? Some of the puzzles are extremely obtuse. But I’m also playing Damocles, which is just a wondrous thing, I’m not doing that because I have to.


    I’ve just smacked myself in the head as I realised I didn’t even get the name right in the newsletter: it’s James Stephanie Sterling not wot I wrote. And there was this weird moment when I was staring at “they/their” in the newsletter thinking why… why does this look wrong? It’s just me! That’s why! I’m not used to it! And of course it’s should be “they/them”. Bloomin’ heck.

    I’ve use “they” a fair bit myself e.g. referring to a player and “wondering what they think might happen next” but, as Matt says, it’s normally in relation to a non-specific person. I tend to see it as shorthand for “this person”. So when I see it used as a pronoun for a specific individual, boom, my head sees “this person said this” “this person did that” everywhere. The linguistic pathway has just been baked like that and it will take some time to adapt and I’ll probably get used it. But, then again, I never got used to everyone using the word “super” in place of “very”. It still annoys me, after all this time. GET OFF MY LAWN YOU DAMN KIDS


    As I was saying to Andy above, I think there’s an issue with these pastimes becoming tasks. I have an hour: this is my Lego time, what shall I do with TEH LEGO TIME.

    I so so SO much want to let go of time and schedules because that’s where the real joy is, when you lose track of time and fall into that beautiful state of flow where there’s just you and the thing. A good game does this for me as can a good TV series. The problem is that I now also recognise they do this. And because screwing up my time is a serious problem (go to bed, Joel) it discourages me from engaging with cool stuff on a cool level. This is Hell.

    I don’t really have much interest in fighting Jeff’s weird take, there’s just too much wrong with it, but wanted to acknowledge how this seemed different to his usual screed.


    Ah, Prey. The mechanics all felt a bit weak to me but that exploration factor, yowsers. So good. But it also reminds me of how I recommend Far Cry 2: play half the game, then stop. Prey is a little like that. Diminishing returns as the exploration narrows into Finish The Game.


    When I was studying mathematics at school, I loved it. Every week we learned something different and there were these brilliant surprises around every corner. How to add fractions. How to calculate the area of a circle. The equivalence of 1 and 0.999 recurring. The concept of conditional probabilty. The sum of sine squared and cosine squared is 1. The set of all integers is the same size as the set of half of them; but the set of all real numbers is bigger. The Euler equation. The delicate simplicity of Laplace’s equation. The genius of Lebesgue integration. Using algebraic field theory to show that a quintic polynomial has no generalized solution.

    But it was a guided tour to show you all the highlights. They were epiphanies, for sure, and mindblowing. When I took on a PhD, I suddenly realised I was abseiling into a black abyss with no idea if there was even a bottom. What if there was no bottom? Would it mean I was no mathematicican at all? What am I doing? Why does this hurt so? How could a subject which inspired so much curiosity and delight become existential horror?

    The videogame ephiphany is fun but it’s just like the guided tour again. It’s not equivalent to the PhD epiphany, but it’s some good drugs.


    To be honest, Vogel’s thing sounds like someone scratching away at the surface of a realisation that capitalism cannot solve everything but they can’t see the forest for the trees. You’re seeing people behaving in an incorrect manner, shouting at them to fix things and make them better. You don’t have an answer to that problem because you’re not even asking the right question yet. If you think half the world is doing the wrong thing, the problem isn’t likely to be the people…

  10. We need a term for there being too many games. Particularly indie games, since they’re the most affected by it. And it’s almost as if their world were coming to an end, so we could call it, I don’t know, Indiegeddon? Indnarok?

  11. It’s hard to measure creativity. But many people say I am creative, more than usual. I’d like to think this is the product of practicing that creativity since childhood through various activities, including building (tiny) dams outside and wooden trains inside, along with Lego. I remember a brand new Lego set (and it probably cost accordingly) where I unpacked it, looked at instructions and assembled a colourful truck. I don’t remember how long I was satisfied with that (definitely built it more than once) but the truck pieces were soon used less and less often, in favour of older weathered bricks.
    I would _prefer_ second-hand Lego.

    Maybe I’ll read more comments on the old Lego post…

  12. @CA: I’m just going to call it fucked-up capitalism.

    @ThatScar: Another thing these Lego threads have been teaching me is that everyone has their own unique approach to Lego, there’s no one-Lego-personality-fits-all…

  13. Thanks for including my video on your list Joel! By the way, my next video (coming out later this week) is titled “In Defence of Walking Simulators”. So, we’re on the same side of that divide. 🙂

  14. I’ve been spending unhealthy amounts of time staring at Twitter ever since the Ukraine invasion began, so I think it’s time to take a break. I don’t think I’ll miss anything game-related as everyone is playing Elden Ring.

