Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Angry LEGO Faces

There is genuine concern that LEGO is crossing over to the dark side.

Slawomir Kostrzewa, a priest in Wolsztyn, Poland claims that there are LEGO mini-figures which promote "darkness and the world of death" and could "destroy (children's) souls and lead them to the dark side." He is not suffering from paranoia; instead he backs up his argument with research done by New Zealand’s University of Canterbury.

Professor Christoph Bartneck had embarked on an interesting study. Refer to C Bartneck, M Obaid, & K Zawieska (2013). Agents with faces – What can we learn from LEGO Minifigures? Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction (iHAI 2013), Sapporo, Japan.

The LEGO company developed hundreds of facial expressions for their Mini-figures, which are often the centerpiece of LEGO construction. The researchers investigated and presented a summary of the development of the facial expression for all LEGO Mini-figures that were released between 1975 and 2010. Their findings indicated that the LEGO company started in 1989 to dramatically increase the variety of facial expressions.

And using a k-cluster analysis, they identified six types of facial expression: disdain, confidence, concern, fear, happiness, and anger. Of these emotions, the two most frequent expressions are happiness and anger and the proportion of happy faces is decreasing over time – as the proportion of angry faces increase. The Polish priest reckons that when the faces on LEGO Mini-figures are becoming increasingly angry and less happy – it is not a good omen.

I am not so sure. But I seriously don’t think there is any cause for worry. Expressions are just that – expressions. I believe that children’s play should be realistic as far as possible. If it is real, children can relate to it and the world around them becomes familiar. It is worth remembering that children don't see their own play through the lens that adults do.

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