Video game pioneer Jerry Lawson honored with Google Doodle

Lawson, who died in 2011, is credited with innovating the video game cartridge.

Google paid tribute to Gerald “Jerry” Lawson on Thursday by featuring the video game pioneer as the subject of a Google Doodle. Dec. 1 would have been Lawson’s 82nd birthday.

Lawson, a Brooklyn-born electronic engineer, was the innovative mind behind the advent of video game cartridges. The Doodle tells his story by allowing the user to play six “demake”-style video games as well as edit them. If you are no looking for new games to try, we recommend to to read this RuneScape comparison blog post.

Jerry Lawson Google Doodle
Image: Google Doodle

Once entering the Doodle, users interact as a rendering of Lawson in a game-play tutorial. Moving him from checkpoint to checkpoint using computer arrow keys, descriptions of his career milestones are activated.

“Jerry got his start building arcade games in his garage for fun,” it said. “He soon became one of the first Black engineers to work in the video game industry,” another read. “In 1976, Jerry led the team that developed the revolutionary first video game cartridge.”

Lawson began working for Fairlight Semiconductor in 1970 and worked his way to becoming chief hardware engineer, according to Polygon. It was Lawson’s idea to develop and launch swappable ROM cartridge-based games for Fairchild’s Channel F game console. Prior to that, games were encoded straight into the consoles.

From then, cartridge-based technology became the industry norm for consoles like Atari, Nintendo, and Sega.

According to Google, an all-Black team of two guest artists, Lauren Brown and Davionne Gooden, and game designer Momo Pixel worked together to bring Lawson’s Google Doodle to life. After designing and programming one of the games, Gooden, a Cleveland-based game developer, told Polygon he hopes people using it learn more about Lawson’s accomplishments and get a sense of what it’s like to be a game developer.

“When people see and try this doodle, I really want them to walk away feeling like they can actually make their own game,” Gooden said in a Google mini-doc. “Express yourself! Look into Jerry Lawson, who he actually was, his contributions to the gaming industry and beyond.”

Those contributions included launching “one of the earliest Black-owned video game development companies,” VideoSoft, which notably created software for the Atari 2600, according to Google. Lawson died in 2011; but one month before his death, he was honored for his career by the International Game Developers Association. He is also the namesake of a fund for aspiring yet underrepresented gaming students at the University of Southern California and has been inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y.

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