LIFE: a healthy game of chance and choice

“What do you think it means to lead a healthy life?”

Co-produced with The Science Museum, LIFE: a healthy game of chance and choice was a two-day festival showcasing the work of nine Medical Research Council centres as part of the MRC’s centenary celebrations. Over 1,125 visitors of all ages attended the Science Museum on 15-16 June 2013 to learn about the chances and choices that we face in leading a long and healthy life.

Your journey begins at the create zone, where you’re met by The Welcomer, dressed in a white t-shirt with ‘HI’ on the front. He explains that you’re going to need to take a booklet (designed by A+B Studio) and stamp your pal on the front. Your pal is a little character who you’re going to take on a journey through LIFE, where you’ll meet researchers from the MRC, as well as a huge cast of LIFE residents. Once you get the thumbs up, it’s time to head over to the Pal Co-ordinator, who is there to help you create, decorate and name your pal. When all the pals are ready, you need to visit The Dispatcher, who will suggest a few possible routes through LIFE, before sending you through the giant curtain with a rousing rendition of Zarathustra on a pink melodica, of course.

Once in LIFE, it’s time to take your pal to as many of the MRC stations as you can, where you can chat to the researchers about their work, and take part in games and experiments. The MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology have brought along fluorescent larvae and fainting flies, and the Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma have a giant nose for you to crawl around in. Watch out for the outbreak of PALFLU that’s sweeping the festival, too, as your pal might just get a visit from Agent Grimes of the Pal Bureau of Infection, AKA the MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling – has your pal been vaccinated?

Each time you visit a station, you must take a chance or make a choice for your pal. There is always one of three outcomes, with each one resulting in a beautiful ink stamp, designed by illustrator James Graham. The stamp goes into the relevant page of your booklet and forms part of your pal’s life story.

Accompanying Agent Grimes is a whole cast of characters, each linked to an MRC station, who are there to talk to you about what you’ve learned and to give you your stamps. Amongst others, there’s Morgan, the scatty organ delivery driver, who has forgotten which pals her delivery is for (oh no!); there’s PI Penny Cillin, who knows that there’s more than meets the eye to bacterial infection, and, of course Alison Jen (friends call her Ally), who is allergic to anything and everything. The back story to each character is inspired by the research of each particular MRC centre and is designed to engage younger visitors in a memorable and exciting interaction, linked to that centre’s learning outcome.

Once your journey through LIFE is over, Rita the Greeter will welcome you to the chat zone, where you can discuss what you’ve learned and share your pal’s life stories with Gabby, Grace and Gavin Chatsworth in the LIFE: Story TV studio. Using a Talkaoke table and TV camera, visitors of all ages are invited to talk through the choices and chances their pals faced, and to share what they feel it means to lead a long and healthy life. If TV isn’t your thing, then you can talk to the Revolving Reporter with her roving microphone, or have your pal’s photo taken and added to the population globe.

By the end of your journey, you have a colourful booklet that tells your pal’s life story through intricate stamps, along with any notes you made on the way. Visitors take their booklets home with them and are given links to further information so they can continue to learn about the work of the MRC via the internet.

Photos of LIFE: a healthy game of chance and choice are in the project gallery, with more on our facebook page.

The Welcomer: Max Olesker / Iván González
Pal Co-ordinator: Fran Miller / John Hunter
The Dispatcher: Alexander Pankhurst / Steve Wickenden

Marty the Mechanic: Alastair Norgate / Steve Wickenden
Zara Starr: Emma Jane Martin / Alicia Ambrose-Bayly
Dani the Footballer: Ava Charles / Alicia Ambrose-Bayly
PI Penny Cillin: Cat Harrison / Iván González (as PI Penfold Eric Cillin)
Alison Jen: Elisabeth Hopper / Alicia Ambrose-Bayly
Clive the Estate Agent: Obioma Ugoala / Steve Wickenden
Agent Grimes: Chris Harper / Iván González
Coach Kendra: Carly Connor / Iván González (as Coach Ken)
Morgan the Organ Delivery Driver: Grace Felton / Steve Wickenden

Rita the Greeter: Sarah Butcher / Alex Turner (as Peter the Greeter)
Gabby Chatsworth: Kate Stirling
Grace Chatsworth: Stephanie-Jane de Whalley
Gavin Chatsworth: Alex Turner
The Revolving Reporter: Stephanie-Jane de Whalley / Kate Stirling / Alicia Ambrose-Bayly

MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre
MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit – DASH Cohort
MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection
MRC and Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma
MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health
MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling
MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing
MRC Centre for Transplantation

Mikko Gordon and James Bulley

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