Today’s interactive game Doodle celebrates the 82nd birthday of Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, one of the fathers of modern gaming who led the team that developed the first home video gaming system with interchangeable game cartridges. The Doodle features games designed by three American guest artists and game designers: Davionne Gooden, Lauren Brown, and Momo Pixel.
Lawson was born in Brooklyn, New York on this day in 1940. He tinkered with electronics from an early age, repairing televisions around his neighborhood and creating his own radio station using recycled parts. He attended Queens College and City College of New York before departing early to start his career in Palo Alto, California. At the time, the city and its surrounding region had become known as “Silicon Valley” due to the explosion of new, innovative tech companies starting up in the area.
Upon arriving in California, Lawson joined Fairchild Semiconductor as an engineering consultant. A few years later, Lawson was promoted to Director of Engineering and Marketing of Fairchild’s video game department where he led the development of the Fairchild Channel F system (the “F” stood for fun!). This was the first home video game system console that featured interchangeable game cartridges, an 8-way digital joystick and a pause menu. The Channel F paved the way for future gaming systems like the Atari, SNES, Dreamcast and more.
In 1980, Lawson left Fairchild to start his own company, VideoSoft—one of the earliest Black-owned video game development companies. The company created software for the Atari 2600, which popularized the cartridge Lawson and his team developed. Although they closed five years later, Lawson had solidified himself as a pioneer in the industry and continued to consult multiple engineering and video game companies throughout the rest of his career.
In 2011, the International Game Developers Association recognized Lawson as an industry trailblazer for his contributions to gaming. The University of Southern California also created the Gerald A. Lawson Fund to support underrepresented students who wish to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees in game design or computer science. Lawson’s achievements are memorialized at the World Video Game Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York.