How to Cite

Kay, L., Green, L., & Leaver, T. (2023). Blocks. M/C Journal, 26(3).
Vol. 26 No. 3 (2023): blocks
Published 2023-06-27 — Updated on 2023-06-27

Children's engagement with blocks is a vital and joyful aspect of childhood shared across the world. While the physical manipulation of blocks is a core part of children's development (i.e., LEGO), there are also online platforms and apps available that provide virtual play experiences with blocks (i.e., digital building apps, virtual worlds). The open-ended nature of block play allows children to explore their creativity, experiment with different designs, and learn from trial and error. Furthermore, this type of play promotes imagination, encourages independent thinking, and enhances communication and collaboration as children engage in shared building experiences. The hands-on and interactive nature of block play also enables researchers to utilise this medium with children to learn about their perceptions and experiences in a participatory and active way. On a different front, blocks can also refer to different forms of stopping, including lies.

Due to the wide variety of excellent responses to the initial call for papers focussing on ‘toys’, this issue complements the previous 'toys' issue by focussing further on children’s engagement with play forms and artefacts, specifically blocks (both physical and digital). 

The editorial team drew on a range of complementary knowledge and experience to put together the ‘blocks’ issue. Louise Kay was a key researcher within the EU-funded MakEY – Makerspaces in the Early Years: Enhancing Digital Literacy and Creativity project. She is currently working on the Maker{Futures} project at the University of Sheffield, which supports schools, museums, libraries, and community spaces to set up makerspaces, providing playful and creative ways to develop digital and STEM skills through a STEAM approach that integrates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with the arts.

Lelia Green is a Chief Investigator in the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child, and lead CI (after Donell Holloway’s retirement) on the ARC Discovery Project DP180103922 – The Internet of Toys: Benefits and Risks of Connected Toys for Children. For Lelia, the ‘blocks’ issue raises matters of concern that might, could, or (possibly) should raise issues around consent, ethics, and children’s data flows. Essentially, the questions asked by this ‘blocks’ collection include whether the balance of risk and benefit relating to certain toys might give parents cause to pause, blocking access to some younger children’s (under 13) engagement with connected toys. 

Tama Leaver brought critical analysis to the table, informed by his Chief Investigator (CI) role within the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child. In addition, Tama’s personal interest in LEGO is shared with his children, and they collaborated on the cover image for this issue.

In our feature article “The Toy Brick as a Communicative Device for Amplifying Children’s Voices in Research”, Kylie Stevenson, Emma Jayakumar, and Harrison See document the use of the LEGO brick toy as part of participatory play-based methods in the research project Digital Safety and Citizenship Roundtables, conducted with industry-partner the LEGO Group, Edith Cowan University, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child. The use of multiple play-based, child-friendly participatory methods is explored, and how children’s views about digital safety and citizenship in India, Korea, and Australia were collected and conveyed. The article explains how such toy play is an empowering communicative strategy that gives children agency so that they can creatively interject their voices into ongoing discussions about children’s digital citizenship.

In “Platform Rhetoric and Fan Labour as the Building Blocks of LEGO Ideas”, Travis Holland and Beck Wise examine the LEGO Ideas platform and its Guidelines as ways of positioning and constructing the relationship between the LEGO Group and fan builders, especially adult fans of LEGO. The combined infrastructures of the Ideas platform and other LEGO online properties is argued to provide the LEGO group with significant data about LEGO fans and users that the LEGO group can exploit commercially. Aligned with many studies of fan cultures, Holland and Wise see fan labour and the infrastructures around it as extracting commercial value from fans, even while fans take pleasure in this labour.

Along similar lines, in “LEGO and the Infrastructural Limits of Open Play” Nick Taylor explores the impact of the LEGO Group buying the Bricklink Website and platform, housing the largest LEGO adult fan community and their significant aftermarket trade of LEGO bricks, parts, and minifigs. Taylor argues that the LEGO Group is exercising a form of platform logic whereby it can utilise this digital infrastructure to impose and police ideological boundaries of what LEGO’s values are, and how these values should be enacted in both official and fan spaces. While the patents that protect LEGO’s monopoly on interlocking bricks have long since expired, purchasing Bricklink has solidified the LEGO Group’s material and digital reach, reifying the point that “LEGO encourages connection, openness, and creativity—so long as we use its platform, and its platform exclusively, to do so”.

