Gaming consoles are as strong as ever and developers are delivering awesome visuals, sound and each major company has their own take on interactivity and immersion built into the controller. However, everyone knows it's not about the system, it's about the games. But how do those games get onto the systems? While Sony and Microsoft both released all-digital versions of the newest systems in 2020, we've used discs and cartridges for more than 40 years to get our game on.
Enter Jerry Lawson (1940 - 2011), a self-taught engineer and inventor who was inspired by George Washington Carver, a Black inventor who came up with tons of uses for peanuts to promote economic and environmental sustainability for poor Black farmers. As a kid, he enjoyed taking things apart and learning about them, which turned into repairing neighbors' TVs for money. In his adult life in the 70s, he was one of the first few Black engineers in Silicon Valley and made a big name for himself. Lawson is called the Father of Modern Gaming because he led development on the first swappable game cartridge for a console called the Fairchild Channel F.
Thinking about sustainability, you can make an argument for the latest all-digital consoles being better for the environment than a bunch of discs or cartridges that outlive the system and add to landfills. However, the problem before this was that you'd have to buy a whole new system if you wanted new games. The Channel F game console was launched in 1976, and the problem it overcame was how to remove cartridges without risk of electrical shock. Additionally, Lawson's team had included the first home console PAUSE button, another feature that is surprisingly losing prevalence in modern gaming, as so many games are online or the objectives are streamed to your system in real time.
Recently, Sega, Sony and Nintendo have had varying success releasing miniature versions of their classic consoles with a fixed amount of games. These systems are cute and have HDMI so you can play these old games on modern TVs, but it's also a step back in sustainability to be seeking out limited-capacity hardware. What happens when we get bored of the 20 included games?
Either way, this Black inventor made history that's kept alive for retro gamers and Nintendo Switch owners, though there's a strong chance that the next major consoles will have moved on from physical media completely. That's a different conversation, though. Thank you for a great era with physical media, as well as a step forward in sustainability in the gaming industry, Jerry Lawson!