I didn’t have any Lego growing up. No, this is not some confession as to justify bitterness or a obsession with reviving childhood. I know it sounds like something you’d tell a psychiatrist, but I actually was content with my Kinex and my Nintendo. Lego was a novelty for me when visiting relatives or friends. Something I was familiar with, but by no means proficient. And so it follows that the first time I got into a Lego Mech-Battle, I had my 11-year old buns handed to me on a plastic platter.
Lego Mech-Battles are not an official thing, so if you never heard of them, don’t worry. In fact, I’m not even sure if that’s what we called it. But my friends and I used to build robots out of a shared wealth of Lego and then make them battle. Not a pretend battle, like you might have with action figures. No, the only way these robots ‘took damage’ was by having their bricks physically beaten off them.
Though we controlled the robots, the actual contact of the hits had to be done lego a lego. It wasn’t a free-for-all either, instead we took turns to do ‘moves’ on each others’ robot. We were very civil in this regard, like the musket men or duelists of old. The first robot to be reduced to a clump of less than five bricks was declared the loser.
My friends were all Lego-proficient, their creations sturdy and functional. The knew how to construct a solid core, build and reinforce limbs, design offensively or defensively, and also how to ensure the final product looked totally badass. My method in building was flawed. I would begin with a concept, like a giant spider robot. Then, I would build it: a little ball with 8 spindly legs and wee teeth for offence.
If it looked enough like my vision, then I would begin working with practicality in mind – attempt to bolster and sharpen a robot which was already innately weak. Unsurprisingly, my spider did not fare well. His legs busted off one by one. Sometimes he took damage during his own turn: a mandible jab gone horribly wrong. After a few rounds his thorax shattered, and my creation was trounced.
I then tried building robots that looked like theirs, but could only mimic the overall shape. The intricacies of the internal structure remained secret. And so my robotic ersatz were afflicted with long planes of weakness within their seeming bulk, which would split open in the face of my opponent’s fierce blows. Again, defeat was had. The way not to build robots was slowly being revealed. But eventually we stopped playing Mech-Battles altogether and I never did win any duels.
This is not meant to be a sob-story or nostalgic indulgence. Instead I want to highlight the way that games act as a proving ground for knowledge and skill. If all we had done was build robots and play pretend with them, then my fragile spider would have been just as competent as their finest warriors.
And while there is a place for cool-looking yet fragile creations, it is only when we compete with or assign purpose to our creations that we can begin to see how to improve them. The ‘mech-battles’ were a crucible for well-built robots. By forcing them to destroy each other, we learnt how best to rebuild them.
Did you play any similar games? Or have you learnt anything in a similar way?