What was the idea behind the “Super me” event that was held in Copenhagen?
The idea was to promote and extend the knowledge on the topic of neuro-enhancement. To encourage people to consider their own opinion on the matter.
Why did you choose the format of role playing for this event?
We chose this format because if you want people to learn something, this aim becomes easier if they feel they are part of the issue and this is what you do in role playing. In role playing you become part of a scenario and you have the chance to feel the complexities of the specific topic you have to make decisions of. There is a strong difference between this type of experience and simply theoretically dealing with an issue. You learn a lot more when you have to stand up in a debate and face another person, and when the topic becomes personal for you.
What happened during the role playing? How many people were involved?
In total there were seventeen role players (eighteen including me). What they did is they pretended to be at a conference fifty years out in the future. The players made some statements about what should be allowed and what should be not allowed in regard to neuro-enhancement. These seventeen people had different opinions: some was against neuro-enhancement, some was for it, some was against some parts of neuro-enhancement and at the same time for other things in regard to neuro-enhancement, and because they all had their own background stories they used them in their arguments with each other and when they involved the guests in the play. When a guest arrived at the location he would be briefed about the scenario before entering the room and could thereafter talk to the role players.
What was the strength of role playing in this experience?
I think that when you speak to a person that is not talking about something theoretical but that is talking about something he feels involved himself and are including your situation in his topic then you relate much more to the information. It engages you more than something theoretical: this is what happens when you deal with role play. A role player is not talking about what he knows or what he thinks the future will be but he says this and this happened to me. If you speak from a story point of view everything becomes much more personal. For instance if you say “I won’t be able to finish my graduation if I’m not allowed to take these pills” it becomes personal and much more tangible than “5 % won’t be able to finish their graduation if they're not allowed to take these pills”. When you listen to a person that is talking about himself you feel the problems he had to face and you have to take a stand in a different way than when you are reading an article.
How difficult was it to prepare the event and the role players and to imagine a future where neuro-enhancement technologies will be available?
It was not that hard, because we used experienced role player and because it was told to the roleplayers not to focus on what scientists tells us about neuro-enhancement but to concentrate on what they think they know today and what they think the future will be. They had to make up their idea of a future, they had to use their imagination and all of them are used to that. Of course I had to know something about neuro-enhancement myself, and in that regard, it was an advantage to be a biologist. I read scientific articles and I could explain neuro-enhancement to the role players, but many of them prefered to make their own stories. This was alright because the aim was to make people make up their own minds, when talking to the players and the role players wanted to show that neuro-enhancement is a complex issue: it is not black or white. There are many complications and consequences depending on how you choose neuro-enhancement should be handled.
What surprised you the most in the interaction between role players and the public?
I noticed that it was easier to talk about the issue and have a quick response on a large scale rather than when you go down to the details. Let’s say for example “should this be allowed for children and from what age? What about children with minor disabilities?”: it became difficult to have a very clear feedback. But if you went to a large scale like “Should this be allowed for everyone or should it not be allowed for criminals?” then the answer was usually quite simple. I also noticed a game dynamic, the role players seemed to help the public much more than they were expected; instead of playing with each other and staying in characters and playing the game that we had set up (this is called staying ingame), they wanted to involve the public and that made the players be more like speakers.
Do you think the experience was successful and would you repeat it?
I would be really happy to repeat it. I would change some things in regard to the briefing of the public before entering the room and in regard to how to keep the players ingame. We were expecting one thousand guests but we got two thousands! As a whole I think it was very good. Many people were really happy afterwards: we used a new way to help people speak about problems instead of theoretical hypothesis and these people learnt a lot. I would love to see this technique used much more.
What is your feeling towards the neuro-enhancement future? Are you excited or afraid?
I am excited, in a way my personality has a strong role in how I see it because I like to explore and try new things. Of course it has to be somehow ethical, there has to be some sort of control in regard to safety, but I would like to try. I would like a bionic eye, I would like to be able to think faster.
What characters did the role players choose?
Many of the players chose characters that were positive, only a few chose people that were against neuro-enhancement. I can not conclude, what the players personal opinion is about neural-enhancement based on this choice. Some players tend to choose a character, that are very much like themselves and thereby playing close to home, Others tend to seek a character that are the opposite of themselves, so they can try to be something, that they are not and thereby learn something about another point of view. Some players tend to just want to play something extreme no matter what their own personal opinion are and others play a more everyday character because they just want to be part of the story. This variation in why a role player chooses a specific character type gives a safe place to the player. You can not be judged as a person on your character, because it is just a character and not a reflection on who you are and what your own opinion on a matter are.
The advantages of using live action role play in learning is that it can include all the following factors that enhance learning.
When you learn new material it is easier when these factors are included:
It is meaningful – it is understandable, concrete and useful
It is emotional – you are engaged, interested, active
It is (also) about yourself – it has relevance
There is bodily movement involved – it can be felt, manipulated, hands-on, demand balance and coordination
There are social relations involved – it can be remembered and communicated in relation to social interaction
There is a collective story – a narrative, meaningful representation in time and space
It is quantitative – it has a size, weight, feel, shape
It is basic – it is connected to life's basic dimensions
It is beautiful – it is attractive and thereby memorable