This month, the videogame industry lost a pioneer. Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, who invented the Fairchild, or Channel F, console, died earlier this month from complications stemming from diabetes. The Fairchild Channel F console, launched in 1976, pre-dated the Atari 2600 by a year. Prior to the Channel F system, games were hard-coded into games consoles. Lawson’s Channel F system was the first to feature a system in which the software was programmed into swappable cartridges, which were then inserted into the videogame console. Swappable cartridges was revolutionary in gaming. Using cartridges to hold games meant that a single console could play multiple videogames–unheard of at the time. Lawson invented, programmed, and implemented the Channel F system. Lawson was the only African American member of the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of computer enthusiasts, from which emerged several tech or games industry legends, including the founders of Apple, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, and Atari founder, Nolan Bushnell.
Last month, Jerry Lawson was honoured by the International Game Developers Association‘s (IGDA) Diversity in Games Special Interest Group (SIG) in San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference. The group celebrated his pioneering achievement with the Fairchild Channel F system. Members spoke of Lawson as an inspiration for black industry professionals and gamers. Joseph Saulter, Chair of IGDA Diversity in Games, spoke at the annual Microsoft Blacks in Gaming event, saying that when he found out about Lawson’s place in videogame history, he was moved to tears.
This video below, filmed to celebrate Lawson’s talk and visit at the IGDA Diversity in Games event, is one of the final public videos in which Jerry Lawson appears:
[VIDEO REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF THE FILM MAKER]
Title: Inclusion in Gaming at GDC, Jerry Lawson, a Pioneer in Video Games
[TRANSCRIPT REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF THE FILM MAKER]
The IGDA Diversity in Games group got together to thank Jerry Lawson, and posed with him for a picture to commemorate his appearance at the event:
[PICTURE REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF THE FILM MAKER]
I was fortunate enough to be one of the folks present to help thank Jerry Lawson in-person for his pioneering achievement in the industry. His legacy continues to live on after his passing.
More about Jerry Lawson:
- Wired’s Game | Life Blog: Jerry Lawson, Inventor of Modern Game Console, Dies at 70
- Los Angeles Times: Gerald Lawson dies at 70; engineer brought cartridge-based video game consoles to life
EDIT – 13 June 2011: The copyright owner has asked us to remove the video, transcript, and photograph. He declined permission for us to embed or link to an official version of the video, nor has he provided us with an official website to which we can direct readers. He also declined an interview request to talk about and promote his documentary film about Jerry Lawson on The Border House, so unfortunately people viewing this post as of June 13, 2011 will be unable to see it or learn more about the project.