On April 9th, a man name Jerry Lawson passed away at the tender age of 70. Apparently, Mr. Lawson was the inventor of the first cartridge based video game console. He designed a machine called the Fairchild Channel F, released in 1976. Lawson was one of the few African Americans working in Silicon Valley in the 1960’s and the only Black member of the Homebrew Computer Club. Apple founders, Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak were also members.
I was sad to hear this news. It didn’t bother, so much, that he passed away. He appeared to have lived a long and fruitful life. What furrowed my brow a bit was that I had never heard of the man.
Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the role of marginalized folks in the video game industry. Does the recent survey findings that African Americans play games more than any other ethnic group present an opportunity, and if so, what kinds of opportunities? Culturally relevant games? Industry jobs? More Black characters? Is the media and technology industry more viable for urban youth than, say, the Green jobs industry? Does hip hop and urban influenced expression have a place in the video game press?
Yes, I think a lot, and no, Mr. Lawson isn’t the key to all of these questions. However, the lack of easily accessible information to provide answers to these questions is frustrating. You can imagine my surprise when I suddenly found out about the passing of such a significant pioneer. I sit at my computer terminal reading his obituary, and I imagine that this man would have been a library of information. At the least, he could have been a compass to point me in the right direction. I would have had so many things to ask him.