Video games and the way we played them evolved over the decades. 

At one point they had to be played at an arcade and today they’re mostly played in the comfort of our homes. 

The man who heavily contributed to this transition is Jerry Lawson, the inventor of the video game cartridge.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Lawson had a passion for technology fixing radios and TVs at a young age.

In the early 70s, his tech career took a massive turn when he moved to San Francisco to begin working for Fairchild Semiconductor. 

On the side, Lawson would work on creating video games in his garage.

Back then, if one wanted to play a video game they would either buy a console that was only capable of playing one game, or go to a place with playable arcade cabinets.

When it came to the cabinets, kids would easily rig them to play for hours free of charge.

This led to Lawson creating his own cabinet with a function that could more easily tell if a coin was really being inserted into a machine.

The higher ups at Fairchild found out about Lawson’s side hustle and promoted him to be in charge of the Video Game division. 

Fairchild was ready to release their own console, the Channel F in 1976, which implemented Lawson’s biggest and most notable innovation which is the cartridge.

Jerry Lawson with the Channel F.

This game consumes the ability to swap out different titles in one console, which was groundbreaking at the time. 

Imagine having to purchase an entirely different machine just for Animal Crossing, one for Smash, etc. 

Lawson fixed that problem with the invention of cartridges. 

The Channel F had very basic titles such as “Video Blackjack,” “Pinball Challenge” and “Baseball.”

Another revolutionary addition that the channel F contained is a pause button.

It is something that many of us may take for granted today, but during the 70s pausing a game was unheard of.

Ultimately, Fairchild’s foray into the gaming industry did not make them the profits they wanted. 

Though Atari went on to implement the use of cartridges in their own console, the Atari 2600 to much more commercial acclaim. 

Many other companies in the future such as Coleco, Mattel, Sega and Nintendo all followed suit.

Lawson then spent the early 80s in charge for his own company, Videosoft, which developed titles for the Atari 2600 until the mid 80s when the video game industry crashed.

Though Nintendo and Sega gave the industry a resurgence with their own cartridge based consoles.

Cartridges became the way to play video games in the early days. (Courtesy of Nintendo Today)

Lawson’s invention remained huge in the 80s and 90s. 

In the early 2000s, disc based media began to take over with the release of the sixth generation consoles including the Gamecube, Playstation 2, Xbox and Dreamcast.

Despite that, Nintendo continued to use cartridges in their handhelds and still continue to use them with the highly successful Nintendo Switch. 

Though physical media is being phased out with the release of digital only consoles, subscription services such as Game Pass, Jerry Lawson’s innovations will still remain as a huge influence in gaming history.

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