I don’t really like Toys R Us. Its linoleum floors are covered with mysterious brown streaks. The air is a suffocating mixture of cashier sweat and children’s tears. Every store is pretty underwhelming, even the one in Times Square with the awkward Ferris wheel, but there is one section that stands out. The Lego section.
As a kid you could always find me rummaging through the Lego section looking for one thing – Bionicles.
Bionicles entered my life some time in 2001. My love for them began with a gift from my mom after doing well in school and eventually blossomed into a zero income profession that consumed all of my time, making it hard to focus on the rules of first-grade mathematics.
I was always that kid that did not take care of his toys. I left them around the living room, inside the bathroom, hell, sometimes even the fridge.
Bionicles changed that.
I learned that Bionicles, and the little pieces that make them up, required a certain amount of care and respect. If I opened the capsule-like packaging too carelessly I risked losing a microscopic piece that held an arm together, or worse yet, the head.
The best part about building a Bionicle figure was not just the end product, but the actual process. I laid out every piece like a doctor getting ready to go into a 15-hour medical procedure. I studied the manual carefully and took it one step at a time. It taught me to be patient, work quickly and procrastinate completing my homework.
The first biomechanical hero I ever built was Kopaka, Toa of Ice. His ability to control ice amused me, but I was not satisfied with having just one Bionicle figure on my tabletop. I wanted to collect every Toa, control every element, and rule my imaginary living room world.
By the time I finished building every Bionicle figure I could get my hands on, Bionicle: The Game had come out for the Nintendo GameCube.
This game gave every Toa a completely new life.
As I became immersed in the story of Mata Nui I could no longer see Kopaka as just a Lego figure that used his Ice Shield to ride around the snowy mountain ranges he called home. He had a personality to him. He was anti-social, brave and analytical. I was given a unique glimpse of the Bionicle Universe through his cyborg-like Toa Mask.
I never beat the game. I never got to personally defeat Makuta and see how the Toa of Light looked like on my mom’s 20 inch Sony television. IGN gave the game a 3.8 out of 10 so I probably didn’t miss anything important, and whatever I did miss was more than likely covered in the Bionicle movie that I watched every time I had a friend over. I was mad popular.
I eventually grew up. I played video games more often and soon I began finding pieces of Bionicle figures scattered around my house. One here, one there, some lost for good. I knew I would regret my apathy one day, but didn’t feel bad about it until the day I found out that Bionicles were being discontinued.
The last time Bionicles had any relevance in my life was when I went to Ecuador this winter. I don’t know why I was reminded about my Toa collection while in the mountains of Cuenca, but I do remember feeling confused about where life was headed.
I have always been a person who wants to be many things at once. An artist, a scientist, a philosopher. Now that I am reflecting on Bionicles, and how different each one of the Toa were I realize that the reason Bionicles appealed so much to me as a kid was because I could be so many things at once. I could be the anti-social Kopaka, the wise Onua, the hot-headed Tahu, the virtuous Gali, the funny Lewa or the friendly Pohatu.
I was free in my imagination, and having that freedom as a child shaped me into who I am today.
Bionicles were re-booted January of this year. That same month I went to Lego World with a friend who could not understand why I spent so much time contemplating whether or not to buy Kopaka. I knew that he would be a unique decoration on my college desk I, but I didn’t want him to be just that – a decoration. As I placed Kopaka back on the shelf I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter whether or not I had any of the figures on my desk anymore. They had already done their job.