Friday, June 7, 2013

Excavation of Buried Atari E.T. Cartridges in New Mexico Approved

Any retrogamer worth his salt, or just older gamer in general (like me) for that matter, has heard the tale of how Atari, dismayed at the tremendous amount of E.T. games that were returned for a refund, sent truckloads of them into a New Mexico desert to be dumped and buried in a landfill back in 1983. Many people have alluded to this event when discussing this historically bad game that supposedly had such a pivotal role in the so-called video game crash of 1983. Well, I think the impact of that game's failure on spiraling console game sales at the time has been significantly exaggerated over the years, but it sure as hell didn't help matters. And I'd like to be the contrarian who says that E.T. was actually an underrated game, but  I played it back then and even still own my original cart today and I gotta say - it's a shit game just like everybody says.

Anyway, I bring it up because I just read that the City Commission of Alamogordo, New Mexico has recently approved an excavation at the municipal landfill where this mass video game burial supposedly took place. The excavation is reportedly going to be filmed and featured in a Canadian documentary.

I have to say, based on what I've read it appears that this mass dumping of games, assuming it did indeed take place, did not focus exclusively, or perhaps not even primarily, on the horrible E.T. game. It was reportedly a dumping of various returned and surplus hardware and games of all sorts that Atari had stored at its former game manufacturing plant in El Paso, Texas that was being converted into a scrap recycling center at the time. Given the huge numbers of E.T. carts that were returned for a refund it seems likely that E.T. would have constituted at least a significant portion of the dumped items but who knows. Regardless, the interest behind this story for me has nothing to do with how many E.T. games were actually put in the ground, it is the counter-intuitive notion that video game sales - which were booming just a couple of years earlier - were so dismal by 1983 that somehow the most financially sound solution for moving this merchandise was to load it up into 9-10 semi trucks, drive them to the middle of a New Mexico desert, and dump them in a giant hole and pour concrete on top of them. That's crazy! So if this documentary ever airs I'm going to try to track it down and check it out.

Local news station KRQE did a brief piece on the upcoming excavation below:

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Fallguy40 said...

I don't get how they would even find these cartridges 30 years later in a landfill. If they do find any in good condition, they would probably be worth a decent bit of money as a collectible.

MadPlanet said...

I had those exact same thoughts myself FG. Buried AND covered in concrete AND 30 years later? Although I suppose if they were boxed the concrete might preserve them? Well anyway, yeah even a non-working E.T. cart with bits of concrete still on it from the landfill would make a cool little display piece and would probably fetch a decent price on eBay. Come to think of it, I'd rather have some concrete on there than not!