This article is the first in a series exploring the Lego community, and in particular examining the relationship between TLG’s company values and those held by the people that form its fan base. Multiple sites will be looked into and investigated, focussing on the conduct of both their staff and members, in order to determine which sites best fit the values of TLG, and which do not, allowing the reader to make an informed decision of which sites they should be part of. Overall structure and quality of the website will also be analysed. We begin this series by looking at one of the larger Lego forums, Eurobricks.
The Values of Lego
To begin, we need to have clear in our minds the values held by The Lego Group. We can summarise these to obtain a decent overview:
- A welcoming and child-friendly company
- Aware and connected to its fans
- Excellent customer service
- Open-minded, progressive, unprejudiced
Summary of the Site
Eurobricks is a Lego forum that aims to ‘Unite Lego fans around the world’. With almost 30,000 members registered, and an equally impressive number of ‘guests’ online at any one time, Eurobricks is a very active community. It accommodates fans of all Lego lines, as well as having off-topic and MOC sections. It’s also the go-to site for the latest news, leaks and set reviews – their constantly active and diverse user base allows news to be reported fast, and their Reviewer’s Academy ensures that reviewers know how to write a good review.
Before going into specific case-studies, we should begin by looking at the rules of this site. These are a good way of getting an overview of the main values of the site and its staff, as well as their intention.
“Age: Eurobricks is a site intended for an adult audience, which for the purpose of these guidelines are people of around the age of 18 or greater. We reserve the right to ban anyone who does not meet that requirement. Posting that you are not an adult is a quick way to be banned. If you choose to ignore these guidelines and sign up anyway, it is not our responsibility if you are offended by what you read or see. Similarly, if you are an adult who is offended by what is often labeled as adult content, you should probably avoid this site”
It sets itself out as an AFOL-site. This is no bad thing – Lego has a big adult fanbase after all. But the site claims to ‘Unite Lego fans around the world’ – not just AFOLs. This is also in opposition to TLG’s child-friendly and inclusive attitude. A way to accommodate both may be to include a sub-forum intended for and only visible to adult members. There is no reason why discussion of Lego itself cannot remain child-friendly. From experience of the site, it seems that the minimum age requirement is more to avoid kids posting spam all the time – but that’s the whole reason we have moderators on websites, and there are plenty of kids who want to discuss Lego and not simply spam.
“Posting, spam and off topic topics: Off topic posts can be great fun between friends, but they do run the risk of making a topic unreadable to other members. We ask you to try to stick to the thread topic. In most cases we are happy to leave this to your judgment, but we will step in if we feel you have gone too far. Posting in “old” topics is generally frowned on, but it’s a complicated topic. Read here for more details on this. Remember: Eurobricks is a LEGO fan site, thus we want most topics here to be LEGO related. If you find you are posting mostly non-LEGO topics then maybe you have picked the wrong site. (Just to clarify, M%g^ Bl&ks aren’t LEGO….)
An anti-spam policy is a sensible one, as is discouraging topic revival. However, we see here that discussing non-Lego topics seems to be frowned upon. This means that members who have a passing interest in Lego, but want to talk about other stuff, are discouraged from joining. We also see a regular occurrence in the Lego community here – the ‘censoring’ of the phrase Mega Bloks and the associated prejudice that goes with that. This is not a reflection of TLG’s inclusive attitude – those who may like Mega Bloks are singled out in this rule. Keeping in mind that these quotes come from the rules and guidelines topic, it’s surprising to see such an unprofessional bias expressed in them.
“Manners and Serious Topics: Don’t be offensive to other members. We like Eurobricks to be a friendly place to discuss LEGO and won’t allow posts that are intended to offend or attack. For the same reason, topics about religion or politics are not welcome on Eurobricks.”
I don’t have much to say on this right now, but just keep in mind the idea that being offensive towards other members is against the rules. That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, there.
“English skills and Clarity: Try to be clear and precise when posting and use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. We do tolerate bad English as we are a site that welcomes users from all around the world, but we don’t tolerate laziness. No l33t sp34k or “texting language”. We don’t criticize international users who are non-native English speakers, but are trying to post in English. You probably couldn’t do as well in their language. Bear this in mind.”
