News Item

Legendary Atari E.T. dumping ground to be excavated for documentary

By Matt Gerardi • May 31, 2013

Did Atari, facing a total collapse of the home video game industry, really bury millions of unsold cartridges, most notably tons of copies of its E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial game, in a New Mexico landfill? It’s one of video game history’s most famous urban legends, and we might finally be on the brink of real video evidence.

According to a report by KRQE News in Albuquerque, a Canada-based media company called Fuel Industries has reached an agreement with the town of Alamogordo, N.M., to excavate the alleged dump site and film a documentary about the legend. The contract gives Fuel—a marketing firm that primarily creates ads and ad-games aimed toward children—six months of access to the Alamogordo landfill where the excess Atari cartridges and consoles were supposedly buried. As the KRQE report points out, that six-month period includes the 30-year anniversary of the legendary burial.

Fuel Industries and its diggers have their work cut out for them, as the landfill in question takes up 100 acres. But they will have a guide. Joe Lewandowski, who ran a garbage company at the time of the dumping, claims to have witnessed the burial and knows where to find the hidden games. We called Fuel’s communications director to see why a youth marketing firm might want to dig up 30-year-old game cartridges, but we haven’t heard back yet.

I was able to find the New York Times story from September 1983 that detailed the burial. The story claims that Atari did indeed dump “14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges and other computer equipment” in an Alamogordo landfill and that most of the buried merchandise came from an Atari manufacturing plant in El Paso, Texas. It also says reporters and onlookers were held back from the area by guards as workers poured concrete over the merchandise, so it’s not necessarily a true eyewitness account. This whole “excavation of a legendary treasure trove as publicity stunt” thing sounds pretty familiar. Are we about to witness the Al Capone’s vault of video games?

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  • http://twitter.com/djbeema beema

    The journey to find this dump is the plot of the forthcoming AVGN movie if I’m not mistaken. I think I’d rather watch that.

    • http://warren-peace.blogspot.com/ WarrenPeace

      It also sort of figured in to a scene in the novel Lucky Wander Boy.

    • OldeFortran77

      AVGN movie? I was going to say that opening the dump would be an upcoming episoden of The X-Files or Fringe (if they were still in production, anyway).

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Now you get to control Joe Lewandowski through six exiting levels of the Alamogordo land fill!  Drop into multiple freshly-dug pits to see if they contain one of the nine pieces of the E.T. cartridge stash!
       Uh oh, Joe!  Looks like your energy is depleting!  Why not fill it back up with delicious Reese’s Pieces you found nestled on top of a heat-bloated Diaper Genie bag!

  • zebbart

    This documentary does not sound interesting to me, but it gives me a great idea for the ET sequel I dream about. What I want is a movie about Elliot as an adult, where he is kind of struggling to find meaning and reckon with that one magical intense moment from his childhood that was covered up as a hoax. In my imagination there is never any more contact with the ETs so Elliot iis also always questioning what really happened. So now add in that there was a media circus, even after the “hoax” was revealed/retconned, like in the Boy in the Blimp thing from a couple years ago, and at that time Atari cashed in on it with the terrible ET game. Now 30 years later Elliot is the one making the documentary where he unearths the games in some quixotic attempt at finding closure. I really want to see this movie, especially if it’s directed by Woody Allen.

    • ProfFarnsworth

      Another movie this would be great with, is the AWFUL movie with martial arts kangaroos.  That is definitely a good psychotic break movie idea too. 

  • Cloks

    I think this is worth a read: How to make ET a good game. It’s a fascinating look at the minute changes needed to make ET a fun experience and an exploration of the changes it heralded in the medium of video games.

    • Flying_Turtle

      I’m with the author of that page you linked to: I liked E.T. just fine, though it undoubtedly had its flaws. I still have my copy. I think that many of the people that say that E.T. was the Worst Game Ever (and I don’t read you as doing that) are people that didn’t play a lot of 2600 games or like to hold popular opinions on the internet.

      That said, I think what that guy’s suggesting sounds pretty cool.

  • Effigy_Power

    I find this fascinating if only for the fact that this appears to be the first time gaming has its own example of archaeology. I’ll watch that.

  • Dikachu

    This is the most famous dump since Elvis’ death on the can.

    [crickets]

    • http://mathmanmustdie.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

      Too soon!

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

    A polygonally-rendered Geraldo Rivera will be standing by to reveal that the landfill actually contains…the contents of Al Capone’s vault.

    Which was just a few dozen copies of Activision’s Keystone Kapers.

  • Spencer Greenfield

    This definitely sounds interesting if only for it’s important (if a tad infamous)  role in video game history.
    Also, Al Capone’s Vault? Please. It’s all about Al Capone’s Glovebox…

  • Barnitosupreme

    I remember going to a used game shop about a year ago, and all the Atari games they had were Pac-Man and ET.

  • James

    Fucking nostalgia.

  • cookingwithcranston

    What’s the point? Even if they do uncover the infamous unsold copies of E.T., any attempt to extract them from the ditch will inevitably result in them just falling back in.

    • http://twitter.com/qvear Dariusz G. Jagielski

      I wonder if these cartridges, if excavated, will still be operational (i.e. after cleaning them you could pop them into 2600 and play).

  • http://www.olympicartichoke.podbean.com/ The Warfreak

    Yo, why’d you throw that chair at Geraldo Rivera, man?
     

  • Joey.blowey

    I have this godawfull game on my laptop (thru an emmulator)
    Think I’ll go play it now

    • fcz1

      I have it on my Atari 2600. Not going to play it though.

  • marty_goldberg

     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.

    • mizerock

      Your story sounds plausible, but if they dig up a single E.T. cartridge the story is going to be URBAN LEGEND CONFIRMED … even if it’s only a small portion of the total Atari branded refuse found there.

      • marty_goldberg

        It’s based on fact as stated, actual internal documents, direct interviews, etc. We have some of the logs from the Texas plant for instance and internal communique. And your condition doesn’t make sense, as stated it was a full spectrum of games – everything from Raiders to Combat to even ET. It was in no way a dumping of 3.5 million carts of ET, that’s what the legend was that sprung up later. The warehouse stock from across the country (all the games, including the overstock of ET) was done at a landfill location in Sunnyvale.

        • mizerock

          “Based on fact” is not what determines which version of the story gets remembered. I happen to be a member of the reality-based community, but you’re doomed to frustration if you think that “actual internal documents” are going to kill one of the best-loved urban legends of our time.

  • W.A. Seaver

    I thought this story was debunked years ago in a book about the history of Atari.  Internal documents proved that the dump was exactly what the Times reported: discarded cartridges (from many titles, not just “E.T.”) and scrap components.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.sepanek Sarah Sepanek

    There was nothing in Atari’s vault / But it wasn’t Geraldo’s fault

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