Game Thinking OG: my tribute to Kathy Sierra

The first time I attended FOOcamp — the creative retreat run by O’Reilly Media — I has a hard time deciding which “unconference” talks to attend. So many stimulating topics to explore! So many fascinating people crossing boundaries and doing fresh new things! I was in heaven.

Somewhat dazed by the intellectual smorgasbord, I wandered into a talk by Kathy Sierra on creating badass users. And I was blown away.

Like me, Kathy has travelled between the worlds of game & product design —and her ability to articulate the core drivers that make an experience truly compelling is legendary. If you’ve never seen a Kathy Sierra talk — you need to fix that. Here’s one that captures her powerful message.

In addition to her hands-on work building software and games, Kathy worked at Sun Microsystems as a Master Trainer for programmers, and co-created the innovative Head First series of instructional books for O’Reilly. The visual communication in this series is stunning and highly effective —nobody else was creating programming books that looked anything like these.

As usual, Kathy was ahead of her time — boldly expressing a unique POV, doing great work, and providing an inspiring example for others to follow.

Over the years, as I’ve developed my own approach to creating compelling game-like products, I’ve looked to Kathy’s work for clarity of thought and brilliant visual communication.

Here’s another fantastic talk on the science of motivation. I’ve returned to this again and again, marveling at the way Kathy can tell a story that cuts right through the noise and confusion around “hooking” users, and delivers a illuminating educational message about the downsides of powerful external incentives. Seriously good stuff. Watch and learn.

Even though she has largely withdrawn from public life, Kathy’s pioneering voice and bold boundary-crossing is a source of constant inspiration for me — and my Game Thinking tribe.

Thank you Kathy for shining a light in the darkness, leading us towards clarity, and inspiring people like me to boldly cross boundaries in search of the truth. To me, you are the original, inimitable Game Thinker. 🙏🏽

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Game designer, startup coach, author, entrepreneur

Game designer, startup coach, author, entrepreneur