Lego Figures Not As Happy As They Were 25 Years Ago, Says Research

Lego Figures Not As Happy As They Were 25 Years Ago, Says Research

Years ago, all Lego minifigures had a placid, happy expression and a pointedly non-ethnic skintone that fit their role in the larger Lego universe: They were props, the same as a tree or a fire hydrant. But as Lego has made more movie tie-ins — and video games — its minifigs have become more brooding. Darker. Angrier.

Christopher Bartneck, a researcher at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, has concluded that Lego minifigs most commonly feature happy or angry expressions, but the proportion of angry or combative faces is on the rise. Moreover, the angry faces and happy faces are not necessarily assigned to heroic or villainous characters appearing in the Lego sets. Everyone’s got a grim, or disdainful, or fearful, or pissed-off expression, regardless of alignment.

“We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts how children play,” wrote Bartneck.

Given that Lego Minifigs have at most seven points of articulation, and are smaller than an adult pinkie, my guess is that children play with the newer, angrier Lego Minifigs the same way I did: You grasp the minfig at his shoulders between your thumb and forefinger, make him hop up and down as you speak a few lines of expository dialogue (Something like, “I’m gonna kill you,”) and then smash him into an adversary drop-kick style. Facial expression has zilch to do with that.

Bartneck’s research turned up a scale of six facial groupings, comprising “disdain”, “confidence”, “concern”, “fear”, “happiness” and “anger”. Only one of these, “happiness”, was “happy”. All others could be taken to have some measure of aggression behind them, as all look like your standard close-up from a Zach Snyder or Michael Bay flick. And maybe that’s the point, because now all Lego sets seem to licence the latest Zach Snyder or Michael Bay flick.

But Bartneck’s paper seems to cast Lego’s own early history in too rosy of a light. Even when I was eight or nine I never viewed Legos as some PBS toy. When my brother and I got the Lego cop station, the first thing we did was make a huge Lego prison, and then a giant Lego A-Team van. And then we made another van, and loaded both up with bricks, and put a driver on them, and smashed them into each other from great distances across the living room floor. If it was a good wreck, the Lego minifig with the happy expression was decapitated.

This was in 1983, when everyone in LegoLand was the same dull-eyed Stepford Minifig with that medicated grin. We knew there were questions you didn’t ask. Lego Set 6309, released in 1988, had five occupations: cop, doctor, fireman, air traffic controller, and mechanic. In four of those careers, lives are on the line every day. We knew they were hiding pain. But even the fifth one… the mechanic…

What do you think he’s going home to? Quiet guy, keeps to himself, slick hair, a big pipe wrench …

Smells like cigarettes and Aqua Velva …


Lego characters are getting angrier — and could be harming children’s development [Daily Mail]


  • They float, Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too

    Always love a good King reference. As for the lego, I think lego in general has got more “violent”, you can still get your Lego City and there Is even a girl variety of Lego now, but there is a lot of adventure lego sets that include things like giant fighting scorpions, and traps.

    Every few weeks we get a new line lego in store, latest one I believe was The Lone Ranger, and it is EXPENSIVE, if a child or adult wanted to collect lego they would need to stick to a certain range, when you have multiple sets worth $100-$200 it all adds up. Big W have a $500 Lego Death Star in the upcoming Toy Spectacular. I would be saving that $500 for a PS4

    • Wow. For $100 they’d wanna be doing more than smile. How about they mow my bloody lawn.

        • hehe, I had to chuckle when I read the article. I thought “well yeh I guess you are kinda right, but they arguably have more character because of it and lets be honest, in the same way that a lot of 80’s/90’s things were popular with children, those children have grown up into an age where it is quite OK to say “I have the Doctor Doom attack on the Daily Bugle” lego set as a 20 something year old with J Jonah Jamieson and actual “PICTURES OF SPIDERMAN!” (bonus points if you read that in JJ’s voice)

  • I’d argue some of the newer figures are meant to have a look of determination on their faces.

    A lot of my old early/mid eighties smiley face lego figures where from the space series (my favourite) and the first thing I did after building them was work how how fast it should be, if it transforms for hyperspace (wings folded to the smallest profile) and what where the guns. My Lego men never engaged in hand to hand (smacked together) but they did Dog Fight alot.

    Castle sets have been around for a long time (1978) all those happy Knights still had Swords Halberds & Lances.

    While the guns, lasers and weapons are far more obvious in modern sets, I still remember the Pirate sets coming out with working cannons, muskets cutlasses and pistols. (and a shipment of ships missing parts) it’s up to the imagination of the child how it’s played out. Infact the only issue I have with todays Lego is the over use of the ineffective flick missiles that must be on every model.

    I do agree that Lego has become darker but if you read the old fairy tales they where always pretty dark and grim, with people being eaten or killed. It’s the modern era that made them all nice and happy, wouldn’t want kids to learn about death and how to deal with it until somebody they know dies right.

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