Ed Smith who co-designed a hybrid video game console and personal computer has published an autobiography about growing up in the slums of Brownsville, Brooklyn to his unexpected journey through computer technology.
Although black people have been and still remain underrepresented in the games industry, pioneering black engineers and game designers such as Ed Smith have played a hugely important role in the thriving video game industry. Many of our most inspired written accounts of video game history are very often white from stories about US video game pioneers, from engineers and designers to early adopters and arcade patrons which tend to be mostly about the white men who created, consumed, and periodically saved the industry. As we start up our consoles today, many people don’t think of Gerald “Jerry” Lawson who created the first cartridge-based video game system or Ed Smith who was a part of the engineering team that developed the MP1000 video game and The Imagination Machine personal computer.
At the age of 14, Ed’s father told him to “Get your chauffeur’s license so you can learn how to drive a truck, because that’s all you’re ever going to do.” but Ed was undeterred by the low expectations his father and the people in the housing projects had set for him and saw it as a challenge so he worked hard at school and later landed a position at Brooklyn-based Marbelite, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of traffic signals. The job gave Smith his first taste of digital electronics technology and within two years, Smith was interviewing at APF, a company that imported and manufactured calculators, video game consoles, and other electronics.
One of Ed’s very first projects was co-designing a hybrid video game console and personal computer — The MP1000, an early cartridge-based video game system, and its plug-in computer expansion module, the Imagination Machine. A little while later, Ed had a demeaning experience in the department store, Sears. Smith pointed out that he designed the video game system on the shelf. “I said to the sales guys, ‘I’m one of the guys…’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, right,’” Smith said. “Like, ‘Black guy telling me he designed this thing. Right.” Smith continued to look for as many ways as possible to bring more Black Americans into the computing field. “For the most part, blacks have tended to shy away from high-technology fields,” Smith said in a 1982 issue of Black Enterprise. “The computer field, which includes videogames, is the industry of the future. Those who stay out of it will be totally lost in the marketplace in years to come.”
You can read more about the incredible story of Ed Smith and the highs and lows of his career and life by checking out his autobiography ‘Imagine That!’ over on Amazon.
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