Exhuming “E.T.”: Buried game may soon see light

Here’s an alien autopsy you can believe in: E.T. may soon be exhumed.

No, I’m not talking about the lovable title character in Steven Spielberg’s classic science fiction movie of the same name. Instead, I’m talking about the notorious video game inspired by the movie.

Developed by Atari in the early 1980s, the E.T. video game was such a huge failure that the pioneering video game company ended up burying millions of unsold or returned game cartridges in a landfill near Alamogordo, N.M. Now a Canadian entertainment company working on a documentary film about the infamous game dump has gotten permission to excavate the cartridges. Alamogordo’s City Council this week approved a contract with Fuel Industries that permits the company to scour the landfill over the next six months.

When Apple Atari decided to bury the cartridges in 1983, it reportedly needed nine semi trucks to cart them to the landfill. The company crushed the cartridges and encased them in concrete, a perhaps fitting end for such a ghastly game.

The “E.T.” debacle was such a huge blunder for Atari that it helped undermine the company and nearly killed the nascent video game market. When the game market rebounded in the mid 1980s, it was led by Nintendo, not Atari.

H/T to The Escapist.

Photo courtesy of Peter Taylor. Used under Creative Commons license.


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  • Troy, we already cleared that up in our book “Atari Inc. – Business Is Fun” released last fall, going by direct interviews and actual internal documents.

    There were never thousands of ET games buried in Alamorgodo, that’s a myth that sprung up later and was also never once mentioned by the actual press articles of the time. The dump there was simply a clearing out of Atari’s Texas manufacturing plant as it transitioned to automated production methods and a focus on personal computer manufacturing. It had previously been one of the main plants for manufacturing of game cartridges and other hardware, and game manufacturing was being moved overseas to China.

    As part of the transition the unused cartridge stock of a group of titles (not just E.T.), console parts and computer parts were all dumped there in New Mexico. It was covered in detail by the Alamogordo press at the time, and is just such a non-mystery that I’m surprised by all this.