This month the video game industry said goodbye to Jerry Lawson. Lawson was a very talented engineer who created the first cartridge-based video game system, the Fairchild Channel F.
Lawson, notable for being one of the very first African Americans who worked on video games, passed away on April 12th at age 70 in a California hospital after a heart attack.
Many game developers and gamers have never heard of Lawson, but he was one of the earliest video game pioneers who helped give birth to the video game industry. His development of the interchangeable cartridge game and the first digital joystick paved the way for future game developers
The amount of work he contributed to video games is just as important as other video game pioneers like Ralph H. Baer(known as the “father of video games” who created the Magnavox Odyssey), Nolan Bushnell(responsible for making Atari a household name) and Shigeru Miyamoto(creator of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, and the Legend of Zelda, among others.
Ever since he was young, Lawson had a knack for electronics, and in his teens he fixed broken TVs as a part-time job. In the 1970’s he had his own personal computer in his garage where he created his first coin-up arcade game, Chicago Coin’s Demolition Derby, which came out shortly after Pong.
The idea of a cartridge was unheard of at the time. Many engineers were scared to make them because they thought it could cause explosions and didn’t know how to produce a console around its microprocessor. When the Fairchild Channel F released in 1976, it was the first time gamers could switch between game titles (earlier game systems like the Magnavox Odyssey and the first Atari systems had games built inside them).
Although the Atari 2600 surpassed the Channel F in sales, it was remarkable what Lawson was able to with cartridge video games when he had no previous cartridges to base his work off for reference.
During the 1980’s he formed his own studio called Video Soft, which produced cartridges for the Atari 2600. Lawson hasn’t kept up with the industry today, but up until his death he was working on tools, laser telescopes, and other electronic devices.
Lawson was admitted into the El Camino Hospital Mountain View in California a few years ago due to diabetes, which led to the loss of sight in one eye and the loss of one of his legs. Many pictures shown before his death show him in a wheelchair.
Thankfully, a month before he died Lawson was recognized for his achievements in video games at the Game Developers Conference by the International Game Developers Associations Minority Special Interest Group.
Also, six of his previously unreleased Atari 2600 games were made available last year with all profits going to Lawson’s family. A memorial service is being planned sometime in May to honor the achievements he brought to the world of video games.
This article originally appeared in the UWM Post. Check out the original article here. http://issuu.com/theuwmpost/docs/uwmpost_42511