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My childhood unearthed at landfill

What I didn’t know in Grade one was how Atari dealt with this massive flop, and its pile of games that nobody cared about


0602etSometime around Grade one, I’d often find myself plopped down on the carpet in front of a TV screen in the den. My new Atari 2600 video game console filled the room with little digital beeps and boops. One of those beeps was supposed to mimic the sounds of the character E.T., the star of my newest video game E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, based on the blockbuster 1982 film of the same name.

“Ellliioottt!” he’d croaked in the Speilberg film, with his sad, huge eyes searching for help. As a player of this new game, I knew how he felt. I needed help too. The gameplay was far from intuitive, and frankly, didn’t make much sense. It was a mystery I tried to solve, but it didn’t take too many more attempts at this game before it could be found collecting dust on the shelf.

Little did I know at the time that hundreds of thousands of other kids felt the same way. The game became something of an urban legend in my youth, and was eventually labelled with the epic status—by many in the industry—as being the worst video game ever made. Some 3.5 million copies of the plastic cartridge—about the size of a tiny jewelry box—became unsold inventory that was a giant embarrassing pile for Atari.

What I didn’t know in Grade one was how Atari dealt with this massive commercial flop, and its massive pile of games that nobody cared about. By 1983, Atari arranged for some 20 truckloads of the E.T. game to be buried at the Old Alamogordo Landfill in New Mexico, not far, actually, from where the first atomic bomb tests occurred.

It’s all so strange to me now, this E.T. stuff, as I find myself here, releasing my first edition as editor of a waste management publication. It feels as though I have come full-circle in some way, my past connecting to my present. Always been a sucker for symbolism.

The Old Alamogordo Landfill
The full landfill property area is
approximately 300 acres. This landfill
was closed in 1989 with no further
activity after that date.

Not too long ago, in spring 2014, Canadian entertainment company Fuel Industries helped unearth part of my gaming childhood at the Old Alamogordo Landfill. The company was filming the event for a documentary called Atari: Game Over. On the day of the dig, people came out in droves to watch the excavation process, hoping to find out if the old urban myth was real: that those old game cartridges were actually buried there.

They were. But only about 1,300 game cartridges were found, many believing that most of the games were buried far deeper.

Prior to the dig, on Mar. 11, 2014, consultants conducted a landfill gas investigation of the trench where the Atari cartridges were thought to be buried, to ensure safety.

Later, Alamogordo officials held an online auction for the old video games. Believe it or not, it raised some $37,000 for the city’s coffers. One Canadian buyer actually paid $1,537 for an unboxed version of an E.T. game recovered from the dig. For fun, I like to pretend it was bought by Grade one me.


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