Purism

Let’s wrap things up by turning our attention away from modal epistemology and toward a segment of the LEGO community that might seem a bit fussy: purists.

Purists won’t build with bricks not made by LEGO, they won’t add stickers or apply paint to change the appearance of their work, and they won’t grind down the studs to get a particular look or functionality. On the face of it, these people are (dare I say it?) missing the point. The LEGO Group makes toys. Toys are for fun. If tweaking some pieces makes playtime more enjoyable, then what’s the harm? To each his own, of course, but it isn’t clear what’s gained by slavish devotion to a company’s intentions (even if that company is Danish and generally wonderful).

But here’s the thing. Suppose I’m right about how we know what we can build. Suppose that, as a result of spending a lot of time messing around with bricks and plates and minifigures, we develop a working knowledge of the LEGO world—knowledge that makes us pretty good at judging what we can and can’t construct. And suppose we find—as so many of us have—that we fall in love with that world.

My guess is that we don’t just love the aesthetic. It isn’t that we’re drawn to unusually blocky people, or have a special affection for primary colors. In large part, we love the possibilities and impossibilities of that world. The value of the possibilities might be more obvious, since we focus on them (or hope we’re focusing on them!) when we imagine all that we might assemble. However, we love the limits, too— both that there are some, and that they take the form they do. Finding out what we can't make sparks our creativity. It brings out the determined engineer in us all—the one who says there must be a way. (What’s better than getting lost in search of a solution?) At the same time, we value the way LEGO strikes a balance of possibilities and impossibilities. Too many of the former, and we wouldn’t have toys. Too many of the latter, and we’d only have single-purpose toys.10 Discovering that balance—and learning to build in light of it—is one of the pleasures of play.

So it isn’t only the possibilities that contribute to our enjoyment. The impossibilities matter too. And this, it seems to me, is part of what the purist recognizes. The limits—the specific ones that the LEGO world involves—make building engaging and frustrating and fun. We love LEGO not in spite of them, but because of them.

 
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