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Three Black Visionaries Who Made Modern Gaming Possible

Diversity in thought and experience often leads to powerful innovation; we know that there is power in seeing diversity increase in the gaming and tech sector. At Extra Life, we firmly believe that Black lives matter and we wanted to spotlight three African American leaders who made a lasting impact on gaming as we know it.

Jerry Lawson | Inventor of Video Game Cartridge

Everyone who plays games should know the name Jerry Lawson. Born in 1940, Lawson grew up fascinated with invention and improving how things worked in the electrical devices that surrounded him. He ran a home-made radio station out of his bedroom and taught himself enough electrical engineering to repair appliances. He eventually landed a job as an engineering consultant at Fairchild Semiconductor in 1970. Given the chance to play around with their latest microprocessors, Lawson created the game Demolition Derby, one of the first games to make use of a microprocessor. For that feat, Fairchild hired Lawson as their Chief Hardware Engineer and the director of their video game division.

At Fairchild Semiconductor, Lawson oversaw the creation of the Fairchild F console and was responsible for creating video game cartridges, marking the first time that a game could be removed from the hardware designed to run it and swapped out for a different game. Up until that point, all console games were built directly into the hardware of the system, similar to plug-n-play gaming devices of today. Next time you put a game into your console, take a moment to thank Gerald “Jerry” Lawson for making that possible in the first place.

 

Dr. Gladys Mae West | GPS Technology Pioneer

Gladys Mae West grew up dreaming of getting out of rural Virginia. Born in 1930, she was able to earn a full-ride to Virginia State University by graduating at the top of her class. She went on to study mathematics, eventually earning a master’s degree in the subject. Not one to stop learning, after she retired in 2000, she worked steadily on a securing doctorate degree from Virginia Tech and eventually graduated with a PhD in public administration and policy affairs.

Her accomplishments stood out to such an extent that West was hired by the US Navy to serve as a programmer working with the systems analyzing satellite data. Shortly after that, she began working directly with the data coming in from satellites to put together models of the Earth. She headed up development on the most accurate models of the Earth. West spent nearly a decade putting together intricate algorithms, using an IBM computer to include the effects of gravity, the tides, and a whole host of other natural forces acting upon the planet. All of this work? It became the basis for modern GPS.

We would not have Pokémon Go, Geocaching, or the upcoming Minecraft Earth, which has been receiving praise from those who have been able to spend time with it behind closed doors. Thank you Dr. West, we would quite literally be lost without you.

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On Dec. 6, 2018, Dr. Gladys Mae West was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneer Hall of Fame for her efforts and contributions to the Air Force’s space program. Dr. West was among a small group of women who did computing for the U.S. military before electronic systems and when calculations had to actually be written out (now recognized as the “Hidden Figures” thanks to Taraji and nem) • Born just south of Richmond, VA to a family of tobacco farmers in 1930, Gladys West decided at an early age that education, not tobacco planting, was for her. She graduated top her class in high school and went on to Virginia State University to study in the All-male field of mathematics and graduated valedictorian in 1952 • In 1956, after receiving her Masters Degree in Math, West was the 2nd Black woman hired and only 1 of 4 Blacks at the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, VA. Here, she participated in a groundbreaking, award-winning astronomical study that proved the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune. After this discovery, she made another in the mid-1970s through the 1980s, using complex algorithms to study the data from satellites and the variations in gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort Earth’s shape. She also programmed an IBM 7030 “Stretch” computer to deliver spot-on calculations for an extremely accurate geodetic Earth model, known as a “geoid”. Her calculations would eventually the outline for the Global Positioning System (GPS) orbit • Django Translation: She Invented GPS! • So next time you go to Google or Apple Maps and type in the address to ya favorite cocktail lounge and ya app shows how to get there (and maybe sometimes tells you to get off the highway just to get right back on 🤬) You can thank Dr. Gladys Mae West #gladysmaewest #airforce #blackhistory #gps #virginiastateuniversity #alphakappaalpha

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Reggie Fils-Aimé | Nintendo America’s Retired President & COO, Current Board Member at GameStop and Spin Master

Ever since he appeared on-stage at E3 2004, Reggie Fils-Aimé was undeniably Nintendo’s face. It came as no surprise when he took the reins of Nintendo of America, the first American to hold the position. From 2006 until 2019, Fils-Aimé guided Nintendo’s success in the United States, helping to make the Wii, the 3DS, and the Switch three of the bestselling systems of all-time.

His long string of successes represented a huge turn of the Tides for Nintendo’s fortunes after the lackluster release of the GameCube which was outshone by both the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox. Many attribute this success to the way he moved the company toward a more ethical working schedules that included a more diverse range of creators. In a 2018 interview with Vice, Fils-Aimé explained his management philosophy stating:

I believe the best way to lead is through example. […] Not only on work life balance, it’s issues like diversity and inclusion. You know, with all of those tough conversations, our mentality is that we’re going to model the behavior that we want seen. So that’s why I have a diverse senior management team. That’s why as a black man leading a Japanese company, I feel good about the things that we do to deal with higher order issues and to deal with them in a way that models positive behavior.

Not only did Fils-Aimé push Nintendo to new heights and become immortalized in internet meme culture, he also broke new ground beyond games. By becoming the President of Nintendo of America, he became the only person of Haitian descent to lead a Fortune 500 company in the United States. This feat earned him recognition from the Republic of Haiti itself, which dedicated a page of their embassy’s website to him.

Thank you, Reggie. You didn’t just take our names, you took our hearts.

To the Black community, we stand alongside you in protest of racial inequalities. We unite our voice with yours to ignite a heightened conversation to end hate and racism in this country. Read more.

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