Celebrating Black History Month – Black In Tech

Gerald Lawson

Dec 1940 – April 2011

Meet the revolutionary mind behind modern gaming—Gerald Lawson! This American electronic engineer is the genius behind the iconic Fairchild Channel F video game console, as well as the commercial video game cartridge. His remarkable inventions have earned him the title of “Father of Modern Gaming”!

Lawson was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1940 and had a knack for tinkering with electronics. He would fix TVs around the neighborhood and even set up his own radio station with recycled parts. He attended Queens College and City College of New York, but decided to drop out and explore Silicon Valley which was starting to gain traction. Heading to Palo Alto, CA, there was lots of new and exciting tech companies popping up and he wanted to be a part of it.

When Lawson arrived in California, he started out as an engineering consultant for Fairchild Semiconductor. But he quickly rose up the ranks and eventually became the Director of Engineering and Marketing of the video game department. He was responsible for coming up with the innovative Fairchild Channel F system – the world’s first home video game console with interchangeable game cartridges, 8-way digital joystick, and a pause menu. It was revolutionary, and really set the stage for other iconic gaming systems like the Atari, SNES and Dreamcast.

In 1980, Lawson decided to break away from Fairchild and form his own company, VideoSoft – one of the first Black-owned video game dev firms. They created software for the Atari 2600, and Lawson’s team made the cartridge that made it famous. Although the company folded after 5 years, Lawson had already made a name for himself, and he went on to consult for several other engineering and game companies later on.

In 2011, the International Game Developers Association acknowledged Lawson as a game-changer for his accomplishments in gaming. To honor him, the University of Southern California established the Gerald A. Lawson Fund to help students from underrepresented backgrounds who want to study game design or computer science. Lawson’s accomplishments are also celebrated at the World Video Game Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY.


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