stuff gets examined.

LEGO Universe

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OK, I’m as a big a LEGO fan as anyone out there, aside from those crazy people who dedicate portions of their income to buying kits, endanger their family’s well-being and stuff to build fancy buildings. I like the company – family started and still family owned, conscious to social and environmental factors (LEGO is produced to large extent in European countries, LEGO’s home turf, and not a third-world labour pit; they recycle all their waste plastic and sell what they can’t use to other plastic users). LEGO has partnered with Evil on occasion (Disney and McDonalds), but looking for black and white behavior in commerce is even sillier than looking for it in personal conduct, i guess.

So I was very interested in LEGO Universe – I’ve, um, dabbled in “massively multiplayer online games” before and LEGO has a great potential for this milieu. The company was and is apparently keenly aware of the make or break such a venture can have for their future, and has spent ten years developing the game. It has been designed with children in mind (10+ is the production age recommendation, but I’ve noticed in practice such things are more for legal purposes and are especially not followed when you have a smart LEGO-brained kid, for instance), and a sensitivity to concerns over violence was at play in the development.

What a disappointment, then, to find that the beginning of the game, the neophyte-character phase, seems like that of World of Warcraft – your new character is dumped in a training area and given a series of kill-so-many-bad-guys quests that have to be completed before you can move on to more interesting stuff.  The bad guys have been carefully designed to appear as inhuman as possible – glowing blue zombies and robots under the power of an evil force bent on destroying Imagination, but you’re still hitting them with a sword, hammer, axe, etc, until they fly into bits while they try and do the same to you (if you “die” in the game your minifig flies into bits and you have to click on the “rebuild” button to reappear).  There is a building-dedicated character class, but you have to go through the WoW-like training round of trophy-hunting before you have the option of pursuing it.

Violence has always been a part of human story-telling, one of the reasons being that it seems more like something the individual teller or audience member can relate and feel empowered with, bopping an evil-doer over the head rather than trying to defeat a famine or bad cultural trend. It’s an effective means to congeal a story and to drive it forward. Unfortunately, the beauty of stories is that you can skip over the gritty and tedious parts – the hero became such a good sword fighter that foes flee his/her name through hundreds of fights we didn’t have to witness. MMOGs try to put us into such a story, which unfortunately sometimes puts a sharp focus on the nastiness otherwise glossed over. In WoW,  players call it “grinding levels”, which often means hanging around at a monster spawn-point and killing every one that appears, in order to speed up the process of gaining experience to reach a more interesting and effective character level.  It’s problem that I’d hoped the LEGO game would take a better approach to – Characters starting as spaceship mechanics, being trained by repairing parts or building structures, etc.

I haven’t given up on the game. This is a disappointment, but it still has a lot of potential that hopefully will reveal itself.




Written by balloonhed

October 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm

One Response

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  1. […] loses its head is merely incapacitated until it gets aid from a friend. This partially derives from Lego Universe’s unfortunate caving to online game tradition and its use of minifig modularism as a source of immortality.  Sure, this caves to violent play […]

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