This rule reflects well on the site and expresses the kind of inclusiveness that TLG itself promotes.
“Staff: The staff are here to help you. Do not debate staff issues with them. Feel free to make suggestions as we are happy to hear them, but if you are told that something is against policy, the discussion is over. Similarly, if you’re not staff don’t act like you are. Telling new members site rules from time to time is one thing, but don’t make a habit of being a mini-modder. Use the “Report” button instead.”
Sounds quite sensible, doesn’t it? We’ll tackle this more later on in this piece.
Of course, there is a difference between the rules you lay out, and the rules you enforce. So far, we have a ‘mixed bag’ in terms of which rules would be endorsed by TLG. Let’s move on to the general site organisation.
At a basic, forum structure level, the organisation of categories leaves a lot to be desired. Want to discuss the licensed line, Lego Lord of the Rings? Then don’t head over to the licensed themes section, head to the historical themes section instead. Why? Because the large number of licensed themes means the licensed themes is busy, and the Historic themes section is so quiet with a lack of new Castle/Western/etc releases, and LotR is sort-of castley. This makes no sense – there’s no point in having categories if they’re going to be disregarded based on which sections are more/less popular.
Meanwhile, want to discuss the Lego Lord of the Rings video game? Well, still don’t put it in licensed themes. But wait - don’t head for the historic themes section instead. No, such a discussion belongs in the ‘Culture and Multimedia’ section, where movies, TV shows and video games are discussed. Topics which, to someone who only wants to talk about Lego, are of no interest. Somebody who only wants to talk Lego shouldn’t bother checking said section for ANYTHING Lego related - that’s all being posted in the Lego-focussed forums, right? Wrong. Lego video game discussion sneaks off into an off-topic section for no sensible reason.
Want to discuss the Lego Star Wars cartoons that Lego releases? Oh, you can do that in the same forum where you discuss the sets, even though video games get relegated to off-topic sections. Could this be because video games are considered a lesser form of media, or perhaps one the staff aren’t personally interested in? Regardless, the rules on where set discussion and media discussion belong are inconsistent. Inconsistency possibly caused by bias.
Lego’s ‘constraction’ figures are subject to the continued AFOL snobbery of the Lego community. The sort of people who still lose sleep over the change of colour of Lego’s grey bricks are the same people who see all Bionicle or Hero Factory fans as whining little kids. The administration’s neglect of this area of the Lego fanbase is apparent in its appointment of Action Figure-only staff. Fan fiction is also allowed here, something that simply could not go on in other areas, and would probably be relegated to the Community section. Incidentally, this is one of the friendlier sections of the forum, because of (once again) the personal preferences of the site’s admins - they don’t care about these lines, so they don’t enforce their strict, inconsistent forum policy here.
Now let’s move on to how members treat eachother. It’s difficult to do this without making use of specific incidents and examples, but keep in mind that these may or may not form the exception rather than the rule. Incidentally, if you have an experience you’d like to share to add to this section, let me know.
A new member posted this, in the Lego Star Wars 2013 Pictures and Rumours thread:
“Hey guys I wasn’t sure where to post this so I thought I would post it here, sorry if its the wrong place. I am completely stuck on which lego set to get, its between the millennium falcon and jabbas palace. I would appreciate if someone took the time to tell me which is the better overall set. Thank you ?”
There is already a topic where people can ask which set people think they should buy - but due to the awful organisation of the site mentioned previously, it’s no surprise he can’t find it. And hey - he apologised in advance if he got it in the wrong place, and we all make mistakes. How would Lego handle a brief, off-topic post? Perhaps linking the member to the relevant section for future reference, and concisely answering the question. Now, keeping in mind this is a Lego forum, and therefore is going to have children forming a portion of its member base, it’s perhaps wise to endorse this kind, approachable, welcoming and forgiving atmosphere. Unfortunately – and somewhat shockingly – this is not the case.
