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Playable Google Doodle celebrates the father of modern gaming Jerry Lawson

A screenshot of a gaming menu drawn in a retro, 8-bit style.

Whether you’re an avid PlayStation fan, a 2000s-era Nintendo Wii kid, or any of the millions of other at-home consoles, you should lend your thanks to one man: Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, the mind behind the first home video gaming system with interchangeable game cartridges.

Lawson was born on Dec. 1 in 1940, and to celebrate what would have been his 82nd birthday, Google has created an interactive homepage Doodle (as well as a short documentary) that lets users simultaneously learn and build alongside Lawson’s legacy.

The playable Doodle begins with a quick history lesson on Lawson, featuring an 8-bit representation of the electronic engineer moving through a classically retro video game world. Once completing the basics, players get to join in the fun and become gaming engineers themselves. After the tutorial is complete, players unlock a menu featuring five different customizable games — select your favorite and hit “edit” to join in the fun.

The Doodle was designed by guest artists and game designers Davionne Gooden, Lauren Brown, and Momo Pixel.

More than 50 years ago, Lawson changed gaming history. After moving from Brooklyn, New York to California’s Silicon Valley, he joined Fairchild Semiconductor, an electronics company manufacturing transistors and integrated circuits. As director of engineering and marketing of the company’s video game department, Lawson headed the development of the Fairchild Channel F system. It was the first at-home video game system console, featuring interchangeable game cartridges, an eight-way digital joystick, and a pause menu, as Google explained in its honorary blog post. The advancements of Lawson’s team would go on to inform the builds of giants like Atari, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and Dreamcast.

Lawson wasn’t just a pioneering mind behind gaming tech, either, but a trailblazing representative of diversity the gaming industry, starting one of the earliest Black-owned video game development companies in 1980 with VideoSoft. VideoSoft would later build the software for the Atari 2600, popularizing Lawson’s cartridge design.

An Atari 2600 console.

The Atari 2600 video gaming console was released in 1977 and rose in popularity with the launch of an at-home version of ‘Space Invaders’ in 1980.
Credit: Neil Godwin / GamesMaster Magazine via Getty Images

Lawson’s family, who collaborated with Google for this project, wrote that it took years for the gaming legend to receive proper recognition. “As a child in the 1940’s, he was inspired by George Washington Carver. That inspiration provided the spark that ignited his desire to pursue a career in electronics. He loved what he did and did what he loved. Considering the obvious challenges for African-Americans at the time, his professional achievements were quite remarkable,” the family said. “Due to a crash in the video game market, our father’s story became a footnote in video-game history.”

Fortunately, Lawson’s legacy is slowly making its way back into the spotlight. After his death in 2011, Lawson was formally recognized by the International Game Developers Association, entered into the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and had several scholarships and funds created in his honor to serve underrepresented groups in gaming and computer science.

Now, on his 82nd birthday, millions of Google users can also search and play in his honor.

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