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ET’s Big Dig


Courtesy Amanda Kooser, CNET

E.T. video game screen

This is one E.T. that won’t be going home.

(Credit: Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

There’s a special place 200 miles south of where I live. It’s a place of legend, an ancient burial ground. Supposedly, a stretch of land near Alamogordo, N.M., is the final resting place for one of the most infamous disasters in gaming history: the Atari E.T. game.

According to a New York Times report from 1983, Atari dumped 14 truckloads of unsold game cartridges and other detritus into a landfill. "Guards kept reporters and spectators away from the area yesterday as workers poured concrete over the dumped merchandise," it reads.

The E.T. game earned its status as one of gaming’s biggest bombs by pretty much stinking up the entire video game industry at the time. Critics and gamers alike hated the plot, the way it looked, and just about everything else about it. That’s why Atari got stuck with several million unsold copies.

Alamogordo has agreed to let Canadian film production company Fuel Industries take a stab at locating the dump site, breaking through the concrete, and excavating the E.T.s out of the ground while making a documentary about the effort. There may even be more than just cartridges down there. Old consoles and computers may have been mixed in with the batch.

While this may lead to mental images of gamers bathing in piles of retro gaming madness, the reality is the cartridges were reportedly crushed before burial. Still, it will be fascinating for this piece of gaming history to be exhumed, assuming they can find it, and that the New Mexico desert hasn’t just turned it into a big, lumpy hot mess.

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