Gemma Blackwood in "Roblox and Meta Verch: A Case Study of Walmart’s Roblox Games" examines the two Walmart Roblox games (Walmart Land and Walmart Universe of Play) through an analysis of their gameplay, focussing on the ways that both games are incentivising play and how they link to in-game purchases and the Walmart brand. She argues that the games are designed to link gameplay with a highly personalised shopping experience, which blurs the boundaries between games and branded advertising. Issues are raised that link to broader debates regarding the commodification of, and impact on, children’s gaming experiences.

Finally, Jo Ann Oravec’s article “Promoting Honesty in Children, or Fostering Pathological Behavior? Emerging Varieties of Lie Detection Toys and Games” problematises the process which constructs lie detector technology as the stuff of children’s games. Noting that these toys typically use physiological cues that regulate human responses to stress – generally beyond conscious control – the article asks about the ethics of children learning to lie. It speculates that such lie detector ‘play’ might be constructed as teaching children to lie more effectively. Are children learning to block their stress symptoms, or might parents and children choose instead to block out the possibility that such games are appropriate ‘child’s play’? Whether blocking stress, or blocking as lying, this article wraps this issue with a novel exploration of blocks.


The work on this special issue was partially supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council. Professor Lelia Green and Dr Louise Kay (together with Professors Bieke Zaman and Giovanna Mascheroni) were Investigators on the ARC Discovery Project DP180103922 – The Internet of Toys: Benefits and Risks of Connected Toys for Children (2018-22), and they acknowledge Dr Donell Holloway’s past leadership of this grant. Professors Tama Leaver and Lelia Green are both Chief Investigators in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child (CE200100022), which is led by QUT and also involves Curtin University, Deakin University, Edith Cowan University, University of Queensland, and University of Wollongong. The Centre of Excellence is funded through to the end of 2027. Tama would also like to thank his children for their input in to the design of the cover photo, and for letting their Lego figures be part of it!

Author Biographies

Louise Kay, The University of Sheffield

Dr Louise Kay is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. Her research focuses on curricular and assessment policy frameworks in Early Childhood Education, and the impact that these have on teachers, children and parents. Further interests include STEAM education in Eary Childhood Education, play, pedagogy, workforce professionalism, and policy analysis.

Lelia Green, Edith Cowan University

Professor Lelia Green is a chief investigator for the Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child and research focussed professor of communications for the School of Arts and Humanities at ECU. Her research interests include the impacts of everyday media use in households and with a focus on amplifying the voices of children in this sphere.

Tama Leaver, Curtin University

Tama Leaver is a Professor of Internet Studies at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia and expert media commentator. He is the Vice-President of the (international) Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) and a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child.

His research interests include digital childhood and infancy online, visual social media , social media, digital death, mobile gaming and the changing landscape of media distribution. He has published in a number of journals including Popular CommunicationMedia International AustraliaFirst MondayComparative Literature StudiesSocial Media and SocietyCommunication Research and Practice and the Fibreculture journal. He is the author of Artificial Culture: Identity, Technology and Bodies (Routledge, 2012); co-editor of An Education in Facebook? Higher Education and the World’s Largest Social Network (Routledge, 2014) with Mike Kent; and Social, Casual and Mobile Games: The Changing Gaming Landscape (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) with Michele Willson; co-author of Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures (Polity, 2020) with Tim Highfield and Crystal Abidin; and co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Digital Media and Children (Routledge, 2021) with  Lelia Green, Donell Holloway, Kylie Stevenson and Leslie Haddon.

He has been awarded teaching awards from the University of Western Australia, Curtin University, and in 2012 received a national Australian Award for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities and the Arts.