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5 Important Figures in Video Game History You Should Know

The video game industry has grown exponentially since its inception, and it took the hard work of many to make our beloved video game industry what it is today. As educational game developers, it should come as no surprise that we believe knowledge is power, and that knowing your history is important! Today, we’re paying homage to five individuals who made incredible contributions to the video game industry. These five innovators continue to inspire and inform us as we continue our work to improve people’s lives with play. 

via Giphy

Let us know what other video game trailblazers inspire you by tagging us on Facebook or Twitter! If you learn of someone new in this post, don’t forget to bookmark it so you can be reminded of those that paved the way.

Ada Lovelace

Even though Ada Lovelace lived during a time predating video games, we’re starting off with her since her foundational work made video games possible in the future! Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Lord George Byron, was a mathematician and inventor who is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer

Born in England in 1815, Lovelace was taught math and science by expert tutors at a young age. At age 17, she met mathematician Charles Babbage and became his mentee. In 1843, Babbage was developing the analytical engine, and Lovelace translated his notes from French to English while adding her own insights. Her notes explained how the analytical engine could follow patterns, or codes, to form letters and numbers, essentially creating the idea of computer programming. Lovelace’s notes were forgotten after Babbage failed to secure funding for the analytical engine, but were rediscovered in the 1950s and showed how computers work by following patterns. She died in 1852, but her advanced way of thinking earned her the title of the world’s first computer programmer.

Jerry Lawson

If you keep up with our What’s New in Game-based Learning series, you’ll be familiar with this industry trailblazer, who was commemorated in a Google doodle celebrating his 82nd birthday on December 1st, 2022

A self-taught Black engineer, Jerry Lawson changed the landscape of the gaming industry as we know it by innovating the use of interchangeable cartridges in consumer gaming consoles. The consumer flexibility of being able to play multiple games in the comfort of their homes is still the backbone of the gaming industry – all thanks to Jerry Lawson! Jerry’s parents, especially his mother, played a significant role in encouraging his education, which resulted in his deep involvement in electronics and engineering from a young age. His love of taking things apart, learning how the thing works, and then putting them back together again translated to studying engineering in college. At the time, Jerry was one of the very few Black engineers in the field. In the mid-70s, Jerry joined Fairchild Semiconductor, Inc. where he was able to go out in the field to market new ideas and concepts, becoming something no one had ever heard of, a recruiter for freelance engineers. 

James Paul Gee

As game-based learning experts and educational game developers, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include James Paul Gee on this list of significant figures. Sometimes referred to as the “godfather of game-based learning”, Gee came up with the 16 principles of game-based learning. We have Jim Gee to thank not only for his academic work, but for his support and encouragement, which is part of the reason why Filament Games exists today!

Gee is a renowned scholar and a member of the National Academy of Education. He has authored several books, including “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.” His most recent book, “Reconceiving Teaching, Learning, Literacy, and Development in our High-Risk High-Tech World Before it’s Too Late,” offers a cross-disciplinary perspective on the role of language, learning, literacy, and identity in development, while highlighting new types of teaching and learning that are emerging thanks to digital technologies. 

Muriel Tramis

The first Black woman to design a video game, Muriel Tramis has made numerous contributions to the video gaming industry. Tramis was born in Martinique and studied computer science in Paris before joining the French video game business Coktel Vision in 1987. Her most well-known creation, “Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness,” was released in 1989 and was praised for its historical accuracy and engaging gameplay. Tramis used Creole, a French-Caribbean language, in her games, and her legacy continues to encourage diversity and inclusiveness in the gaming industry.

Ed Smith

Ed Smith was one of the first Black electronics engineers in the video game industry. Smith co-created The Imagination Machine, a hybrid video game console and personal computer designed to make a consumer’s first experience with computing as painless and inexpensive as possible. The Imagination Machine and its game console, the MP1000, were historically important for their time. This article from The Fast Company also details Smith’s upbringing in an impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood, his experiences working at APF Electronics, and his subsequent career managing an Apple dealership in upstate New York, expanding a computer chain called The Computer Factory, and working at PC networking pioneer Novell. 

It’s important to recognize and pay homage to these individuals who have made significant contributions to the industry! Without video game pioneers like Ada Lovelace, Jerry Lawson, James Paul Gee, Muriel Tramis, and Ed Smith, so much would be missing from the world of video games. Their work continues to inspire and inform the current generation of game developers and gaming enthusiasts around the world. 

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