A Brief Timeline Of Black History in gaming

Black video game history facts

Even though Black people have been and remain underrepresented in the gaming industry, pioneering black engineers and game designers like Jerry Lawson played important roles in the growing video game industry. 

As we celebrate Black History month 2024, here's several key moments in Black video game history.

1976 - Gerald "Gerry" Lawson - Inventor of the Video Game Cartridge

The video gaming industry is worth over $180 billion. And if you have ever played one in your lifetime, you may not be aware of the debt you owe to a genius named Jerry Lawson.

Although Gerald "Jerry" Lawson, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 70, isn't well-known. He was a pioneer in the gaming industry and one of the few Black engineers employed in the tech industry in the 70s. Lawson led an engineer team that created and released the first removable video game cartridges in 1976.

1976 - The first Black Video game character

the first black video game character

The arcade boxing game Heavyweight Champ developed and published by SEGA in 1976, was the first video game to feature a Black character. 

1977 - Ed Smith - Co-designed a hybrid video game console and personal computer

Ed Smith is a retired engineer and one of his first projects was co-designing a hybrid video game console and personal computer, The MP1000, an early cartridge based video game system, and it's plug in computer expansion module, the Imagination Machine. 

1980s - Alice Washington - Atari’s Coin-Op Division’s Wonderwoman

Some of the most unsung pioneers in the early gaming industry were those in manufacturing roles. And Alice “Wonderwoman” Washington was among the many anonymous Black workers who installed PCBs into Atari's Coin Operated arcade machines.

1980s - Dr. Gladys Mae West - The “Hidden Figure” of GPS

Despite not being an game designer or engineer, Dr. Gladys Mae West's contribution and development of global positioning systems (GPS) has had a long-lasting effect on the modern gaming industry,  helping to create location-based games that depend on GPS.

1986 - Muriel Tramis - First Black female game designer

Joining the French game studio Coktel Vision  in 1986, French game designer Muriel Tramis is considered to be the world’s first Black female game designer. Her first game Méwilo explored social and political themes revolving around imperialism and slavery. 

1987 - Mike Tyson's Punch Out

                        black characters in video games

Mike Tyson collaborated with Nintendo to became the face of Nintendo's boxing game in 1987, getting paid around 50.000 for his likeness and name. In the game Mike Tyson was the final opponent and a tough one at that.  

1987 - The first Black video game Protagonist

                      black video game protagonists

One of the first Black video game protagonists is Michael F. Stoppe from Maniac Mansion. A 1987 graphic adventure, where the player uses a point-and-click interface to guide characters and solve puzzles.

1987 - The first black female video game character

                      the first black female video game character

The first black female video game character appeared in Capcom's 1987 beat em up title Avengers, no relation to Marvel. She was one of the 6 kidnapped damsels in distress that needed to be saved by the main character.

1988 - Michael approaches Sega

Michael Jackson approached Sega in 1988 about creating a video game that would perfectly embody his image. Sega and MJ then began working on an arcade video game based on Jackson's Moonwalker movie and "Smooth Criminal" music video released that year.

1990 - Michael Jackson's video game

famous black video game characters

Sega released Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, a beat em up based on Michael Jackson's movie. The plot involved Michael Jackson using magical abilities and dance moves to save kidnapped children from a criminal known as Mr. Big.

1990s -Troy Barnes 

A promising homebrew developer as a child during the 80s, Barnes’ accolades in the 1990s include a number of intriguing titles (he worked as an Assistant Producer on Motley Crüe’s Sega Genesis pinball game, for example).

Barnes’ largest endeavor  to gaming was his work as a producer and designer for the Strike series, a series of isometric mission-based and vehicle-based military shooters whose entries included Jungle Strike (1993), Urban Strike (1994), and Nuclear Strike (1999), among others.

1993 - Freedom! video game

Freedom! is a 1993 educational computer game developed and published by the MECC. The player plays as a runaway enslaved person in the antebellum period of American history who is trying to reach the North through the Underground Railroad.

The game was developed with help of an Black American consultant who guided MECC on appropriate graphics and dialect that represented the era. It is recognized as one of the first video games dealing with the topic of slavery

1993 - Michael Jackson and Sonic 3

Development on Sonic 3 started in 1993. During that year Michael Jackson had a meeting with members of the Sega Technical Institute. Which granted him the opportunity to allegedly compose the soundtrack to Sonic 3.

But when it was all said and done, it seems his work wasn’t dropped, just left uncredited due to controversy. 

1994 - Biggie Smalls raps about SNES and Sega Genesis

In the 1994 hit Juicy, The Notorious B.I.G raps about how riches has changed his life and drops the illest videogame lyrics in hip hop history. 

"Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis," he raps. "When I was dead broke, man, I couldn't picture this."

1994 - Shaquille O' Neal Electronic Arts Deal

After NBA legend Shaq signed with the video game publisher Electronic Arts, the EA staff decided to put him in a fighting game because of O'Neal's interest in martial arts.

The result was Shaq Fu, a nonsensical fighting game starring Shaquille O' Neal. It's also worth noting that this was the first fighting game to include a Black female fighting character.

1994 - Motown enters the video game business

black video game developers

Motown created their own short lived video game publisher company called Motown Software (and Motown Games), which was a spin-off from the Motown record label.

During their 1994-96 run, they were responsible for publishing Black American focused video games. They released two games. Rap Jam: Volume One, a basketball game featuring legendary rappers and Bebe Kids, which was based on an animated comedy film.

1996 -  Ryan Hart

Ryan Hart, a professional fighting game player from London, won the UK National King of Fighters Championship in 1996, his first competition, and the rest was history.

Across the next nearly three decades, Hart has dominated in King of Fighters, Street Fighter and Tekken. He has multiple EVO and World titles, holds 4 Guinness World Records, and has won over 450 tournaments to date – a paragon of esports.

1997 - Tekken 3's Eddy Gordo 

Tekken 3 saw the debut of the Brazilian Capoeira fighter Eddy Gordo, a character who many feel helped popularized the Capoeira to  a wider audience. Mestre Marcelo Pereira, a Brazilian capoeira master, was the motion capture artist for this character.

1997 - First Black character in a JRPG 

                                            black video game characters

Final Fantasy VII was the first JRPG  to feature a prominent Black protagonist in 1997 when they introduced Barret Wallace, a loud mouthed and hot headed eco-terrorist who resembled MR T.

1999 - Wu-Tang create their own video game

The rap supergroup was on top of the world at one point, and during their rise to stardom they ended up creating their own fighting game called Wu-Tang Shaolin Style. 

1999 - First Black Female protagonist in a video game

Released in 1999, Urban Chaos Starred D'arci Stern. A rookie cop on a one woman mission to clean up the means streets of Union City. She was the first Black female lead to appear in a video game.

2000 - EA Sports BIG 

EA Sports BIG was introduced in 2000, a gaming division that released several iconic games in the early 2000s including NBA Street and Def Jam Vendetta, which combined the spirit of  sport games with a unique, exaggerated urban style.

2004 - GTA San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was released, a gangster video game which captured the authncity of West Coast gang culture in the early 90s, from the perspective of a young man named Carl Johnson.

This game also featured Samuel L. Jackson, who voiced the main antagonist Officer Tenpenny with an outstanding performance. 

(Feel free to add any contributions to this list that you feel is missing. This list will be updated from time to time so feel free to circle back).

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