‘Atari grave’ unearthed in New Mexico landfill

Avatar By Aaron Sims | 7 years ago

Archeological digs are usually commissioned to dig up bones, fossils, lost cities, or other relics of the human past. They are not frequently employed to go digging for huge collections of lost video games, but that is precisely what happened in a New Mexico desert landfill on Saturday. Indeed, according to a report from the Brisbane Times, the dig hit the desert in hopes of uncovering an urban legend concerning the game developing company Atari and its ill-fated E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial video game from the 1980s.

For many gaming history experts, E.T. is today regarded variably as one of the worst games of all time and as a title that very nearly drove the gaming industry into the ground. Atari, thinking a game based on Steven Spielberg’s global blockbuster would be an automatic moneymaker, paid an arm and a leg to get its hands on the licensing rights. In order to release the game at a time when it could capitalize on the momentum of the movie, Atari rushed the game through development and testing stages and produced five million copies for the marketplace.

Of course, players and critics hated the game and could tell how rushed and poorly made it was from the get go. It did not help Atari that the gaming marketplace had already become a busy place, saturated with more than enough titles to keep players occupied. If E.T. had been a well-executed title, it would have sold like gangbusters; as it was, the game flopped, pushing Atari to a $300 million loss – in a single quarter, no less – and leaving the company with huge stocks of unsold games to deal with.

Legend then has it that Atari then tasked one of its managers with disposing of the E.T. games in a cost-effective manner –  a request that resulted in an undisclosed number of the original shipping boxes being buried in New Mexico. For years, many thought this story was a myth, but on Saturday, Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios spearheaded a dig to find the games as part of a documentary film project. Shockingly, Microsoft’s search was success: the dig yielded an undisclosed quantity of gaming relics, many of which were unused and unopened copies of Atari’s failed E.T. gaming cartridge. Supposedly, Atari ditched 728,000 of these cartridges back in the 1980s, but it is currently unclear as to whether all of them are buried in New Mexico.

The documentary based on the urban legend and the ensuing dig will eventually make its way to the public. As for the game, it is doubtful that all of this publicity will make anyone want to play Atari’s version of E.T. ever again.