Origami Girl

Sunday, 1 July 2012

In which Lego and Playmobil go head to head in the Olympics

So the Olympics are quickly approaching and I have not got into the spirit of the Games. I have missed the Olympic torch passing by, worried about if the opening ceremony is going to mostly feature sheep, and discussed the over-baked copyright laws and heavy-handed enforcement accompanying the spectacle.  I have been simply hoping I can escape it all with a holiday to Edinburgh.  Until now.

My local toyshop has revolutionised my Summer with this: 
 and this:

We have available Team GB Olympic mini-figures and Playmobil Olympic sports figures.

As I don’t have endless amounts of money, but I do have an obsession with both toy types I am going to review them in order to make that key decision: which type to collect?
 Taking into account Cost, Packaging, Inclusivity, Playability and Collectability I will score the sets and see who comes out with the gold.

Lego £1.99
Playmobil £2.99

Playmobil is obviously more expensive, but also bigger and some of the sets contain more than one figure so they do seem very good value for money. If saving is what I am going for Lego is slightly cheaper and has less sets to collect, but I may have to buy more in order to get all of them.

Playmobil 1 Lego 1

Lego: Like the previous mini-figure series’ the packaging all looks the same so you don’t know what you’ve got until you are home. This adds an element to surprise, but means I could end up with 5 swimmers and no archers. This always has the potential for swaps if I can persuade anyone else to join me in collecting, but in all my mini-figure collecting I have only done one swap. Lego also has a little flyer with all the figures listed and a tick box option, which is nice for collectors.
Typical minifigure mystery packaging

The packages let you know what is in them. There is an action shot on the front and the back lists the contents. It means I could just get my favourite sets and never bother with the beach volleyball. 
My favourite set

Playmobil 1 Lego 1

Lego: The Lego Olympics are unique to Britain. As we are hosting the games they have only released the sets here. Therefore, unlike the Playmobil, they are not wearing generic sports outfits, but are based on the actual Team GB kit and are official Olympics merchandise. This gives them some serious ‘collectability’ points in my eyes. After all, when Lego is from Denmark and mostly bought by Americans it would be good to feel smug about something uniquely British, and fixed to this point in time. I think I just found myself getting patriotic about Lego. And patriotism is what sporting events are about, right?
Playmobil: The Playmobil sports sets may well be available after the Olympics so there is that little bit less incentive to go get them all right now, but the four gymnast sets make a good collection in and of themselves. The Playmobil is also the only one to feature fencing, the Olympic sport I will be watching and that I sometimes participate in.

Playmobil 1 Lego 2

When deciding between the two I think it is very important to refer back to an on-going mental debate I have regarding the sexism present in both manufacturers. Although I have previously mentioned Lego’s prevalent sexism, if you want to hear someone explain it more eloquently with clips from Lego adverts, Feminist Frequency does so with style, and I would recommend checking her out. It should be easy to displace with sexism in Olympics toys –both men and women participate in all events, so a fifty/fifty split in terms of gender representation and a variety of sports in the figures should be easy to accomplish.

There are 9 figures, 3 of which are female.
Which ones are represented as women?
Horse riding, gymnastics and Taekwondo. So 2 out of 3 female figures are participating in stereotypically female sports. The martial artist feels like a token gesture. Furthermore, the women are all wearing lipstick. It is only a tiny aspect, but the introduction of make-up for the female figures feels like an unnecessary use of sexualisation and a reminder that even in plastic we are taught that women and men have very different roles.

There are 15 sets.
Which ones are represented as women?
Javelin thrower, beach volleyball, gymnast on balance beam, gymnast on parallel bars, Judo competitors and swimmer.
The fencers are actually male beneath their masks, but in the advertised packaging they could be either gender.
This is where Playmobil wins hands down. You may have noted that, like Lego, there are female gymnasts. However, Playmobil actually created four gymnast sets: gymnast on rings and gymnast on pommel horse, are actually male.  The presence of four gymnast sets gives an unexpected amount of attention to a sport which was originally intended as a mere entertaining display when the Olympics were revived in 1896, and removes a gender stereotype in so doing. The javelin thrower and the Judo competitors show that including women was more than a token gesture, and a recognition that women participate in all aspects of the competition. The javelin thrower I think is particularly empowering.
 Click on the image please, in order to see the content of this item.
Additional notes:
Playmobil also makes gestures towards race equality including different skin tones in their sets. However the table tennis figures seems to play on racial stereotypes rather than inclusivity which leaves me feeling a bit confused on this issue.
Lego figures are always yellow.

Playmobil 3  Lego 1

Lego have the option of taking the figures apart and playing around with my existing toys. I could try and ignore the presence of pectorals on most of these figures and make them into a kick-ass girl team through my imagination and some head-transplants. I already own a boxer and a tennis player –with the versions available in the Olympics series I could build a tennis stadium or boxing ring and provide them with competition. Plus the gold medal accessory means anyone can be a winner. Champion Butcher! Victory Fisherman! Award-winning Statue of Liberty!

These sets have some fantastic accessories. My Playmobil collection is already vast and I could pair some of these sets up nicely. Fencers against musketeers. All the gymnasts would make a great display of a competition together. The javelin would go nicely with my collection of weapons. However, whilst I have a lot of Playmobil, the sets fall into familiar categories: Medieval, Pirates, Victorian, Fantasy, Wild West, Farm and Christmas. I don’t generally have modern sets, so it is the accessories that could be combined with my existing collection.

Playmobil 1 Lego 2

Playmobil  7 Lego 7

I hate it when articles score points on a comarison piece which end up totally equal. I am suspicious that they set it up in order to be tidy. Yet no matter how many times I went through this list, I could see a balance. Perhaps that is why I am struggling with this decision. Perhaps, I should ignore issues of gender and just go with the Lego (but maybe buy the Playmobil fencers anyway). On the other hand I find myself challenging the sexism in toys, but continuing to buy into it by purchasing them regardless. When I have a reading list of blogs which criticise Lego for its problematic Friends series and have written to Playmobil about their gender inequality, am I changing anything by collecting toys regardless. What do you think?
Is anyone else going to join me in collecting Olympic toys this summer?

For interesting stories about politics, controvosy and the Olympics I recommend: http://politicsandolympics.tumblr.com/


  1. As a former Playmobil obsessive who also still creates elaborate lego space stations with her little brother, I found this analysis absolutely fascinating - particularly your observations on gender inequality. I have to say that I'd never spotted the lipstick smiles of lego mini figures before. I think the playmobil javelin thrower would be my favourite too.
    (Now you've got me thinking. I'm going to have to go and look at my old Playmobil hospital set to see if the doctor is male and the nurse female...)

  2. I wish I lived where the Olympics were! That would be so cool.

  3. DOn't ignore the gender and inclusivity issues. In fact, given this is one topic where there is a clearly better option make the decision based on that! Collect Playmobil.
    Another point to consider; if you dislike the ridiculous control of olympic branding is it it better to buy into generic playmobil or officially branded lego?
    (Having said ALL that, you then ask which I'd get; as a less avid fan I'd be more likely to be a cheapskate and get lego myself. If you do decide to go with lego, let me know and it may convince me to get the odd one or two and would happily do swaps)
    But really I think you should get playmobil!!

    As always,