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Google honors Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, inventor of the video game cartridge

Google honors Gerald Jerry Lawson inventor of the video game cartridge
Google honors Gerald "Jerry" Lawson, the lead inventor responsible for video game cartridges, with a collection of minigames.

Google has chosen to honor the memory of Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, the lead inventor responsible for video game cartridges, with a collection of minigames on its homepage.

Gerald “Jerry” Lawson was born on November 30, 1940 in Brooklyn, New York, to supportive parents that fostered within him a desire to learn and experiment. As Google Arts & Culture tells it, Lawson would ride around his neighborhood in Queens in a hand-pedaled “Irish Mail” toy car instead of a bicycle.

Growing up as one of the few Black students in a predominantly white school, Lawson took inspiration from the life and ingenuity of George Washington Carver. It wasn’t long before young Jerry grew an interest in electronics, building the necessary equipment to run his own radio station from old parts. Lawson briefly attended Queens College and City College of New York, but decided to move to Palo Alto, California to be part of the blossoming Silicon Valley.

There, Gerald “Jerry” Lawson was hired by Fairchild Semiconductor to be an engineering consultant, and in his spare time he used Fairchild components to create a coin-operated arcade game, “Demolition Derby.” His prowess and passion for video games led to Lawson being promoted to the Director of Engineering and Marketing in Fairchild’s video game division.

It was in that position that Lawson led the engineering and creation of the Fairchild Channel F. Released in 1976, the Channel F was the first ever video game console designed to run software from an insertable cartridge. Up to that point, most home video game systems were single-purpose, offering only one or a small handful of games written directly in the console’s hardware.

As if having an expandable library of games wasn’t advancement enough, the Fairchild Channel F also featured an 8-way joystick — designed by Jerry Lawson — and was the first home console to include a “pause” button. Unfortunately, being the first to major advancements doesn’t always guarantee success, as the Channel F didn’t sell particularly well.

In 1980, after the Atari 2600 found great success following the Channel F’s footsteps in offering games on cartridges, Gerald “Jerry” Lawson left Fairchild Semiconductor to form a company of his own. VideoSoft was one of the first Black-owned businesses in the video game industry, making cartridge-based games for the Atari 2600.

Unfortunately, just a few years later, the video game industry experienced a major crash, which was likely a major factor in Lawson closing down VideoSoft in 1985. From there, he primarily worked as a consultant throughout the video game industry.

According to his children, Jerry Lawson’s story very nearly became a forgotten footnote in video game history until the International Game Developers Association honored him as an industry pioneer. Tragically, Lawson died one month later, on April 9, 2011, due to complications from diabetes. Since then, Lawson’s legacy lives on in new ways, like a permanent display at The World Video Game Hall of Fame and tributes like today’s Google Doodle.

To best honor the memory of Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, Google worked with three artists and game designers — Davionne Gooden, Lauren Brown, and Momo Pixel — to create multiple games to display on the search engine’s homepage. After teaching you a bit of Jerry Lawson’s history and contributions, it becomes your turn to try creating a game.

Things start slow, simply adding a few missing blocks to a level, so that an 8-bit version of Lawson can reach the goal flag. From there, a handful of other games — fittingly depicted as cartridges — become available to both play and edit as you see fit. You can also start from a completely blank level to create the minigame of your dreams, whether a platformer, a breakout-style game, or something else entirely.

Once you’re happy with the changes you’ve made, you can click the share button in the top-right corner to get a link to your completed level. Built a fun level you want to share with the world? Put a link in the comments below for other 9to5Google readers to enjoy. We’ll even play through a few of them and highlight ones we like.

More Google Doodles:

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