Dump Expedition Uncovers “E.T.” Atari Cartridges After 3 Hours

Every society needs its legends and cautionary tales, and the Atari graveyard in New Mexico was one for Americans of the video game generation. Did the company really dump millions of unsold games in the desert in 1983 and never speak of it again? As part of an upcoming documentary on Atari, a crew excavated the rumored dump site in Almogordo, NM. Within three hours, they freed the first cartridges from the pit.

That’s what allegedly made the game so terrible, you see. Here’s a playthrough from 1983 that makes it look fabulously easy, but many players remember falling into a pit and being unable to get out.

According to the legend, Atari overpaid for the rights to make a game based on the movie “E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial,” then rushed the game to the market. Sales were disastrously low: the entire gaming sector had been heading toward a slump, and no one wants to spend $30 in 1983 dollars for a crappy game.

The legend says that the company dumped millions of cartridges in the New Mexico desert in the middle of the night, then poured concrete over them. This has captured the public’s imagination for decades, which is why the film’s producers decided to confirm or deny the rumors. Though the tale of the New Mexico dump and layer of concrete didn’t begin as an urban legend. At the time, both elements of the legend were reported as fact by the New York Times.

It turns out that the rumors were true: the dig found the first cartridges in only three hours.

“I’ve been carrying this thing, the theoretically worst video game of all time, for 30 years now,” the game’s designer, Howard Scott Warshaw, told CNN. “It was a game that was done in five weeks. It was a very brief development. I did the best that I could, and that’s OK.” Warshaw should know something about coming to terms with one’s past and finding the best in it: he’s now a psychotherapist.

Searchers unearth grave of “E.T.,” the video game Atari wanted us to forget [CNN]
Unearthing Atari ET: why we need to dig up an old video game [The Guardian]