Google Doodle Celebrates African-American Video Game Pioneer Jerry Lawson

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On Thursday, Google unveiled their latest homepage doodle – a set of editable and playable, create-your-own video games inspired by the work of African-American video game pioneer, Gerald “Jerry” Lawson.

Although the name may not be recognizable, Lawson’s contributions to the gaming industry are profound. 

Lawson’s Career

In 1970, Lawson joined the Fairchild Semiconductor company in San Francisco as an engineering consultant. If you’re unfamiliar, Fairchild was an early pioneer in manufacturing transistors and integrated circuits.

During the mid-1970s, Lawson was made Chief of Hardware Engineering and Director of Engineering & Marketing for the company’s video game division. It was here that Lawson headed the development of the Fairchild Channel F console, released in 1976. 

He pushed his team to improve the existing technology provided by Alpex, allowing games to be stored on removable ROM cartridges. The console was game-changing (pun intended) as it was the first to feature swappable game cartridges. 

This was different from previous consoles in which games were directly programmed into physical hardware.

Not only could games be removed, and without fear or electrical shock when doing so, the system effectively jumpstarted the consumer’s ability to purchase a “library of games.”

This decision ultimately spread to all console manufacturers as they could all create consistent revenue streams through the continued publishing of new titles.

Although the technology developed for the Channel F console was revolutionary, the popularity of the swappable cartridge was firmly established by the Atari 2600 in 1977.

The cartridge system would go on to become the gold standard for nearly every video game console released afterward. 

Lawson left Fairchild three years later, in 1980, to found Videosoft, a video game development company. As the 2600 had claimed supremacy over the console market, Lawson saw an opportunity to produce software for the reigning console. 

Sadly, Videosoft was not meant to last. It shuttered just five years later. 

Lawson’s Legacy

In March 2011, Lawson was honored by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) for his monumental contributions to the game cartridge concept. 

In March 2019, he was again honored during the 21st Independent Games Festival. He was awarded the ID@Xbox Gaming Heroes title for developing the revolutionary cartridge technology. 

The Google Doodle released today: December 1, 2022, was dedicated to Lawson on what would have been his 82nd birthday. He passed away in 2011.

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