Gerald A. "Jerry" Lawson, the American electronics engineer credited with creating the world's first cartridge-based videogame system, has passed away at the age of 70. You'd be forgiven for not recognizing the name, but if you've ever owned a home console, then you owe at least a few minutes of your time to honor the man who arguably started it all.
A forty year veteran of the electronics field, Lawson was a key player in the development of the Fairchild Channel F system in 1976; the first gaming system to hit the market that used interchangeable cartridges in lieu of built-in videogames. Originally known as the Fairchild Video Entertainment System, the unit kick-started an industry which was later dominated by the Atari VCS (aka Atari 2600) in 1977 and countless other systems in the decades that followed.
In an extensive 2009 interview with Vintage Computing and Gaming, Lawson spoke about his early days with Fairchild Semiconductor's game division, and the motivation behind developing the Fairchild Channel F system, recalling, “What was paramount to our system was to have cartridges...We were afraid — we didn't have statistics on multiple insertion and what it would do, and how we would do it, because it wasn't done. I mean, think about it: nobody had the capability of plugging in memory devices in mass quantity like in a consumer product. Nobody.”
Speaking to the San Jose Mercury News just last month, he noted, “The whole reason I did games was because people said, ‘You can’t do it' ...I’m one of the guys, if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll turn around and do it.”
Only 26 games were ever made for the Fairchild Channel F system, but Lawson's contributions to gaming did not end with the groundbreaking system. In the 1980s, he started his own videogame development company, Videosoft, and went on to create games for the Atari 2600.
In the years following his work with Atari, Lawson remained active in the electronics field, serving in Stanford University's mentor program, acting as a consultant to the industry, and telling his story as a guest of honor at various videogame events. Last month, the International Game Developers Association honored Lawson for his considerable contributions to gaming during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Lawson passed away last Saturday following complications from a heart attack. He leaves behind a wife, two children and millions of gamers who continue to play in the industry he helped build.
April 12, 2011
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