“No, not gone. Not really…but he’s right. The best way to honor him for the gifts he has given us is to make this world what he wanted it to be: a place of peace, a living world where Matoran and Agori can achieve their destinies.
Come, my friends, new and old…it is time to begin.” -Tahu, Comic 7: Rebirth
These are the final words that the 10 year running BIONICLE comics ended with. I think that a lot of BIONICLE fans expected Mata Nui to make this choice after his experiences, but I wonder how many of us expected the BIONICLE line to end where it did? After taking its extended presence as an enduring theme for granted for years, the fanbase was dealt a major blow with the BIONICLE line would be ending in 2010.
BIONICLE was special among LEGO’s numerous themes. It lasted a decade, its comics being distributed with each LEGO Magazine issue for a decade. As a result, it accumilated a large fanbase, at least as large as the long time stalwarts of LEGO such as Technic, which many of us consider to be close to invincible in terms of LEGO’s support for it, as it contains the baseline elements that are included in many other themes.
And after its end, BIONICLE left behind a huge legacy: the memories of building your first BIONICLE set, the unprecedented amount of digital media created as part of its advertising effort, and numerous fansites created with the intent of providing a place for dedicated discussion of the theme.
I still remember coming out of Toys R Us with Tahu Mata in 2001, and excitedly opening him up and building him before I even got home, thinking “Wow, this is really something special. I’ve never seen anything of this creativity level from LEGO before!”. I’m sure many reading also recall similar experiences.
But now, as reality sinks in and fans realize that the theme they started taking for granted(and who wouldn’t, with a ten year run?) was really going away, one question is on everybody’s mind: what now? Where will the BIONICLE community, or what’s left of it, go? Is it our destiny to fade away, or are there more tales to be told?
I think that it’s fair to say that the fate of BIONICLE lies squarely in our own hands; for if we forget about it and disappear, what motivation would LEGO have to pick it up again at some point in the future? How many times have old stories, whether in the form of video, books, or otherwise, ended at some point in the past, only for a staunchly committed fanbase continue to celebrate it until it reaches a cultlike status, upon which the bean counters over at companies take notice?
Though I would also say that it’s not like we haven’t been trying. We have continued to write epics, create games, and produce video content, some of which is arguably the best this fanbase has ever experienced, due to many fans being much older now and thus applying their considerable artistic and technical skills that were no doubt spurred in growth due to having experienced it first hand from BIONICLE itself, which launched when many of us were having our first experiences with the internet. And due to those experiences, some of us have grown up to be Web Developers, Software Developers, Indie Filmmakers, Graphic Designers, and 2D/3D Animators.
While we as a fanbase have always appreciated and enjoyed fan created content, it now assumes an inflated importance due to the fact that it is now all we have. We are now confident that the remaining unfinished serial will not be finished:
So this remaining fan created content becomes an important part of upholding interest in BIONICLE and thus keeping it alive.
And while everyone should be allowed to create whatever fan content they wish, there is a part of us that wishes that the story would continue on, in the belief that a story shouldn’t be limited in length by the finances of a toy line, but rather should be continued for the reason of storytelling itself.
But before we examine what the future holds, let us step back into the past and examine how we got here.
From 2005 to 2008, a great number of sites were created, including the split of Crystal Matrix’s original BioSector01 into the BioSector01 Wiki and later the BioMedia Project. These events forever changed the BIONICLE community, creating a Great Cataclysm of sorts where enterprising entrepreneurs took their chances in creating their own fansites. In some respects this was a good thing as it provided each site a chance to find its own niche, but one could also argue that it caused the community to become fragmented, with small communites clinging to their own isolated islands.
The path the community has taken since then has not changed significantly. BZPower has become the birthplace of multiple further wikis and emerging sites, as it always has, although an interesting aspect of this is that some of these are arguing for reunification, like The C.I.R.C.L.E Wiki promoting more uniformity in fan-written storyline, though each of these efforts faces the same problem of becoming large enough to attract enough fan attention to be useful.
There are two primary reasons for branching off into a separate site: either the parent site has a much different scope in coverage than the daughter site, or the parent site stubbornly refuses to incorporate the ideas of the daughter site, creating conflict. It is this conflict that causes separation and fragmentation.
Meanwhile, on June 19, 2013, the official BIONICLE websites shut down, making BIONICLE in the same group as Rock Raiders, another LEGO line ended years ago but still managing to retain a reasonable fan following. As a result of this closure, the traffic going to each fansite has predictably increased, as BIONICLE fans scrambled to find places to discuss the theme, as searching for “BIONICLE” leaves you only with a sparse collection of online stores to buy sets and a couple wiki links.
This leaves us in a precarious position: if any of the privately owned fansites shut down, it’s now plausible that they would take a portion of the community with them. When you are trying to prevent a fanbase from disbanding, unity is more effective than diversification. Creating new sites with the optimism of growth served us well when we were waiting to see where BIONICLE would take us, but now that role has been reversed and it’s now a matter of where we’ll take BIONICLE.
And where are we taking it? The future is uncertain, but at the moment this situation seems rather familiar:
And so the need for unity in the BIONICLE community has never been more important. In each separate fansite we might have a few hundred to a few thousand members, but as an aggregate we number much more. Rather than clinging to our own desolate villages like the Agori did, what sorts of greatness of our own could be accomplished with us together?
On our own little islands, any wave might be able to topple our sandcastles; however, united our combined institutions would have the power to withstand any calamity. Right now we might have some reasonably well built sandcastles, but as the waves of time demand we put more effort into them in an attempt to keep them going, we’re going to have to realize that we would be better off building a house.