Black men and women in gaming have always been there. This month of research has confirmed for me that we all should know more about them. When I was trying to find information on the big shots in gaming from the African American community. I ran into a lot of walls. However, I did end up finding many incredible people we should know about Muriel Tramis, Ed Smith, Dennis Mathews, and Gerald (Jerry) Lawson, to name a few.
Gaming is an incredible gateway for all of us. It has allowed us to explore the sea, abandoned ruins, and ancient mythos. We have defeated and aided gods. We’ve battled on war fronts and defeated AI overlords. All of these beautiful worlds have been created for every one of us to engage with. Many of the games we love started with cartridges. We have the Father of Modern Gaming, Gerald (Jerry) Lawson, to thank for that.
Who Was Jerry Lawson?
Gaming would be a different world without him, so why don’t we know his name? We could speculate this question for hours, and there could be many true answers. It could be that he was black, which is a crying shame. It could also be that he left the industry after Videosoft came to an end.
Jerry Lawson was a tinker and creator. He was a spirit of video games themselves. Today, anyone can go to Google and Youtube University. In the 1970s, there was no internet to make this information readily available to anyone and everyone. Jerry Lawson was self-taught. He figured out everything he did through trial and error. We admire self-taught individuals today. Yet the amount this man achieved from a different breed of self-teaching is inspiring. The information he made and discovered are now foundation blocks for Videogame Goliaths like Activision.
He would take apart radios and televisions before reverse-engineering them back into working order. His creation of Demolition Derby was done largely by tinkering around with a variety of electronics, resulting in the coin-operated video game.
The Father of Modern Gaming
Jerry invented Fairchild Channel F. This console was the first at-home game console available that used cartridges to play games. This console was released in 1976. The cartridge games available for it included Tic-Tac-Toe, Video Blackjack, Shooting Gallery, Backgammon, Drag Race, and Pinball Challenge. Without Jerry’s innovation of the console cartridge, you would have needed to buy a new console for every game you owned. I would think that so many consoles would make for a rather crowded game room. But, instead, we just have crowded shelves of game copies we can plug and play.
When this console was developed, Jerry was the only black engineer in a club called the Homebrew computer club. This club was made up of hobbyists in Menlo Park, California, and was able to claim membership from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
The Fairchild F featured an innovative eight-way directional controller of Jerry’s design. The Fairchild Channel F console was not the only thing Jerry invented. He also developed the first microprocessor-powered arcade cabinet, Demolition Derby. After his time at Fairchild, he later moved on to making software for the Atari 2600 through his company, Videosoft.
Whether Jerry Lawson has been largely forgotten in gaming history because he was black or because his time in the gaming industry was relatively short, we will never know. What we do know is that there is importance in remembering not only the pioneers of gaming but that people of color have always been an active part of gaming innovation. So even though Jerry Lawson has passed on, he deserves for the gaming community to know what he did for them. We at Xidax hope to do our part in remembering these essential figures in gaming history, not just during black history month, but always. Until then, game on!SHOP XIDAX