Member ‘Ritz Brick’ later replies to him with this:
“Couldn’t find the topic directly below this one?”
Alright, there are worse responses to make – he hasn’t kicked off and insulted the guy here. But it remains an unhelpful statement. There’s no ‘Hey, yeah this is the wrong place, here’s a link to the topic you want’ or ‘Hey, the Falcon is going to be discontinued sooner so it’s probably wisest to get that first’. Instead, a comment that is confrontational, unhelpful, sarcastic and, all in all, in complete opposition to the values of Lego itself as a company. And nobody comments on this response - nobody steps in to link him to the right topic, or answers his question. Instead, it’s treated as a HUGE deal that he posted a simple question in the wrong topic. This topic, by the way, also involves the discussion of ‘rumour’ - i.e stuff that could easily be completely fabricated and waste of time discussing. Surely lies that get posted and discussed at length should be jumped on instead?
I’ve been punished on this site several times now. What would you consider a decent method of punishment on such a forum? Perhaps a PM from a moderator, talking over things calmly, sorting things out at their root, perhaps having a ‘three strikes and out’ system. Perhaps the best system comes from BZP, who make use of a ‘proto energy’ bar - essentially a way of ‘scoring’ behaviour. Everyone starts with 50% proto, and good deeds serve to increase it, bad deeds decrease it. Not only does it serve as a punishment, it also encourages members to be helpful and friendly to each other. Not a bad idea, really.
Eurobricks, however, has ‘The Chamber’. A leftover from the previous administration of xwingyoda, the Chamber becomes the only visible part of the forum to ‘Taking a break’ members. It contains one section, with topics relating to each member currently ‘taking a break’ - and if you read any topic but your own, you’re in BIG trouble.
The header reads ‘The Chamber: The Ship of Failure Floats on a Sea of Excuses’. Whilst they gain points for making a Portal reference, this pretty much sets the tone of proceedings. A balanced court-like proceeding this is not. Instead, you’ve already been found guilty - this isn’t discussion time, this is ‘Grovel until we allow you back, otherwise you’re banned’. The concept of having a discussion forum to deal with punishment isn’t a bad one - it’s like a PM conversation, but allows other staff to contribute and you can discuss it as a whole, resulting in a balanced and fair outcome.
But no. This is a discussion forum where discussion gets you banned.
Surely you must commit awful, awful atrocities to find yourself here, then? Well, no. Of the two occasions I remember, I was put there for commenting somebody’s review to say ‘Great review, though could be improved by checking your spelling, but it’s otherwise great’, and the second time was because I felt that their ‘Lady’ title was promoting sexism. These are not serious offences. Unfortunately, part of site policy is this:
“Staff: The staff are here to help you. Do not debate staff issues with them. Feel free to make suggestions as we are happy to hear them, but if you are told that something is against policy, the discussion is over.”
What does this mean for the members? That approaching staff is discouraged. If you have a legitimate problem, you can bring it up once, but they’re technically in their rights to ignore you entirely. Which is not good, because these staff members aren’t qualified. They don’t have a degree in how to run a forum. They’re regular people, they like Lego - that doesn’t make them capable of governing a site. A ‘don’t question us’ approach is okay, for example, in the workplace, but not here. Not somewhere where discussion forms the entire purpose of the site.
I’ll use the sexism incident to explore the next area of complaint. This is a problem on EuroBricks that has been present for years, and something I decided to tackle in order to weigh up how far the staff had changed since the xwingyoda years. An investigation, really. An obvious wound to re-open.
