Video games were born of technology and engineering. Ed Smith was a pioneer in video game engineering, and he was one of the first African American engineers in the industry. Black History Month celebrated each February serves as an opportunity to celebrate and remember the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans. As we celebrate Black History Month we celebrate and honor black trailblazers in the video game and personal computer industry like Ed Smith.
Ed Smith with The Imagination Machine II at the 1979 Consumer Electronics Show; Photo From Ed Smith’s website
HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES
The 1970s were the early beginnings of the development and the design of both video games and personal computers. Ed’s engineering innovations, design, and development on the engineering team at APF Electronics co-designed the hybrid MP1000 video game console and its personal computer, The Imagination Machine. His work was transformative. His engineering brought both the video game and The Imagination Machine personal computer to market. The achievement was a key moment where Ed designed and worked on every part of the console. He was APF’s first microprocessor specialist, and the unit was complete with a built-in game called Rocket Patrol. In those days, his expertise was put to the test as he was also responsible for building and testing prototypes and video games, completing every game on every level so it was ready for the consumer.
The MP1000 Box; Photo from Fast Company
Video game engineers had to “do it” all to bring the first games to market. Yes, Ed can still beat every game! Ed told HeR News about his career at APF and their innovations explaining that “The success was based on your taking the initiative to do something and see it come through, regardless of the number of units that sold. We were a small group of guys who did something that was really special. ”
On working on so many first-time innovations in technology Ed said, “It was so much fun, and it is not over yet!”
This industry changes every day. “Just to see the evolution of how technology, based on microprocessors, has just changed the world, I knew it (the chip) was not just going to be tied to one or two simple things.” For Ed, he knew he never would be leaving the industry. You can see the passion when he talks about how it never gets boring! He is so passionate and excited about what he does. “It never gets boring! The only time the days were alike was when I could not get something to work!”
Fast Company featured Ed Smith in an excellent article by Benj Edwards, who noted that “Ed Smith helped create an industry!”
A series of MP1000 games; Photo from Fast Company
We are big fans of video games at HeR News. I regularly enjoy playing my video games on the PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation. Just imagine, these platforms were once all only futuristic dreams for the early day trailblazers. What we play today was made possible because of the achievements of innovators like Ed Smith, who had the spirit of never being afraid to fail and to keep trying. One of his often-quoted lines is:
“Let’s plug it in and see if it blows up!”
For Ed, engineering was a source of opportunity. Growing up in the projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn, many kids were lost to the streets where gangs, drugs, and crime ruled. Racial injustice and violence added to the difficulties Ed faced. Deep inside, he knew he wanted to follow a different path, a dream.
Ed Smith’s biography Imagine That! Photo from Amazon
Ed could never have predicted that fixing his mom’s broken toaster would lead him on a path to his vocation. Ed eventually became one of the first African Americans to design video games and personal computers. His curiosity to “fix” things would materialize into his passion for all things math, electronics, engineering, and computer science.
His love of fixing everything he could get his hands on would further lead him to succeed. Ed’s prolific technology career continues today – as he is a deeply valued consultant, speaker, and expert in the gaming industry. Ed’s journey was not an easy one.
Technology careers in America were primarily accessible to those who had the education and were exposed to STEM studies:
“I am an advocate for the STEM education being taught at public schools. When I go and speak with kids today, I find that the education system has not kept up with the changes in technology that kids need today. They need to learn to code just as much as they need to learn to read and do the math.”
When Ed was going to school, STEM was not a household acronym like it is today. Even magazines like Popular Science were hard to come by in the projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn. Ed uses his past struggles facing crime, drugs, and life in the projects to show his resilience and desire to inspire change. Ed has used his career to offer advice to young people who want to be in the video game industry.
“Be as creative and as innovative as you can be. Gaming is a big business these days and can be very fulfilling and lucrative but setting yourself apart from the ranks will get you the rep you need.”
In his book Imagine That! Ed shares how young people need to be exposed to education and to be encouraged to learn. For Ed, his passion for and skills in math, science, and engineering all served as catalysts for his illustrious tech career.
Photo by FastCompany
Commenting on his career, Ed said, ”To be a man of color and a leader in the video game industry will be my legacy and one that I am very proud of.” (Fast Company).
A Strong Museum
Tribute to Ed Smith
The Strong Museum recently honored Ed. If you have not explored the website or had a chance to visit the Strong Museum in Rochester NY, we highly encourage it.
In addition to the contributions of Ed Smith, they also have a wonderful “Women in Gaming” tribute.
The Strong Museum interview with Ed can be found on Ed’s website as well as at the Strong Museum site. The video recording walks you through Ed’s impressive career. We watched it and when we interviewed Ed for HeR News, we, of course, asked Ed about all that he created. He was filled with joy and gave the biggest smile when he started talking about the early video games he got to make, test, and play.
The early Robot game was like Rock em Sock em, one of his favorite toys. Space Destroyers was a fun game to learn about as well. One of the best parts of the Strong Museum tribute video was when the museum team set up the MP1000, Ed’s baby, and started to play games! Seeing the actual machine was a step into the 1970s for a wonderful piece of video game history. His game testing made playing them again a breeze, laughing and talking about how much easier it is to win when you actually made and tested the games on every level!
Ed’s success has paved the way for a new wave of engineers and creative game designers. He regularly returns to Brooklyn for work endeavors. Ed recently gave the commencement speech at his high school, where he talked about the importance of “the dream”. In our HeR News interview with Ed, when asked about his “dream”, Ed Smith’s encouraging response was:
“Remember that all of the greatest inventions, designs, and works ever made started with a dream. Allow yourself to dream. Then, work to fulfill that dream. A great dream turns into a desire that must be completed or fulfilled to have your mind clear for the next dream.”
Legendary engineer Ed Smith at the annual Consumer Electronics Show; Photo courtesy of Ed Smith
Ed attributes his work in technology to opening doors to help him live his dream. Smith was always conscious of the lack of tech education and tech exposure kids in the projects had. Few children would ever see or have access to video games. So, while at APF, Ed would give out free game consoles to the youth living in the projects – he hoped to plant a dream, give tech exposure, and create interactive fun for those who may not have ever had the opportunity to get off the streets.
“I am pleased to have been living in this time, this period of technological growth and to some extent, racial inclusion.”
After interviewing Ed, we at HeR News can say that Ed’s engineering brilliance, creativity, and dream, are reasons to celebrate his contributions. We can also say, it is his kindness and genuine love for people and learning that makes him an inspiration!
More African American Game
developers to celebrate now!
African Americans continue to be trailblazers. Ed Smith is one of only two known black engineers in the ’70s. And today, our industry reports that there is only a 2% representation of African Americans in the industry. Progress needs to be made. We need to help inspire dreams and give more access to STEM education. It is pivotal to support the next generations’ minds and imaginations in technology. Ed wants his work to encourage more Blacks to be in the video game industry and technology. In Imagine That!, Ed lists more outstanding African-American video game leaders, innovators, and dreamers to learn about and applaud:
“Tony” Barnes (Strike series, Medal of Honor, and Strider), Gordon Bellamy (MaddenNFL series), Morgan Gray (Tomb Raider series), Marcus Montgomery (Rock Band 3 and Zombie Gunship survival), Felice Standifer (ATV Off-Road Fury series), Lisette Titre-Montgomery (Dance Central 3 and South Park: The Fractured But Whole), and Karisma Williams (Kinect Adventures! and Forza Motorsport 6).
Learn more about Ed Smith and the history of video games and personal computers via interviews and information on his site. Additionally, his book, Imagine That! gives great insight into his life’s work.
What about Ed Smith’s story inspires you?