A Look Back in History: Jerry Lawson — The First Black Game Designer

Engineer Jerry Lawson was born Dec. 1, 1940, and died April 9, 2011. He introduced home video gaming by creating the Fairchild Channel F in August 1976, the first game system with interchangeable games.

As a child, he was inspired by the work of scientist and inventor George Washington Carver. Lawson started repairing televisions to make a little money before enrolling at Queens College in New York City. In the 1970s, Lawson joined the Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computer Club as the only Black member at the time.

The Fairchild Channel F was the predecessor to the Atari 2600 and only lasted a year. This console was designed for one of the first coin-operated arcade games, Demolition Derby. The console was the first cartridge-based gaming system that came to market that featured a pause button and featured eight colors in a single game.

After leaving Fairchild in 1978-79, Lawson started his own video game development company called Videosoft. The company was started to create games and tech tools for the Atari 2600 but fell short of that goal. Videosoft ended up creating only one cartridge, Color Bar Generator, which was made to fix your television’s color and adjust the vertical and horizontal picture.

Lawson may very well be the first Black video game designer, producer and engineer in the industry.