You can't take apart the LEGO sculptures at LEGO Kids Fest. I know, because I tried: Turns out the pieces are all glued together, presumably to protect them from assholes like me. Still, that's about the only thing you can't do at LEGO Kids Fest (held over the weekend at the Colorado Convention Center.) The rest is all interactive, and while that interaction is basically limited to putting stuff together with LEGO bricks -- "LEGO is always spelled with all caps, and never play with LEGOs; always play with LEGO bricks," the PR rep told me -- there are a lot of LEGO bricks to put together. Like, a shit-ton. More than I've ever seen in one place, anyway, and much more than enough to keep my nine-year-old LEGO-enthusiast son Avry entertained for a couple of hours.
I wasn't super into LEGO (bricks) when I was a kid -- it was never my thing to follow directions -- but Avry, who's more or less the opposite of me in every way, loves them. And I get that. For one thing, LEGO stuff today is way cooler than it was in my time, and the brand inspires a loyalty that few other toy companies can even dream of. The PR rep told me that a good chunk of the attendance at LEGO Kids Fest events, which tour around the country setting up shop in mid-size cities for a few days at a time (there are seven of them traveling the U.S. this year), comes from out of state, and that's not hard to believe. LEGO folks are die-hard, and the fandom lasts into adulthood -- and sometimes begins there. I'd say about a third of the people actively playing with LEGO (bricks) at this weekend's Fest were over thirty years old.
The PR rep started out by introducing us to Steve Gerling, a LEGO master builder, of which there are exactly nine in the world. Gerling's been doing this for about sixteen years; before that, he was a sculptor by trade. "LEGO wasn't even around when I was a kid," he explained. We chatted with him for a few minutes, and then we were free to wander the exhibition hall.
The fest sported an impressive array of LEGO sculptures of all sorts of stuff: the Cars car, a shark, several LEGO men -- the most impressive was probably Batman. Then we went looking for stuff to do. LEGO definitely goes out of its way to provide a range of activities, some with more clear objectives than others. There was an area to build cars and ramps to race them down, a "princess" area targeted at little girls (Avry passed on that one), a LEGO art gallery with little frames to make pictures in.
In another area called "Create a Story," a ton of people were building away, but Avry and I were unsure of what to do. "Create a story, I guess," Avry offered. But then we sat down at one of the garbage-can-sized LEGO tubs and just started building whatever, and I began to understand: It didn't really matter. The allure is not really what you build, it's that whatever it is, you can build it.
That was evidenced everywhere, but nowhere more compellingly than the massive pile of LEGO (bricks) right in the middle of the place, which was probably forty feet across and ankle deep. It took a moment for it to sink in that you could do anything you wanted with it -- trudge through it, sit in it, hell, you could bury yourself in it if you wanted to -- and the act of interacting with it in that unexpected way, of being invited to break that boundary, was oddly freeing.
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It was the feeling of limitless possibility.