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Google honors video game developer Gerald Lawson with a Doodle

By Tonya Pendleton
Google Doodle honored Gerald Lawson on what would be his 82nd birthday Thursday. Screenshot from Google Doodle
Google Doodle honored Gerald Lawson on what would be his 82nd birthday Thursday. Screenshot from Google Doodle

Dec. 1 (UPI) -- If you play video games, there's a man you should thank and Google has paid tribute to him on his birthday with a Google Doodle.

Gerald "Jerry" Lawson would be 82 today. The Brooklyn-born engineer is one of the people responsible for creating the technology that helped develop gaming.

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After graduating from Queens College and the City College of New York, Lawson moved to what is now known as Silicon Valley to join Fairchild Semiconductor as an engineering consultant.

He was eventually promoted to Director of Engineering and Marketing in Fairchild's video game department. Lawson would lead the development of the Fairchild Channel F (for 'fun') system, a precursor of the modern video game. This early model was the first to include interchangeable game cartridges, an 8-way digital joystick and a pause menu.

In 1980 Lawson became one of the first African Americans to own a video game development company, starting VideoSoft in 1980. This paved the way for the Atari 2600 which utilized the very video cartridge that Lawson and his team developed at Fairchild. The 2600 ultimately became one of the most successful gaming systems in the world.

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Though VideoSoft closed in 1985, Lawson remained a consultant in the gaming industry for the rest of his career.

"As a child in the 1940s, he was inspired by George Washington Carver," his children Anderson and Karen told Google in a statement.

"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."

Lawson was recognized by the International Game Developers Association in 2011. A scholarship fund in his name has been established at the University of Southern California for students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees in game design or computer science. Lawson is also in the World Video Game Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York.

The games featured in the video that comprises the Google Doodle were created by Lauren Brown, Davionne Gooden, and Momo Pixel, all artists, designers, and gaming developers of color.

Lawson died in Santa Clara, Calif. in 2011 at the age of 70.

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