A few years ago, I spent Christmas with my nephews in Australia and all they wanted was LEGO—very specific sets, of course. Much to my surprise, every adult there desperately wanted to participate in this indoor play, rather than taking the rare opportunity to sit and relax in the glorious sunshine during what would have been winter for us.
Good luck! Being permitted to take part in the creation was a coveted position and most were relegated to the sidelines to watch the Ninjago Dojo Temple unfold. Which made me question: Why did we ever condemn this “Toy of the Century” to a dusty box in the attic?
For those in the community, this is known as “The Dark Ages”; the time in your life, typically adolescence, when you stop engaging in LEGO play and pursue other interests… you know, like being cool.
So, did we immediately go online to discover what we had been missing all these years and become AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO)? Well, yes to the online deep dive… but no to the purchasing… the price tags were insanely higher than anticipated.
Was LEGO always this expensive?
Yes—it’s a premium brand! But, 1) younger children typically have a far less-developed appreciation for the value of money because they don’t know how hard it can be to earn it; and 2) I don’t recall ever looking at price tags when I made my Christmas list. So for those of you who remember owning a set, reflect now on how much the person who gave you that set might have needed to save to afford it.
This is not a cheap bit of plastic we’re talking about. It’s a highly precise (LEGO’s tolerance threshold of 10 micrometers assures the “perfect fit”) and accurately curated toy which is virtually indestructible—a quality most children’s toys in these days of planned obsolescence are sorely lacking. This means that the longevity of use is far higher and therefore, the cost-per-play becomes significantly reduced.
Also, the collaborations have become far more linked to popular culture, so rather than building an Esso garage from the 1960s, kids nowadays have access to the likes of Harry Potter and Super Mario. These sets are subject to much higher licensing fees, which inevitably hikes the price up further.
Even so, a study conducted in 2013 evaluating the cost per brick over the years—including comparisons with the collaborative sets like Pirates of the Caribbean compared with the traditional pirate ships and the Hogwarts castle compared to the classic castles of yore—suggests that LEGO is on average cheaper by around two cents per brick since the 1980s.
But is it worth the cost?
Obviously value is in the wallet of the beholder, but as a card-carrying AFOL, I’d say it’s a worthy investment if you can prioritize the spendable cash.
It’s great for your mental health—play helps us unwind, and much like puzzles or crosswords, the all-consuming focus required by the structured builds allows us to switch off our brains entirely from work-life stresses in a meditation-like manner. Also, it takes you away from screentime, so you could use it in the hour before bed when we are recommended not to look at our devices so as not to affect melatonin levels.
It’s also an excellent pastime whether you’re solo, a couple or a family. This is true for both the original do-it-yourself construct and destruct sets, or the pieces of art that you create for one-time build and display. From my experience, whenever there is a playdate with toddlers, the adults naturally gravitate towards unconscious construction with the Duplo as they chat—if the kids join in, it’s a bonus, but not a requirement.
It’s somewhat ageless. I recently purchased a set for a family member in their 70s who had never shown an interest in LEGO. She completed the two-and-a-half thousand-piece set within the week.
Plus, they are art—the Home Alone House will set you back $300, and many of the limited edition sets have become collectors’ pieces with eye-watering price tags, even going so far as to become of interest to investors. Websites and catalogs—such as The Ultimate Guide to Collectible LEGO®: The Best Sets to Buy and Sell and Brick Economy—analyze the growth statistics and resale values.
So, if you’re suddenly craving a set and wanting to join the AFOL community, but you’re sweating over the price tag, save up and crawl out of the Dark Ages to find your inner master builder. It’s a worthy investment in more ways than one. For LEGO, it would appear “everything is (indeed) awesome”.