  15. > everyone has their own unique approach to Lego
    Exactly what I was planning to say but wanted to read first. So I did.
    I’m the kind of person who would purposefully throw away pieces such that the original blueprint couldn’t be replicated (hypothetically, did not happen)
    I’ve never heard of anything along the lines of Lego “techniques”. For me, most of it was: how many pips long, wide and tall is the cuboid piece? Of course, I would use all the various pieces but only because I got around to substituting the cuboids before getting bored with my creation.
    One exception is moving pieces – these were special and I felt like I was lacking them, for sure. You CAN attach a narrow piece on an another narrow piece on the very edge and have some rotation with cuboids that way but hinges and circular pieces (even just cylinders!) were much more effective.

    About Lego and marketing:
    As a child, I was definitely leaning towards flashy toys that look so cool on the box but somehow I trusted that my parents knew better and they bought puzzles and constructors (which occupied me for an eternity so good on them! very few toys got shelved for good)
    In that sense, I hold no grudge towards Lego, the company, because parents do know what marketing is and they can talk with other parents and, ultimately, they decide what presents to gift (to their child and to others’… I hope that’s true everywhere?)
    Also, THE Lego movie (no sequels allowed in my house!) was not bad and does kind of fit Lego, IMO.

    Lastly, I was wondering:
    Has anyone tried video games like Besieged or Trailmakers? I really liked their sandboxes but, valuing my time much more, I really appreciated their campaigns that are like constrained sandboxes – they guided me and got me to interesting things much more quickly. And, of course, they have progress (levels in Besieged, parts in Trailmakers) so… yeah, gamification always works on me still :/
    (this is in opposition of games like Townscaper that are mostly unguided sandboxes)
    I wonder how other people approach them.

  16. @James:

    “My parents cleverly squirrelled it away and doled out individual bricks and components as rewards for good behaviour. I still remember fondly the exquisite excitement when my mum went over to the too-high-for-me-to-reach Lego shelf”

    I love this!


    “They’re a lot of work”

    Confession: my girlfriend and I bought a bunch of boardgames last year and we’ve only played one. One! I think a big part of the reason we’ve not dived into the others is the set-up time, the reading and understanding the rules, then the playing and the inevitable mistakes and oversights, then packing it all up again. And next time we’ve got to do it all again and hope we’ve remembered everything! We’re low energy individuals and after work that’s a big ask! We’ve also not got a great deal of tabletop space anywhere in the house so that’s its own problem… I love tabletop and board games but, yeah, they can be a lot of work!

    “a clearly defined goal but a lot of creativity in how to achieve it.”

    This is one of the reasons I loved SpaceChem and I’d love to play Opus Magnum at some point. I recall playing Crayon Physics Deluxe but not for long. I should probably rectify that. Scribblenauts always intrigued me but I’m not sure quite how open that really is…


    I’ve known quite a few people who enjoy ‘colour by numbers’ and colouring books. There was once a side of me that wondered why they didn’t just draw what they want and colour that but then that could be quite stressful if you’re not very confident or overly critical or simply didn’t want to be creative. I started to realise it was a kind of mindfulness where they could just focus on a single thing in front of them instead of fretting over various others. Just follow the steps. ‘The exercise was something akin to meditation and she found her brain “quietened down completely”’ Exactly that!

    “a realisation that capitalism cannot solve everything but they can’t see the forest for the trees.”

    Haha, I loved ‘All trees, forest be fucked’ in the ‘I hate games’ article. That whole thing was really well written. 🙂

  17. Oh and I laughed at the scare quotes on “walking simulators” too. It’s the only way.

    Ooo, looking forward to the video @Kat!


    I dabbled with Besiege in Early Access a long time ago but haven’t touched it since. It was a fun time though! Trailmakers looks great and with it being crossplay on PC/Xbox, I’m hoping to play it with friends at some point soon.

  18. joel: i’m flabberghasted by your opinion on prey. what?!? the game opens up the more abilities you acquire! i’m not a huge fan of immersive sims, but i felt this game did everything right. wow. i hope you at least enjoyed recycling items!

    ca: indiepocalypse. lol. there’s a series of game bundles with the name:

    i enjoy these perspectives very much.

  19. You know me, initial comment response spurt but then I run out of

    Sorry, lost my train of thought. I’m away this weekend so I will just respond to daniel quickly. The “play only 50%” is probably a bit off there. I think it’s more like 80%. At that point, the exploration sprawl begins to end and you’re left with Endgame Tasks. I didn’t really like the monsters that much and the mimic ability which was scary for about the first 1% of the game seemed like a bit of a joke considering how harmless they were. I kept comparing it to System Shock II. The exploration was superior and there were some great moments, but storywise, I was still an SS2 fanboy. Fabulous exploration though.

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