Atari's Mythical E.T. Landfill Has Finally Been Discovered In New Mexico

E.T. The Extraterrestrial is widely regarded as the worst video game ever made. It probably always will be. No other title was so devastating to the industry as a whole. Because of E.T., Atari's reputation fell into the toilet, video game-based movies were forevermore accepted as awful, and the great video game crash of 1983 eventually came to being.

In other words, it was a game so terrible that it nearly destroyed gaming. 

In hindsight, it's not all that surprising the title garnered as much ire as it did. It's one of the highest-profile flops in Atari's history; the company was paid millions to develop their movie tie-in, and the developers were given almost no time to create it. To make matters worse, they manufactured millions of cartridges - more than they could possibly have sold even if the game had been a smash hit - and sold scores of copies before word began to spread: this game was bad. It was practically a video game version of the Ark of the Covenant, only instead of melting your face, it made you hate video games forever.

Not long after E.T.'s release, Atari decided it was done. It quietly pulled the game from store shelves, and rid itself of the cancerous title. No one was entirely certain what happened to all the copies they didn't sell, but rumors began to circulate that the company buried them in a secret landfill located somewhere in the Mexico desert. As months turned into years and years into decades, these rumors were eventually dismissed as simple urban legends.

Except that they weren't. Turns out, Atari actually did order a burial - this past weekend,a construction team finally excavated a New Mexico landfill near the town of Alamogordo, bringing to a close a story that spans almost the entire history of gaming. Years of evasion and denial from Atari were tossed out the window as former manager James Heller - on site at the time of the excavation - revealed that he was the one who originally ordered the burial, condemning 728,000 cartridges and a whole bevy of merchandise to an early grave.

The excavation took place as part of a new series set to debut this year on Xbox Live; a documentary produced by Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn which examines the impact technology has had on popular culture. Director Zak Penn was on-site at the excavation, alond with his production crew and the construction team. There were also over two hundred residents and enthusiasts at the site Over two hundred residents and enthusiasts gathered at the site when the excavation took place early Saturday morning.

One of the attendees was Armando Ortega - a city official who back in 1983 received a tip from a landfill employee about the massive stockpile of games

"It was pitch dark here that night but we came here with our flashlights and found dozens of games," explained Ortega.  "We had to sneak past security, braving both coyotes and snakes in the darkness, but it paid off. We found dozens of crushed cartridges which we found were still playable when we took them home." 

Ortega evidently forgot about the find until recently, when his tip brought Penn and his team here. The crew had only his word to go on, coupled with the vague hope that they might find the rumors to be true. Thankfully, they did. 

"I feel pretty relieved and psyched that they actually got to see something," added Penn, as members of the production team sifted through the trash and pulled out boxes of Atari products, including the massive collection of unsold cartridges. 

Digging up the landfill was no easy task - after Atari originally dumped truckloads of waste driven in from El Paso, raids on the site by teenagers looking to salvage and sell old products became a constant problem. Technically, they weren't breaking any laws, as scavenging was allowed in the cities landfills. Atari didn't much appreciate this, however; eventually, the company decided to pour concrete over the entire site. As a result of this, the burial - and the incidents which followed it - were gradually forgotten, fading into the local folklore of Alamogordo. 

Now, however, the worst game in the history of the industry has finally been dug up, and with it, a decades-old urban legend has finally been put to rest. I don't know about you, but when the time comes for the debut episode of this documentary, I'll definitely be tuning in. Hopefuly it's not exclusive to Xbox One.