The Father of Cartridge-Based Consoles

Overshadowed in popular culture by the Atari VCS, the Fairchild Channel F is little more today than the answer to a trivia stumper: the first game console to use cartridges. And this man built it.

Reader Knoxximus passed along this interview, from February, with Jerry Lawson, who was the director of engineering and marketing for Fairchild Semiconductor's video game division. He was a contemporary of men named Jobs, Wozniak and Bushnell. In his garage he created one of the first coin-operated games after Pong. Its success led Fairchild to tap him for a super secret project to bring a game from an Intel 8080 processor over to the Fairchild's F8 - the CPU of the Channel F.

He was also, and this has to be said, an African-American man in a field that was overwhelmingly white in the 1970s. It's not to say Lawson faced overt barriers to his work because of his ethnicity. Mostly, people who met him expressed surprise that he was black, because none of his contemporaries ever referred to his race, just what he did. But Lawson's work on console gaming is another contribution to our culture that is not commonly credited to the black community.

On Father's Day 2009, the era of ROM-based console gaming seems on the cusp of its long denouement, with downloadable content on the rise and the cloud on the horizon. But let's take a moment to consider one of the true fathers of video gaming: Jerry Lawson.

Photo by Peter Fuller

VC&G Interview: Jerry Lawson, Black Video Game Pioneer [Vintage Computing and Gaming, thanks Knoxximus]