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E.T. Atari games uncovered in New Mexico landfill

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E.T. video games unearthed in landfill

RAW VISION: Documentary filmmakers digging in a New Mexico landfill unearth hundreds of Atari 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' game cartridges.

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One of video gaming's most pervasive urban legends has proven to be true, as a dig in a New Mexico landfill has uncovered a trove of game cartridges and equipment believed to have been dumped there by Atari following the fall of the games industry in the early '80s.

Having lost more than $300 million in a single quarter, the legend goes, Atari repurposed their manufacturing plant in Texas and drove its contents – including millions of unsold copies of the expensive and critically panned E.T. video game – out to bury under concrete in the desert.

While many – including E.T.'s designer – have cast doubt on the story which was first reported by The New York Times and others in 1983, on Sunday a dig led by Microsoft has yielded a mountain of gaming refuse, including entire intact shipping boxes filled with E.T. cartridges.

Big find: Workers monitor progress at the old Alamogordo landfill in search of buried Atari games.

Big find: Workers monitor progress at the old Alamogordo landfill in search of buried Atari games. Photo: Reuters

The dig is part of a documentary spearheaded by Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios, and Xbox's Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb was on hand to live tweet the uncovering of the first bits of discarded electronics that confirmed the long-rumoured dump.

The first recovered Atari cartridge from the old Alamogordo landfill, New Mexico.

The first recovered Atari cartridge from the old Alamogordo landfill, New Mexico. Photo: Reuters

E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial is a game that exemplifies the excess and lack of quality control that drove the failure of the games industry in the early '80s. Having paid a huge amount of money for the licensing rights, and having promised its licensors a big return, Atari rushed a game to market that is widely considered to be one of the worst of all time. With interest in the flooded games market already waning, Atari was left holding the huge majority of the 5 million E.T. copies it produced.

The uncovering of the mass game grave came as no surprise to James Heller, a former Atari manager who was invited to the dig site. In 1983, the company tasked him with finding an inexpensive way to dispose of 728,000 cartridges they had in a warehouse in El Paso. After a few local kids ran into trouble for scavenging and the media started calling him about it, he decided to pour a layer of concrete over the games.

"I never heard about again it until June 2013, when I read an article about E.T. being excavated," he said. He was not aware of the controversy and never spoke out "because nobody asked".

It's unclear exactly how many copies of the game are buried in the New Mexico desert, or what is to be done with them now – the documentarians have indicated cartridges will be sold, although a copy of E.T. rarely fetches more than a few dollars on eBay – but as of Sunday evening the dig continues.

with AP

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