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Black American Engineer Jerry Lawson Helped Lay Foundation For Modern Gaming Technology

Black American Engineer Jerry Lawson Helped Lay Foundation For Modern Gaming Technology

Lawson

Photo: Museum of Play / Estate of Jerry Lawson

 Jerry Lawson is a trailblazer whose innovations laid the foundation for modern gaming technology. An electronic engineer, Lawson revolutionized gaming by creating the first home interchangeable cartridge game console, a pivotal development in an industry projected to grow 2.8 percent to $189.3 billion in 2024, Reuters reported.

Born on December 1, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York, Lawson’s fascination with electronics was evident from a young age. Inspired by African American scientist George Washington Carver, Lawson spent his childhood dismantling and reassembling gadgets. A passion for computing led him to Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computing Club in the 1970s, where he was the only Black member, frequently interacting with notable figures like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, I Am History reported.

Lawson’s career took a significant turn when he joined Fairchild Semiconductor in the early 1970s. As an engineer and project manager, he worked on groundbreaking projects, culminating in the development of the Fairchild Channel F console in 1976. This console was revolutionary due to its use of interchangeable game cartridges, a departure from the fixed-game systems used at the time. This innovation allowed players to swap cartridges.

In 1980, Lawson founded VideoSoft, one of the first Black-owned video game development companies, creating software for the Atari 2600. Despite its closure five years later, Lawson’s entrepreneurial spirit and pioneering efforts left an indelible mark on the gaming industry, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Milwaukee Branch.

Lawson’s work broke racial barriers in a predominantly white industry, paving the way for greater diversity and inclusion in tech and gaming.

Lawson faced health challenges later in life, including complications from diabetes. He passed away on April 9, 2011.

In March 2011, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) recognized Jerry Lawson as an industry pioneer for his groundbreaking work on the game cartridge concept. Elementary School #11 in the Los Angeles Unified School District has been designated as the Gerald A. Lawson Academy of the Arts, Mathematics, and Science.

Photo: Museum of Play / Estate of Jerry Lawson