An Interview with Toshiko Kikkawa

Toshiko Kikkawa, is a professor of social and organizational psychology at Keio University, Tokyo, Japan. As a member of the International Simulation and Gaming Association (ISAGA) and the Japan Association of Simulation and Gaming (JASAG) for more than 25 years, she is interested in and has an experience of facilitating and designing games.  Her expertise in psychology allows her to combine learning experiences with psychological theories and knowledge when facilitating and designing games. Her work covers a wide range of topics, such as disaster-prevention education, environmental education, career development, communication skill training, conflict resolution, and so on. She published several books about gaming in Japanese and her games gain popularity in Japan. As she is a dedicated user of Thiagi’s games in her workshops, she runs a website for introducing Thiagi’s works in Japanese. . You can reach Toshiko at

Thiagi: How would you like to introduce yourself?

Toshiko: I have been a gamer since I was a child. My parents taught me a lot of games, including traditional Japanese card games. When I was a student at Kyoto University in Japan, there were many researchers studying simulation games and they also played games for fun. As game players, they were tough in the sense that they often proposed changes in rules for improving games. Since then, I started to explore links between games and reality. After I participated in the Conference of International Simulation and Gaming Association (ISAGA) in 1991, my commitment to this field became firm. I also came to be interested in facilitation after I joined a Thiagi’s workshop in one of the ISAGA conferences. In 2004, my colleagues and I developed Crossroad, a tabletop exercise for improving disaster preparedness, and published a book about it. The game has gained a great popularity in Japan and been applied to other countries.

Thiagi: What is specialty area?

Toshiko: I am a psychologist, therefore I try to connect psychological theories to learning experiences whenever I run workshops and design games. As a game designer, my games can be characterized by simple rules.

Thiagi: How did you get into designing and using games?

Toshiko: My family, research environment, and my personality naturally led me to use and design games. In other words, I feel myself being driven by a predetermined destiny.

Thiagi: How long have you been designing and using games?

Toshiko: As a game player, I have a long history, as I mentioned earlier. As a teacher, I started to use games since 1989, when I started working at a university. I started to design games later, probably in 1997.

Thiagi: Where do you use games?

Toshiko: Mainly in graduate university class. I also conduct workshops for ordinary people and for professionals, including nurses, firefighters, and governmental officials.

Thiagi: How do your clients respond?

Toshiko: Generally, they are very positive. In Japanese, the term game is associated with fun and we have a long history playing games. Therefore clients show great interest in workshops using games. However, I must admit that there are some clients who do not like fun elements implied in the term game. In that case, I use the term simulation instead of game. I do not mind this kind of cheating, as they would realize the importance of learning with fun after the workshops. All’s well that ends well.

Thiagi: How do your participants respond?

Toshiko: Speaking of university students, they really enjoy games. As to some interactive methods that include self-disclosure, some students show reluctance to join. Therefore, as a teacher and a facilitator, it is important to know the characteristics of the participant in advance, if possible.

Thiagi: What is the most horrible or embarrassing moment you had in conducting games?

Toshiko: Once I forgot to bring the expert answer for the Desert Survival game with me, one of the consensus decision-making activities.

Thiagi: What advice do you have to newcomers about interactive training?

Toshiko: Look for every opportunity to join any kind of interactive training. Experiences as a participant will deepen your insights as a facilitator and a designer, as it enables you to keep participants’ perspectives in mind.

Thiagi: What types of games do you use most frequently?

Toshiko: As a university teacher, I prefer to use games that encourage students to communicate each other as natural as possible. In this sense, consensus decision-making activity is one of the most frequently used games.

Thiagi: What is your most favorite game?

Toshiko: I am a collector of Quartett games. It is also known as Quartet or Go Fish. I like its didactic elements. They are twofold. First, we can include any kinds of content in the cards, or even ask participants to make their own cards. In this regard, the game can be considered as a good medium for delivering information. Second, the game element that the player who is attentive to others’ questions during the gameplay will win naturally leads players to realize the importance of active listening.

Thiagi: I know you have a huge collection of board games, not to mention to card games. Do you also use them for your workshops?

Toshiko: Yes. I have more than 300 games. I sometimes use them if they fit the purpose of my workshops. I take advantage of well-designed commercial games. Their playful nature and good designs attract participants, especially students. Another benefit of using commercial games is their availability. Participants are able to buy games if they like, which leads them to reinforce learning after the workshops.

Of course, I myself enjoy playing them as a gamer.

Thiagi: Can you suggest some of them for facilitators of interactive learning?

Toshiko: I suggest some card games that focus on communication. They are Dixit, Black Stories, and Werewolf. Werewolf can be interpreted as suitable to teach important psychological facts, such as prejudice and minority influence.

Thiagi: Who are your favorite game designers?

Toshiko: Thiagi. As a matter of course.

Thiagi: Do you have any book recommendations?

Toshiko: All books from Thiagi.

In addition, as a researcher in the field of Gaming and Simulation, I would recommend the following two classics:

Duke, D. (1975) Gaming: The future’s language.  Wiley & Sons Inc.

Klabbers, J. (2006)  The magic circle: Principles of gaming & simulation. Sens Publishers.

Thiagi: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Toshiko: I have a quite optimistic view. People will come to appreciate the importance of games, however slow the diffusion process would be. One of the disadvantages of games would be that it is difficult for people to recognize the effects without experiencing them. However, having experienced games, people could be addicted to them, as I once was.