A Pioneer in Gaming Recognized in 2011, Just One Month before His Death – Creator of the Cartridge

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A Pioneer in Gaming Recognized in 2011, Just One Month before His Death – Creator of the Cartridge

Jerry Lawson was in the video game industry from the beginning.  Lawson was honored by the International Game Developers Association in March 2011 for his work and died just one month later at age 70.  Allan Alcorn (creator of Pong) said, “He’s absolutely a pioneer.  When you do something for the first time, there is nothing to copy.”  It just took an excessively long time for his work to be recognized.

According to the New York Times, Jerry Lawson was one of few black engineers in the electronic world “and electronic gaming in particular.”  He designed the Fairchild Channel F console, available in 1976.  Lawson also founded Videosoft and ran the company, which developed software for the Atari 2600 during the 1980’s.  He even created one of the earliest arcade games – Demolition Derby – which made its appearance just after Pong.  It is thanks to Lawson that we could even play different games on removable cartridges!

Fairchild Channel F www A Pioneer in Gaming Recognized in 2011, Just One Month before His Death – Creator of the Cartridge

In his career, he of course encountered racism by white people who were shocked to see a black man in the video game industry.  He talked about meeting John Ellis from Atari in person and Ellis’ surprise, “Al Alcorn, Nolan Bushnell, talked about you – all of them talked about you – Joe Keenan.  But they never said you were black.”  In response, Jerry said, “Well, I am […] I don’t go around telling everybody I’m black.  I just do my job, you know?”  Many others were surprised by his voice, assuming all black people have a certain kind of voice, to which he responded, “Oh yeah?  Well, sorry, I don’t.”

In fact, his death was merely glossed over by game websites like 1UP and Joystiq.  How could the creator of the game cartridge be so easily dismissed within the gaming world?!  Ralph Baer gave Jerry Lawson credit about 7 or 8 years ago at the Classic Gaming Expo saying, “You guys want to meet the person who started the cartridge business?”  For someone who was as important to the evolution of the video game industry as Lawson, it seems as though he should have been featured just as prominently as other industry leaders.

jerry lawson 300x175 A Pioneer in Gaming Recognized in 2011, Just One Month before His Death – Creator of the Cartridge

Lawson talked about young black people looking to get into the field as explorers, “They need to understand that they’re in a land by themselves […] You’ve gotta step away from the crowd and go do your own thing.”  However, once you’re entrenched in the industry, creating and innovating, creativity takes on a form of its own.  As Lawson said, “When you start to get involved in certain practices and certain things you want to do, you’re colorless.”

KitGuru says: We are glad Jerry Lawson was finally recognized by IGDA.  We hope that other organizations keep his memory and contributions alive too.

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