To summarize events prior to this, the site had set up a ‘Lady’s group’ in order to (allegedly) make this minority in the Lego community feel more welcome. A nice idea, perhaps, but executed terribly. Forum admin Jipay gives the reasoning behind it as ‘Because women are special’. So, wait a second, could it be that a seemingly positive intention is ACTUALLY thinly-veiled sexism, and perhaps even a way for members to easily keep track of which members they should treat with particular care, as they could be the future Mrs. Lego Nerd? I took issue with this, as the ‘Lady’ title was in place of the titles which change depending on your post count. Males had a title that changed with posts, females did not. Which means they aren’t equivilent - this isn’t changing the differnet post-related titles to being female-specific, this is an entirely new, permanent group. This is treating people differently based on their gender - which is the definition of sexism. However, because no females had complained about it, the staff believed that it WASN’T sexism. I continued to say that, factually-speaking, this is sexism, and they were unable to justify it - in the end, deleting my posts completely. One member suggest that an equal ‘Gentleman’ title was created, but it was dismissed because ‘It seemed a bit too much, if you know what I mean’ (or words to that effect). Essentially, what this member was trying to express was homophobia - particularly revealing as it also confirmed suspicions that the ‘Lady’ title system was set up for romantic or sexual reasons, rather than to make this minority feel more welcome.
Anyway, upon being ‘chambered’ for this complaint. The opening post in my punishment topic contained the following:
“A lot of your posts seem to be angled towards discussions of sexism, racism, homophobia and discrimination in general. Your posts may be viewed by many as trolling. Overall, many of your posts have a distinctive argumentative tone, and this is not appreciated on a friendly LEGO discussion site.”
Ignoring, for a moment, a complete lack of understanding as to what ‘trolling’ actually means, the claim that this is a ‘friendly’ site is most certainly wrong, as we have seen.
“This site is not for discussing ethics, and while we welcome suggestions from members, persistent arguing is unhelpful. This is a private site and we, the staff, volunteer to keep the site readable for our members.”
This site isn’t for discussing ethics. As a wise man once said, “No shit”. Apparently that means that ethical considerations - basic ones, like gender equality - aren’t worth worrying about when constructing the site. My complaint seems to have been misunderstood, as a discussion of sexism as a whole, when actually I was commenting on the running of this particular site - making it the ideal place to post it. As for being ‘readable’ for our members, I’m not sure whether he means that the word ‘sex’ is TOO MUCH or that he thinks putting Lego-related topics in the off-topic section makes stuff easier to navigate….it doesn’t make sense.
“You would like the opportunity to tell the staff in general how you feel the site would be run better. As I have said, we welcome suggestions, but your behaviour seems more accusatory.”
Again, no shit. You’re being sexist, I’m accusing you of being sexist, because, factually, you are.
I went on to explain my position - that is wasn’t ‘trolling’ as I had a valid point to make. The response?
“MadMan/Zane/Tilius/Cult/zabe, you have entirely missed the point. You are not here to debate your original argument. You are here to explain your abrasive and troll-like behaviour.”
I’m not debating at this point. I’m explaining why I’m acting in an accusatory way. I’m doing what has been asked of me, and being ignored for it.
“This forum is constantly listening to its members. However, your definition of listening to you seems to be that we have agree with you, which we don’t in this case. “
If they had been listening, they would have agreed. This isn’t a difference of opinion, this is a fact. I reiterated my point, was ignored again, and then banned.
So, what can we conclude?
- Sexism is considered okay by the staff of Eurobricks.
- A welcoming atmosphere is discouraged.
- Admins and staff on almost every site aren’t there because they’re qualified – they’re mates with the other staff members. Despite this, their word is final. This would be alright if the staff were trained, ensured a degree of impartiality and held basic moral values, but they don’t. The ‘staff should be respected’ motto, therefore, doesn’t hold up – you could easily be more qualified to manage a community than they are!
- There is never any intention to resolve issues because - as the staff say - ‘The Ship of Failure Floats on a Sea of Excuses’.
- On a forum, staff should be approachable, they should encourage discussion, whether it controversial or not, they should eliminate members who express prejudice, and not be the ones to endorse it themselves.
It all boils down to these points:
As Lego fans, we have a responsibility to think in the same way of the company we support and, to some extent, represent.
As forum administrators, we have a responsibility to have an understanding of basic political and social concepts.
As forum members, we have a responsibility to be selective with the communities we are part of, to ensure they are operated by respectable individuals who know how to run things.
As human beings, we have a responsibility to fight blatant injustices within both Lego sites and the internet as a whole.