E.T. Finds Home, and It’s a Garbage Dump in New Mexico

Chris Brummer Knows, E.T. Finds Home, and It's a Garbage Dump in New Mexico

“E.T.” — some call it the worst video game ever made.

It was 1982. I was 5. The film “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” had been released that summer. I went to see it with my dad. The movie, the magic of the cinema, time with dad … it was all very Rockwellesque.

That all came crashing down when he got me a copy of the much sought-after Atari game “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” the following Christmas. Even at the tender age of 5 I remember thinking, what a piece of crap. In the game, you moved this E.T.-looking figure around as you evade the FBI (man in trench coat) and pick up Reese’s Pieces (little black things). There was a potted plant that kept dying on you and Elliott would show up every once in a while. It made no sense.

Well, don’t take my word for it. See for yourself:

Dad couldn’t have known it was that bad. No one did. Our family, we were an Atari 2600 household. “Asteroids,” “Space Invaders,” “Frogger,” we had them all. But “E.T.” was different. The first real video game produced from a movie, a harbinger of things to come. The film, an early Spielberg summer blockbuster, had been released in July. And Atari wanted the video game out for the holiday shopping season. But deal wrangling and contract negotiations left only five weeks to design it. And the result was, as you can see above, a total flop.

Atari, completely embarrassed and near-bankrupt, was left with some 5 million (retailing at $29.99 at the time) of these games that no one wanted.

And what do you do with 5 million embarrassingly bad video game cartridges? Bury some of them in the New Mexico desert.

Rumors had been swirling around for years of a “video game dump” of sorts somewhere in New Mexico. Well, those rumors were confirmed this past week, when an excavation of sorts took place in the town of Alamogordo, N.M., in a landfill that measures 150 feet by 150, sitting just off the city’s main street. The New York Times reported at the time of the dump that some 14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges were dumped there, with workers going so far as to pour concrete over the merchandise. Security guards kept public eyes away. But until recently, no one was sure exactly what was buried there.

The excavation took place over the weekend and was organized by film director Zak Penn, who is preparing a feature-length documentary on the rise and fall of Atari. Penn and his crew turned up hundreds of copies of “E.T.” and other commercially unsuccessful games.

The whole experience cost Atari some 500 million dollars in 1983. Coupled with a national recession that same year, the company never recovered. In 1985, Nintendo launched in North America and Atari was all but finished.

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