Meet the designer whose board games ask Thai children to engage with serious matters from human rights and corruption to debt and democracy. 

Ruttikorn “Tonk” Vuttikorn, 44, designs computer and board games that are meant to make Thai children think. As the design director of Bangkok-based toy manufacturer Club Creative, Tonk dreams up engaging ways for children to learn about serious matters in life, from human rights and corruption, to debt and democracy. Her best-known board game, SIM Democracy, asks players to run their own democratic nation, with the board representing the country. We caught up with her just before a recent workshop held for children on the islands of the south. 

How did you get into making games?

I come from a toy designing background but I’ve also done so many different things. I could be called a “toy activist.” I wanted to create something that’s not just for selling but for teaching society about equality and other social matters. I had a chance to meet some NGO workers who wanted to do the same thing but who didn’t have any tools to teach the children, so I designed some games. This was about 10 years ago now.

Which of your ideas is your favorite and why?

It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite because every game has its own character, but SIM Democracy is probably the most successful. It’s a continuous project, and has been developed to fit several different countries. We’ve also been holding workshops with children in different areas about this game.

Can you give us an example of how your games raise awareness?

Basically, our role is to transform complicated, serious topics into something that kids can understand. I went to Nepal after the big earthquake [2015] and held a workshop about natural disaster for the local teachers, too.

What subjects do you tackle?

Democracy, natural disasters, loan-shark debt, the environment, waste management, climate change, sufficiency economy. 

Who are your your games aimed at?

It depends on the game, but of course children, with teachers and parents to help encourage.

And how old are they, usually?

Six years plus. 

What inspires you to design a game?

We don’t work based on inspiration but problems and reasoning. The game usually stems from an existing problem that we want to fix. We then ask: what kind of knowledge and experience does a person require to be able to fix that problem and study it in-depth? It usually takes one year to develop a new board game. 

What games do you have lined up for the future?

This year, I want to host workshops that encourage teachers, parents and children to make their own games. I want to use the designing of games as a learning process. For example, if you want to design a game about human rights, before you do that you need to research into the subject. The game is a system designed to encourage you to look more deeply into the topic.

Any advice for aspiring game designers?

I think most children want to be game designers. They always get so excited when I tell them it’s what I do. But I feel like parents still have a bad impression about it as a career choice. If you want to design a game, just do it. It’s something that anyone can do, all you need is paper, a pencil, an eraser. It’s about experimenting and developing. Just give it a go and get your friends involved. It’s a group activity. 

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