Google’s Doodle — the altered and sometimes interactive logo on the search engine’s home page — for Dec. 1 is a tribute to Jerry Lawson, the computer engineer credited with developing the first cartridges for console video games almost 50 years ago. Not only does the Doodle let folks play five demake-style video games, it even lets users edit and mod them.
The Doodle begins with a short tour of Lawson’s life and accomplishments; he would have turned 82 on Thursday. Then players are shown how to edit the Doodle’s games; four of them are puzzle/platformer side-scrollers, and one is a Breakout-like.
Google put together a short documentary video about Lawson’s life, which includes commentary from Lawson’s son, as well as the three developers behind the Doodle — all of whom are Black. Lawson was one of Silicon Valley’s first Black computer engineers, and was honored for his career and achievements in 2011 by the International Game Developers Association, one month before he died.
Gerald “Jerry” Lawson was born Dec. 1, 1940 in Brooklyn, New York, and developed an interest in electrical engineering early in life, repairing televisions and building an amateur radio station at age 13. After college, he moved to northern California in 1970 to join Fairchild Semiconductor, where he would become the company’s chief hardware engineer.
In 1976, Fairchild launched the Channel F, the first gaming console to use swappable ROM cartridges (rather than having games encoded into the unit itself). The cartridge-based approach was Lawson’s idea; his other innovations included the Channel F’s eight-position joystick controller, which also included a pause button — both firsts in console gaming. The Channel F preceded the Atari VCS (later called the Atari 2600) by one year, although the VCS outsold it roughly 3-to-1 by 1979, when Fairchild sold the technology to Zircon International.
Lawson went on to found Videosoft, a short-lived gaming software developer, before moving into consulting and other entrepreneurial ventures. The Strong National Museum of Play has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Lawson’s work and contributions. A scholarship in his name at the University of Southern California was established in 2021 by Take-Two Interactive, to help Black and indigenous students develop careers in game design and engineering.